DEREK LAWRENSON: The closed Open is a sad sign of the times even though it makes commercial sense

It was one of the things that made the Open unique among the crown jewels of the sporting summer. It was the only event where, if the mood and the weather suited, or your favorite golfer was in with a chance of winning the Claret Jug, you could drive up on the day and be sure of getting in.

No longer. The all-ticket Open, introduced in 2019 at Royal Portrush because virtually everyone in golf-mad Ireland wanted to be there, and in place for this year at St Andrews as it is the 150th edition, will continue in the future, even when there isn’t such a clamor.

As far as last-minute attendance is concerned, the Open is now closed. In many ways it is perfectly understandable. A boom in participation numbers in the UK equates to increased demand to attend the sport’s signature event.

There were 1.3m ticket applications for the 150th edition of the Open at St Andrews this year

There were 1.3m ticket applications for the 150th edition of the Open at St Andrews this year

No fewer than 1.3million ticket applications were received for this year’s landmark occasion. The last St Andrews Open attracted an attendance of 239,000 – and felt pretty cramped with that many – so you can see the problem.

It’s not a one-off, either. It would be no surprise to see over 500,000 apply for tickets next year at Royal Liverpool at a venue that can comfortably hold about half that number.

‘It’s regrettable in one way but the old model just doesn’t work any more,’ said an R&A spokesman. ‘For the dimensions of a modern Open, you need to know how many people are going to be there so you can cater for them properly.’

It also makes perfect commercial sense for the R&A, of course, who receive the ticket money well in advance.

The all-ticket Open was introduced in 2019 at Royal Portrush because of the interest in Ireland

The all-ticket Open was introduced in 2019 at Royal Portrush because of the interest in Ireland

The nostalgia angle, however, is not the only regret. With the all-ticket Open has come the vexed problem of ticket touts. The R&A have created a platform on their website for people with tickets for St Andrews who can’t now attend to sell them on to others on the waiting list at face value – but there are plenty more who’d rather make a lucrative fast buck on websites for touts.

Tickets for the final round are on sale already for more than £ 500 and that figure will likely balloon as the R&A ramps up publicity with an Open media day today, and the big occasion draws ever nearer.

It’s a depressing thought that makes you long for the days when unheralded club pros or star-struck teenage amateurs would make it through final qualifying and 30 or 40 members would instantly make plans to drive hundreds of miles to follow their man all the way. No wonder they say progress comes with a price.

Stricker set for comeback

Imagine trying to come down from cloud nine after three years of planning for a Ryder Cup taking place in your hometown ends in a record victory?

In November last year, just over a month after the triumph at Whistling Straits, US captain Steve Stricker was hospitalized with a soaring white blood cell count and an inflammation around his heart. He lost almost two stone from an already lean frame.

The heart muscle put to the test during those pulse-racing days as captain was arrhythmic by Thanksgiving Day.

Steve Stricker (pictured), 55, will return to the Champions Tour this week after a heart scare

Steve Stricker (pictured), 55, will return to the Champions Tour this week after a heart scare

‘It stayed that way until Christmas Eve,’ said Stricker. ‘The doctor told me it might be six months before I could think again about golf. I’m sure the letdown after the Ryder Cup had a lot to do with it. ‘

Happily, Stricker, 55, will return to competition a little ahead of that forecast on the Champions Tour this week, and the season’s first senior major.

Wirral courses left to ruin

Two golfy news items caught my eye last week. One concerned my home patch on Wirral, Merseyside, where the local council have taken what’s best described as an act of sporting vandalism in withdrawing funding from two splendid municipal courses called Brackenwood and Hoylake that are much loved by thousands of golfers in the area.

Hopes remain that they can be sold as a going concern but, in the meantime, the Brackenwood greens have already been subjected to vandalism of a more physical kind. The saving to the council, by the way, will be just £ 236,000, money they’d probably recoup and more with the added interest next year when the Open comes to town.

The other came from thousands of miles away in the poshest part of Los Angeles, down the road from where Adele lives. Actor Mark Wahlberg’s house has just gone on the market, and one of the chief selling points is the fact it has a five-hole golf course in the grounds. The new owner will be paying rather more than £ 236,000 to enjoy this private set-up. The asking price is loose change short of £ 68million.

It’s a mad world, all right.

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