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Open Season


With three Englishmen inside golf’s top 10 and the big British ­tournament returning to St Andrews for its 150th anniversary, all eyes are on this year’s British Open. Mark Sansom tees up the hospitality options for the big event

the open - 1001_The_Open_(3)resized.jpgPerched on an inlet of the east Scottish coast, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is the Home of Golf. It was here that 300 years ago the rules of the sport were drafted and the first competitions played. Boundless fairways sweep out towards thundering North Sea waves and curl back to the iconic clubhouse looming over the 18th green.

It’s a vision that continues to inspire golfing pilgrimages from across the globe year after year. This time, the eyes of the golfing world will be fixed even more intently on this little corner of Scotland. From 15-18 July, the course has the honour of hosting the oldest tournament in the world on its 150th anniversary. ‘The British Open is what I dreamt of playing in and winning when I was growing up,’ says the 1969 champion and one of Britain’s greatest ever players, Tony Jacklin. ‘It’s only every five years that it comes back to St Andrews, so it’s a special tournament that all the players want to be a part of.’
Indeed, there’s a certain magic about The Open that sucks fans and players in. ‘There’s a mystique that fills me with honour to have won it. It’s a survival test that says everything about the sport,’ says last year’s champion, Stewart Cink. And like every great tournament, it produces scenes that slacken the jaws of even the most seasoned commentators.

Rank outsider Jean Van de Velde, for example, needed only a double bogey to secure victory in 1999, but elected to take off his shoes and socks and scoop his ball from a river rather than take a one-shot penalty; he subsequently lost the title. Then there was the time when 22-year-old Seve Ballesteros, his face the image of pure joy, lifting the trophy after chipping on to the green from the car park at Royal Lytham in 1979. It’s the stuff of fairytales and nightmares.
British Hopes.

Unsurprisingly, given our sense of ownership towards the great game, British golf has always had a strong heritage, from the halcyon days of dominance pre-war, to the single-minded brilliance of Nick Faldo in the 1990s. However, over the past decade, golf has belonged almost exclusively to one player, Tiger Woods.

the open - jean_van_de_velde_1218884resized.jpgSince Woods has been on the prowl, there have been few chances for legions of talented players to shine. ‘He only had to turn up and he’d be odds on,’ says Jacklin. In his 2005 Open win, Woods went the four rounds without hitting a single bunker: something the field couldn’t compete with. Despite raising golf to a level of consistency people once thought was impossible, when he had his best game on, it was hard to see a different winner.

With Woods only just back from his ‘indefinite break’ and not at his best, this year’s Open will be the one to watch. British hopes are high. It’s the only one of the four major tournaments to be played outside the States, giving the non-American players a better shot. Familiarity with the conditions – unpredictable winds, ever-changing weather and rough deep enough to defeat Ray Mears – will play into the hands of the home players. And as three of the world’s top 10 golfers are English, Jacklin is upbeat about the prospects of a domestic champion. ‘Ian Poulter and Paul Casey have a great chance,’ he says. ‘Ian has shown some real grit recently and has the game to win a major. Justin Rose has also been threatening to do something big for a long time.’

Golf lovers will already be rubbing their hands together in anticipation, but the excitement that surrounds the tournament will no doubt entertain less ardent fans too. St Andrews is always a course that throws up a few shocks. One of the longest on the circuit, with the deepest bunkers in the business, a player is never far from failure. Double-size greens, where two have been amalgamated over the years, offer players a chance of holing colossal putts, which are always a crowd pleaser. Meanwhile, mammoth spectator galleries flank the pivotal holes and viewing areas tee up some of the most spectacular vistas in the sport.
The Open has always appealed to the serious golf fans. You won’t encounter the ‘yabadabadoo’ and ‘get it in the hole’ brigade at St Andrews. ‘British golf fans know their stuff,’ says Jacklin. ‘You won’t hear any barracking. The players realise that and want to put on a show.’ Spectators travel from all over Europe to get up early and join the first players on the course. Armed with their own score cards and course maps, they’ll be living every moment of the player’s journey round the course.

