Shrine feels the strain of the pilgrimage

Whatever dramas the 2000 Open Championship conjures up over the last few holes this afternoon, the occasion has already touched its ceremonial peak. Of course it matters who wins, and how, but a St Andrews packed to bursting point is experiencing more than a tournament, more even than a celebration of an historic landmark.

Whatever dramas the 2000 Open Championship conjures up over the last few holes this afternoon, the occasion has already touched its ceremonial peak. Of course it matters who wins, and how, but a St Andrews packed to bursting point is experiencing more than a tournament, more even than a celebration of an historic landmark.

This is a game rejoicing in its flourishing existence and the feeling of imperishability that itsbirthplace provides. The specialatmosphere could be felt particularly in Wednesday's emotional challenge match between 22 former champions, but has pervaded the entire week and has transformed tens of thousands of fans into pilgrims attending an open-air thanksgiving service that no cathedral could match for reverence.

Pilgrim is an apt description, because the long and dusty trail that winds around the Old Course is a hard road to travel, and clear glimpses of the gods are not easy to come by. No other sports supporters have to make the effort demanded of golf galleries and no venue has ever offered less reward for those strains than St Andrews over the past few days.

It is not an easy viewing course at the best of times, but the record crowds that have packed the town so tightly that the police have been threatening to put up road- blocks have had to walk far and jostle determinedly for their ration of the proceedings. But just being here seems to compensate for any discomfort.

The Millennium Open could have been staged nowhere else but on these bumpy, well-worn acres that have borne the ceaseless march of golfing progress over the past 600 years. As well as giving golf to the world, the town of StAndrews also played a part in providing its fuel. It may seem a touch perverse to mention it, but the US dollar sign was designed at St Andrews University.

The town's two offspring were destined to form one of the most lucrative partnerships in sporting history but, for all the game's commercialism, it still manages to project a wholesome image and, certainly, is the most honest and self-disciplined of games.

Meanwhile, St Andrews is a shrine that earns its keep throughout the year and not just at bigtournament time. Despite the proliferation of more scenically beautiful courses located in more favourable climates, the Old Course continues to be the destination to which golfers of all nationalities and handicaps aspire.

That makes the town an all-year tourist attraction, and it fulfils the role with some enthusiasm. There have been complaints about the price of accommodation during Open week but that's nothing new for hosts of a big event. The prices in the pubs and restaurants do not seem inflated; indeed, the only place where the cost of food and drink has raised the eyebrows is within the bounds of the course itself.

 

If golf is the St Andrews meal ticket, at least they make a sound job of protecting the precious asset on behalf of the world. The Old Course belongs to the town as a public park, through the St Andrews Links Trust, and not to the Royal & Ancient as most people think. The trust also administer five other courses, which make them the largest golf complex in Europe. They are now considering adding another course to the collection to help cope with demand.

With the new course at nearby Kingsbarn raising appreciative comments and another being built by the St Andrews Bay Hotel, playing pilgrims to the area are certainly not discouraged. In their attempt to prevent the Old Course suffering from overuse, the trust have cut back the number of rounds played on it from 48,000 to about 40,000 a year. Part of the preservation policy is to allow no play on a Sunday - they make an exception for The Open.

Caroline Nurse, a spokeswoman for the trust, says: "Sundays are sacred and the day for people to walk their dogs and enjoy the open space, and I can't see us ever changing that policy. We aim for the Old Course to remain available to anyone who wants to play while trying to control wear and tear. It costs £80 to play and we don't think that is expensive for playing the oldest and most famous course in the world. Play starts at 7am and we've lengthened the interval between tee times from eight to 10 minutes to make it more comfortable."

The problem of coping with the rising interest in golf while protecting the courses is not confined to St Andrews. Spain is enjoying a boom in golfing visitors. Mike Lovett, director of golf at the Mijas complex near Malaga, says that they have 130,000 rounds a year on their two courses and are constantly improving the courses to help them take that sort of punishment.

The use of caddie cars, banned at St Andrews, does enable them to accommodate more rounds, but Lovett believes that courses everywhere are reaching the limit of their use.

"Golfers don't feel comfortable on crowded courses so we need to get the numbers down so that we can offer quality golf and cut down on overuse. It's a problem that St Andrews does not face alone," he says.

The race may lack the bumping and boring of the World Cup 2006 shambles, but the bidding for the 2009 Ryder Cup is beginning to take a fascinatingly competitive shape. At St Andrews last week the Scottish bid was announced with an aggressive skirl that threw five of the most famous courses in golf into the ring.

If the attempt is successful, the Old Course, Carnoustie, Gleneagles, Loch Lomond and Turnberry would then bid to be named the host. It is a powerful claim, although I do wonder if the Americans would turn up if Carnoustie was chosen.

Wales have already entered a claim via Celtic Manor, where the billionaire Terry Matthews has built a super-complex that he is prepared to back with unflinchingfinance. Next month the North-east of England will join in via Slaley Hall, the complex owned by the hotel group De Vere, owners of the Belfry, where the Ryder Cup has had its British home for 15 years and where the 2003 Cup will be held. Ireland will stage it in 2005.

A challenge for 2009 is also expected from Sweden and Spain, but it should be a slug-out between the Brits, with the winner being named in just over 12 months' time.

One of the social highlights of the week is the Golf Writers' Association dinner, and this year the titled heads of world golf were included among the record attendance of over 300 in the R & A marquee.

As usual the quality of the speeches was excellent, both that from the association's president, Mike McDonnell, and the response from Jose Maria Olazabal, in which he was not only extremely eloquent but managed to achieve the impossible task of convincing the assembly that golf writers are not the irritating pests they areusually cracked up to be.

Then the organisers departed from the norm and introduced a cabaret. The apprehension caused by this decidedly risky move lasted only a few bars into the revue act of the Foreballs, a group made up of golfing actors who each boast a list of film and TV credits and together engage in an hilarious send-up of the game and its characters.

From a Shakespearean tournament - cries of "Thou art the Man" - to a plea to the game's favourite Spaniard to the theme tune from Evita "Don't take the wood, Ballesteros", they were a great success. I make no apologies for the plug. Boring golf dinners could be a thing of the past.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?