An event too big for its roots

As the customers struggle to see their stars, the stars are slow to get a round in
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The Independent Online

Royal & Ancient officials poured scorn on suggestions yesterday that the Open is now too big an event to be staged at St Andrews as a human ocean flooded through the Home of Golf.

Royal & Ancient officials poured scorn on suggestions yesterday that the Open is now too big an event to be staged at St Andrews as a human ocean flooded through the Home of Golf.

With Friday's record attendance of 47,000 spectators for a single day at the championship lasting just 24 hours before yesterday's turn-out was confirmed at 49,000, walkways around the Old Course were jammed with people, and traffic into the Fife town tailed back several miles.

Unofficial estimates put yesterday's attendance at closer to 60,000, attracted by a combination of Tiger Woods' continued assault on the Old Claret Jug, the glorious sunshine in which the Open basked for a third successive day and the many gatecrashing opportunities that the course offers to potential interlopers.

But the threat by a senior police officer on Friday to seal off the roads into St Andrews never materialised. "We are taking a common-sense approach to the numbers. The space inside St Andrews is finite. There can only be a limited amount of people and a limited amount of vehicles before there is gridlock," he had said. "There has to be a shut-off point. What is paramount is public safety."

However, David Hill, the R&A's championship secretary and the man ultimately responsible for managing the chaos on and around the Old Course, dismissed speculation that St Andrews may now have exceeded its ability to cope with such sizeable gatherings. "You don't really believe him?" said Hill. "No one is going to seal off the town and I'm surprised that anyone would have thought that would happen. I think St Andrews will stage many more Opens."

But with the overall attendance for the week now topping 180,000, and the previous record set to be shattered yet again this morning, many spectators are taking an inordinate amount of time to move about the course with delays particularly prevalent at the various crossover points along the links.

Naturally, the largest galleries followed Woods and his playing partner, David Toms, but in general the pace of play yesterday was a vast improvement on the times of up to five and a half hours which had prevailed for the opening two rounds.

Journeys to the exhibition area from the R&A clubhouse were taking considerably longer - well over half an hour in fact even though the distance involved is barely half a mile. Patience has been a virtue this week, not least for autograph seekers, with one poor child forced to wait more than three hours before getting his chance of 88-year-old Sam Snead's signature. Yet this failed to prevent the tills from ringing with monotonous regularity as equipment manufacturers indulged in a bonanza of selling.

"Whatever figure you think of, double it," said sales assistant, Martyn Rabbitt, at one stand. "Everything has doubled - the number of people, the prices, everything. It's almost got to the point of madness."

One commentator wrote: "It's not so much that people are being overcharged at the Millennium Open, more that they are getting fleeced." An Open tie with claret-jug logo is selling for £25 while a collared shirt was going for £67.50.

Shirts, though, were not that much in evidence as thousands of youths and too many middle-aged men who ought to have known better swaggered bare-chested around the course. Whether they were provoked by the uncharacteristic heat or the lure of 15 minutes of fame, three people were arrested on Friday as streakers defied warnings not to run on to the course. One man shed his clothes at the ninth hole and two women followed suit later, one of them, topless, accosting Woods as he left the 18th green.

The individuals concerned will appear in the sheriff's court at nearby Cupar tomorrow morning, but the police yesterday confirmed that they would continue to make arrests. Another male streaker appeared on the 18th yesterday afternoon, but by then the crowds' gaze had been averted by the events on course.

None the less, the observation of one American journalist, used to daily crowds in excess of 100,000 at tournaments in his own country, had a certain poignance. "St Andrews may be the Home of Golf, but this year it's probably best to watch the golf at home."