Despite its length and wide fairways, the Old Course at St Andrews is a fascinatingly technical 18 holes. Strategically placed pins protect the integrity of the course and reward patience, yet they encourage players to go for the jugular when the line is right. But no matter how good a competitor’s short and long games are, it will always come down to getting the ball in the hole. ‘Golf will always be about those 4ft putts that keep you awake at night,’ says Jacklin. And with five of the last 11 Opens coming down to a final round play-off, a gripping week’s play is a given.

Championship Hospitality
Golf will always make a sound hospitality ticket because of its association with business and popularity in corporate circles. It’s an early start and the day can finish around 6pm, so there’s plenty of face time with guests. Whether you’re following a pair or flitting between players, you’ll be out walking the course in the open air – a refreshing alternative to sitting in a box at other events – which often works better if you’re in a small group.

As it’s the 150th anniversary of the tournament, the official caterer and hospitality provider, Sodexo Prestige (tel: 0844 3710 883, squaremeal.co.uk/prestige-open), has introduced a range of new packages to celebrate, drawing on all aspects of golfing tradition and Scottish cuisine.
The festivities begin before the tournament, with a one-off Sportsman’s Dinner in The Links Restaurant beside the first tee on the Wednesday practice session. This special event will showcase four past Open winners battling it out over four holes on the Old Course. Three as-yet-unnamed champions will join Tony Jacklin where competition will be intense: ‘The competitive streak will be back’, Jacklin promises. Availability is limited to 300 places for the event and at £299+VAT per head, it’s an add-on worth considering for top clients.

On the VIP track, the top-of-the-range Road Hole VIP Fine Dining package is set on the top floor of the five-star Old Course Hotel, overlooking the 17th fairway with the best view of the course. The gourmet experience begins with a breakfast cooked by a private chef, which is best followed by the sample of a single malt from the collection of more than 200 by the adjacent bar (‘Best Whisky Bar in the World’ according to Icons of Whisky). It’s suited to guests who are there to watch the golf, but also indulge in a spot of luxury. Spectators will generally go out early, watch the first few tee-offs, then retire for lunch and watch the pairs coming down the final hole from the decked terrace overlooking the green. It combines plenty of face time and the opportunity to talk shop in seriously luxurious surrounds. Prices for the package start at £695+VAT.

0907_TheOpenTurnberry_177.jpgFor the more hands-on golf fan, there are plenty of roving packages, where food can be grabbed on the run while following a group of players. Best for small groups who are there first and foremost to watch the play, the Clubhouse Package is based in the Hospitality Village. It’s a more informal setting where an à la carte menu based around local seafood is available all day, as well as a selection of tapas-style Scottish dishes to graze on. It’s less ‘buzzy’ than the restaurant-based packages, as people are coming and going throughout the day and generally don’t hang around over lunch. Guest speakers from the golfing world will address diners and will be available intermittently to answer questions and give you tips on how to improve your swing. Prices start at £460+VAT.
For larger parties, The Home of Golf package – also new for this year – gives clients the opportunity to entertain at the Old Course Hotel, with suites available for 12, 24 and 40 guests. Breakfast is served, followed by a Champagne reception, three-course lunch and Scottish afternoon tea. Company signage and branding can be brought in to theme the private rooms. Prices start at £415+VAT per guest. 

To book any of the hospitality options or
to have a bespoke package created, contact
Sodexo Prestige on 0844 3710 883

Top Tips for Golf Hospitality

 Take two pairs of shoes – that means both men and women. One pair for walking the course, one for slipping into afterwards

 Dress for comfort, not glamour – everyone else will have. For men, wear what you would on a golf course. Ladies: smart trousers/slacks, windcheater and sensible shoes

 Come prepared for a long day. Play starts from 6.30am and can finish at 6pm

 Get a handle on golf and tournament rules before the start. The journey up makes the perfect time to brush up on cuts, play-offs and two-balls

Get accommodation sorted early. Edinburgh has plenty of smart, functional and trendy hotels that are about an hour and a half from the course

Plan your day – work out who you want to follow and take meals around their tee time

Cameras and mobiles are not allowed. You go through two scanners before you even get to the course, so don’t even try it

Think about your guest list. It’s a dream ticket for a golf fan, but it’s also a very long day for someone who doesn’t enjoy the game. Don’t waste money on the latter

Bring an umbrella; large in size and sturdy in structure

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine in April 2010

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