R&A confident of putting on 'world-class' Open at Royal Troon
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 28/01/16 3:24pm
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers is certain that this year's Open at Royal Troon will be one of the "preeminent sporting occasions in the world".
Slumbers will be presiding over golf's oldest major for the first time having succeeded Peter Dawson last year, and he insisted he cannot wait for July to come around despite the amount of work involved.
Royal Troon has not hosted The Open since Todd Hamilton pulled off a shock victory in 2004, and Slumbers is confident the changes made to the course since will provide a "wonderful test of golf" for the first Open to be screened live on Sky Sports in July.
Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ reporter Charles Paterson, Slumbers said: "There's a three-pronged responsibility to my job. Firstly, making sure The Open stays one of the preeminent sporting occasions in the world. Secondly, that we are governing the game fairly and reasonably, and protecting the skill and judgement that is very important for preserving the integrity of the game. Thirdly, it's about developing the game.
"To me, it's about balancing all three issues. As we sit here, it's critical The Open is preeminent, it is terrific, and really that's taking up a good quarter of my time at the moment and this will only increase as the weeks go by.
"The golf course will be fairly similar to what was played in '04, with a yardage not too dissimilar. It's a wonderful test of golf with two very contrasting nines and it will be interesting to see how players of today tackle it and manage the challenge that we put in for them. It's a very fair test of golf, and we are hoping for some good weather.
"The Open has grown so much since '04, in terms of the sheer size of it, and the complexity of the media that's involved. We need to make sure we get it right in five months' time, as will the players.
"It's a new generation, and it will be interesting to see how many have played Troon before, how they play it, and their strategy. It's very exciting, and we have some great role models. July, for me, can't come round quick enough."
Last year's Open required a Monday finish for only the second time in 144 stagings of the tournament after strong winds and torrential rain caused lengthy suspensions in play on the second and third days.
Reduced ticket prices for the extra day prompted huge crowds to flock to St Andrews, and the R&A have introduced a "twilight ticket" for this year's event to allow more people to visit the venue after working hours.
"The weather we experienced for the St Andrews Open was pretty extreme," Slumbers added. "Three weeks before the event, the course was firm, very fast running, verging on brown, and then we had that complete deluge over one weekend that changed it all. The wind we experienced on the Saturday was at the top end - extreme.
"We learned a lot around the balance that is struck between putting on the Championship, challenging the players in what we want to be an Open environment, in terms of the weather being part of the challenge of winning the Open Championship. When you listen to all the past winners, they talk about the battle with the elements.
"The Monday was wonderful golf - a very exciting finish, and a great Championship golfer in Zach Johnson. But it was delightful to see so many families and children. I'd love to see more young people come and watch the Open and it's part of our strategy to get younger people in, in terms of our ticketing structure.
"Our starting point is to make sure we put on a world-class sporting event with a significant amount of infrastructure. We have to make sure it is put on in the right way for our players, for our patrons and for our spectators. It's an expensive proposition to put on a top-class Open, so we balance all the revenue and cost factors.
"We've extended the early bird ticket price and dropped it to £60 before May 1. We've also introduced a twilight ticket, which is a new experience. We are hoping on the Thursday and Friday, people who are at work all day can get in to Troon at four or five in the evening and, providing the weather is in our favour, they could see another four hours-worth of golf with top quality players still out on the course.
"We are going to continue to look at ways to make it easier for younger people and families and more affordable for them to come into the Open. It won't happen in one year, but that's the direction we are going down."