The good, the bad and the ugly - Visiting the Open Championship
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
PART of me is totally ripped at the prospect of heading to the northwest of England for The Open Championship. It is my World Cup final, except that it is better because it lasts for four whole days.
Tiger Woods will be taking part in his first major of the year, with everybody wondering how on earth he will get on. Will he miss the cut? After back surgery and so much time on the sidelines and so little time to prepare, how can he possibly be ready?
Or will Jordan Spieth go one better than he did at The Masters and land his first major before the age of 21?
There will also be huge interest in Phil Mickelson, who is having the worst season of his professional career but will surely be inspired by defending the major title he always seemed least likely to win.
There will be enormous support for three genuine home hopes - Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy - and a wish that Luke Donald can rediscover his form and that Ian Poulter can become something other than a Ryder Cup golfer.
When Woods won at Hoylake in 2006, he used his driver once in four days. It was a strategy he devised after a dreadful start to a practice round at Hoylake, when he found bunkers at each of the first two holes and could only play out sideways. No other player in the field tried the same thing.
There is little chance of Woods, or anybody else, adopting a similar tactic this year. Back in 2006, the fairways were parched and the tournament was played in hot weather. The ball rolled for ever. This time, the rough will be thick and penal and the fairways will be lush and green.
It all sounds great - and it is
Why, oh why, does every business within a 40-mile radius of Hoylake feel the need to cash in? No, let's rephrase that - why does every business within a 40-mile radius of Hoylake feel that it is necessary rip off people who are already paying quite enough for their tickets to watch the golf?
Hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and pubs with rooms think it is all right to hike their prices when The Open comes to town - why? It is not as if the hotels and pubs will be short of customers eager to spend their money during Open week.
The same applies to local restaurants and fast food outlets.
Worst of all, however, are the local golf courses. It happens every year - they know that many of the spectators will bring their clubs with them with the aim of having a round or two of golf while in the area to watch the world's oldest major championship. And guess what? A club that might normally charge £40 for a round of golf, suddenly pushes its green fees up to £100 or more.
It is greed, plain and simple. Most local courses simply state on their websites that the green fees quoted exlude "The Open period" - to find out how much they are going to relieve you of you need to phone up. And such is the demand, you may not even get on.
And then there is the venue itself. Spectators are not allowed to leave the site and come back in again in case they give their ticket to somebody else. Really! How outrageous is that? Isn't golf all about honesty and integrity?
It also means that unless you have the foresight to bring your own food with you, there is little option but to pay the inflated prices. Fish and chips will cost you getting on for £10. A pint of flat beer served in a plastic glass will set you back at least £5 - when you finally get to the head of the queue.
As a journalist, I am entitled to get inside the ropes to follow the players, but I prefer to view The Open as ordinary customers do. Some chance. Try to follow Woods for 18 holes and honestly report back how many times you see him strike the ball. Two? Three? As a spectator sport it is right up there with the Tour de France, where you wait hours and the peleton flashes past you in a couple of seconds.
Better to stay at home and watch it on television. Or, as thousands of people do, pay for your ticket and then plonk yourself in front of the giant screen on site. It seems an odd way to watch The Open, but at least they can all say: "I was there."
Thomas Bjorn described the 2006 Open at the same venue as "The People's Open", such was the enthusiasm of the crowds. Hoylake is not far from Liverpool, a city known for the outgoing nature of its population. They created a real party atmosphere eight years ago. Most of them have Irish blood, so they have a sense of humour. One suspects that they will need it.
Despite it all, I can't wait.
Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]
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