The Open 2015: Organisers ready for gold rush as fans insist price is right

Perhaps the vendor in the middle of the Old Course’s tented village was being optimistic.

Those willing to pay an extra £3 on top of the standard £7 price for an official programme were being offered water and sun cream as part of a package deal. Under a grey and overcast Fife sky, even the fair of face needed convincing.

The spectator village was a relatively serene scene here on Tuesday, the calm before the storm for many of those workers pulling pints, flipping burgers or selling merchandise. From Thursday this area, which borders the 16th and 17th holes down the stretch at St Andrews, will be packed to the rafters.

For organisers, it is a potential gold mine. Food and beverage stalls are dotted across these links like at any other Open Championship, while the chance to purchase branded merchandise always pulls spectators into the cavernous official shop in search of clothes or mere tournament momentos.

The cost of attending the Open is not cheap but, in comparison to other major sporting events in Britain, those here argue it represents decent value for money. The R&A, along with its sponsors and suppliers, certainly make a healthy profit from the event but those willing to make the journey to this famous course regard their outgoings as money well spent.

The only real way to measure a cost consensus among the public is through attendance figures. While factors such as the weather and location are important when assessing numbers through the gates – St Andrews and Royal Liverpool historically drawing the biggest crowds compared to other course on the Open rota – attendance is a good gauge of whether spectators consider the event worth the expense.

The last time the Open came to St Andrews in 2010, 201,000 people attended. In 2005 that number was 223,000 and in 2000 a record 230,000 watched Tiger Woods blow his rivals out of the water. Given that ticket prices have gradually increased in recent times, the figures for this year will be intriguing.

Despite a disappointing attendance at Muirfield in 2013, ticket prices have increased by £5 compared to Hoylake last year. High prices were blamed for the weekly gate of 142,036 at Muirfield and, although they were frozen at Liverpool, the minimum admission for an adult at this year’s tournament is £70 – £10 more than when the Open was held here five years ago.

Those who did not purchase a ticket before 1 June pay £80, while concessions – now only for 16-21-year-olds after over-65 discounts were scrapped – are £30 or £25 if bought in advance. A weekly ticket, that includes each practice day, costs £240 or £260.

In reality, St Andrews will always pull in the punters come rain or shine and a valid argument is that the entertainment lasts all day. The first three-ball of Rod Pampling, Greg Owen and Thomas Bjorn tees off at 6.32am on Thursday, with the last group off at 4.13pm.

“I don’t think it’s bad value for money,” say Ahmed and Maggie Abdullah, among a party of four. “We can be here every single day watching anything. Our grandstand ticket for the 17th green cost £250, plus the weekly ticket to get in which is less than that, but the cost is brilliant. You don’t come here for gourmet food and you don’t come here looking for cheap prices.”

At £6.50 for a burger and £4.80 for a pint, the food and beverage costs actually fall just under other major sporting events such as a Six Nations fixture or Wimbledon. There are also numerous free activities in the spectator village, from a longest drive simulator to a free 15-minute tutorial in the R&A swing zone, although a portable device to charge your phone can be purchased for £5 a day. A local family said: “We go to the rugby quite a lot and if you buy a ticket for an 80-minute game for one of the internationals you’re spending £55-60. To come for a whole day here I actually think it’s better value.”

A number of youngsters have taken advantage of the reduced concession prices. Steven Robson, a 17-year-old from Newcastle, said: “It cost me £15 for today. I think it’s good value. I’m coming down here with a mate on Thursday who is in his 20s and he thinks it is a bit expensive.”

Over in the official shop things are rarely quiet. One hundred and sixty staff are on hand to sell everything from ball markers to high-end sweaters. The most popular items are tartan caps and yellow-label pin flags, both priced at £20, with the latter particularly appealing for youngsters on the hunt for autographs.

“We sell thousands of those,” says the retail director, John Macmillan. “It’s also weather dependent, if someone has turned up without a brolly they can buy one here [for £36]. It’s a captive market but shoppers these days are very sensible – the pricing fits the brand. If it starts pouring with rain you need umbrellas and waterproofs, hopefully if it’s sunny then you can buy yourself a cap.”

Powered by article was written by James Riach at St Andrews, for The Guardian on Tuesday 14th July 2015 20.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010