With the Open now closed, it’s meet to take stock of the net effect of such a huge circus rolling into as small a town as Gullane. From almost any perspective, it must be considered a huge success and the R&A, supported by a myriad of organisations, deserve praise for the way it knitted together and showcased top-notch golf at a top-notch venue with minimal distractions.
The weather was especially kind—to the onlookers, if not to the players themselves. A run-up of glorious summer weather had left greens “like glass” and fairways almost as fast as the greens. Together with fearsome rough that lurks close on either side, this was the downfall of many a fine contender on the first sun-drenched day as balls rolled further than they should have. Unlike many such top-rank golf contests, a below-par score was a rarity and highly-ranked golfers like Rory McIlroy stumbled into plus territory.
A second day of blazing weather fooled many who thought they had the measure of the course now as the wind swung from West to East and balls rolled in entirely different patterns. As a result, the cut winnowed out many worthy and famous names from Faldo to McIlroy and the spread of scores was unusually narrow, making it anyone’s contest and setting up a couple of cliffhanger days of fine links golf over the weekend. The top of the stand at the 13th was judged to be the prime seat as, not only could you see several other holes but the views of Gullane Hill’s fine houses and the panorama of the Forth were made as the more stunning in the summer sun.
Meantime, the impact of the Open on the surrounding communities became clear. With local roads closed, there was minor disruption to residents who had coded passes for vehicles to give them access. The provision of both park-and-ride and thrice-hourly trains to Drem worked very well and ScotRail/Stagecoach/Scottish Police are to be commended for whisking 7,000 fans daily in and out of the tiny station with even larger numbers using the Ballencrieff or Muirton P&R. The only transport black mark goes to FirstBus who insisted on running a bog-standard 124/X24 half-hourly service through Gullane, resulting in frequent overcrowding between Musselburgh & Gullane.
And it was at those park-and-rides that the first mumbles were heard regarding prices. Not only was a day ticket a hefty £75 (with no concessions) but the £15 P&R charge was regarded as steep. Add in the fact that anything being sold inside the event itself was at a steep premium (bottle of water: £2.50) and it is little wonder that the numbers attending slumped from previous years—some 10% down at around 30,000 each day. Whether the R&A takes this on board in the present ever-tightening economic stagnation remains to be seen.
Certainly, there was little indication of parsimony at the heart of the contest. All the usual sponsors were there; a fleet of grey Mercedes courtesy cars whisked insiders where they wished to go; the big BBC studio overlooking the 18th was dwarfed by ESPN’s double studio and 200 staff in attendance. The Bollinger tent was going like a fair and people (well, men) were snapping up expensive golfing wear of questionable colour schemes.
Although some had benefitted during the weeks of run-up, local businesses who offered daytime services did suffer serious falls in takings over the four days: few of the shops, cafes and restaurants in Gullane saw much business until the day’s golf was done and Fenton Barns, even though technically accessible, suffered hugely from having the through road to Drem closed. North Berwick reported significant drops in daytime activity as people from Edinburgh perceived the area to be choked with traffic and gave the place a miss.
But the story was better in the evenings. All the restaurants, while having minimal lunch business went like a fair each evening, with available tables like hen’s teeth as famous names block-booked for eight or more. Most popular of all was Zito’s where Bert gave his usual virtuoso front-of-house performance in presenting excellent food. Over the week it developed into the players’ favourite haunt—so much so that a group of golfers left their stunned waitress a £250 tip and staunchly rebuffed her refusal.
There was also, unlike in 2002, a timely recognition of when opportunity might present itself along the High Street. As a result, a handful of shops stayed open late into the evening, including Blues & Greens, Etc, Tippecanoe and Locketts who found good business in the hundreds of players and spectators when wandered the High Street throughout each evening.
So, if there are lessons to be learned (apart for the R&A shifting a thrawn Muirfield out of its neanderthal attitude on gender) for next time, it would be for a more proactive role by the Council’s Economic Development to formulate a plan that better spreads the wealth to local business more. As a start, a much more comprehensive explanation of the traffic plan that didn’t fall between an over-simplified diagram from the police and fifteen pages of legal TRO gibberish from the Roads department would help.
Oh—and more fabulous weather would help.