Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Portrush now on a major par with Muirfield, as more fans turned up at Dunluce course than The Open

Rory McIlroy pictured on the 16th.
Darren Clarke

Fewer paying customers were at Muirfield on Sunday to watch Phil Mickelson's march to the Claret Jug than turned up at Royal Portrush last summer to see Jamie Donaldson wrap-up the Irish Open title!

Attendance figures for all four days of The Open also were exceeded by the record-breaking numbers who flocked to the Dunluce Course 12 months ago.

The overall figure for Open Championship week at Muirfield fell from 160,595 in 2002, the last time golf's oldest Major was played on Edinburgh's doorstep, to 142,036.

Subtract the 31,320 who attended practice last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and that leaves 110,716 for the tournament itself – lower than the 112,280 at the 2012 Irish Open.

Meanwhile, 29,247 were on the property last Sunday, more than a thousand fewer than the 30,362 who witnessed the Irish Open come to a climax on Antrim's Causeway Coast.

Naturally, there's a lot more to staging The Open than capacity.

Accommodating the event's 35,000 square metres of corporate and other tented areas close to the action would be a stumbling block for Portrush, while the political situation in Ulster in July is a cause for concern.

Yet Portrush clearly can hold its own when it comes to accommodating Open-size crowds.

Several reasons were offered for the marked decline in crowd numbers at Murfield this year, yet the greatest inevitably is the cost of attending golf's oldest Major.

Daily ticket prices went up by five pounds this year to £75 but, more significantly, no concession was offered to senior citizens. The season ticket cost £260, incidentally, with a further £60 for parking for the week.

Interesting, the crowds at practice, when admission prices were a fraction of those for tournament days, were up on 2002, offering clear evidence that cost is a major factor.

If two people decided to go to The Open last Sunday, it would have cost them £150 at the gate, plus £15 for parking. Souvenir programmes were £7 each and a radio, vital to monitor the on-course action, cost £9.

Throw in a couple of bottles of water at £2 each, maybe a burger (£5.60 each) and fries (£3 each) for lunch, with a pint to wash them down (£4.20) and our couple spend more than £210.

That's a hefty price to pay for just one day, even at The Open!

How our boys rated at Muirfield

Darren Clarke – After a torrid time since winning the 2011 Open, the Ulsterman, 45 next month, actually recaptured a little of that Sandwich serenity at Muirfield. He even laughed-off a calamitous quadruple-bogey eight at six on Friday and was a real contender until Saturday's 76. All-in-all, this was a promising display. (Tied 21, +7, 72 71 76 72, €54,940. Stats: Average Drive 275.3 59th, Fairways 34/56 37th, Greens 48/72 13th, Putts 121 21st, Birdies 13 8th, 3-Putts 1). Rating: 7.

Graeme McDowell – Given his recent record of winning on all three occasions he'd made the cut, great expectation followed McDowell into the weekend. Yet his swing was a little off kilter, found the bunkers a trial and putted below is usual standard. (Tied 58th, +12, 75 71 73 77, €15,275. Stats: Average Drive 268.1 78th, Fairways 38/56 11th, Greens 41/72 69th, Putts 123 29th, Birdies 8 70th, 3-Putts 3). Rating 4.

Rory McIlroy – Dazed by the battering he took on Thursday, when he even putted into a bunker, the world No.3 McIlroy admitted playing 'brain dead' golf. Though slightly encouraged by his form after cutting loose on the final 11 holes on Friday, he still appeared bereft of confidence. Mickelson replaced him at World No 2 on Sunday. (Missed Cut, +12, 79 75, €3484. Stats: Average Drive 307 yards, Fairways Hit 8/28, Greens in Reg 23/36, Putts 66, Birdies 5, 3-Putts 4) Rating: 2.

Gareth Maybin – Hot recent form on Tour was not reflected at Muirfield, where he missed the cut for a second time in two appearances at The Open, endorsing the Ballyclare native's suggestion that he's a better player on a parkland course than the links. (Missed Cut, +12, 78 76, €3484. Stats: Average Drive 266.5, Fairways Hit 20/28, Greens in Reg 18/36, Putts 64, 3-Putts 1). Rating: 3.

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