SOUTHPORT, England -- A British Open without Tiger Woods -- the first since 1994 -- shouldn’t depress attendance, according to the Royal & Ancient’s director of championships David Hill.
So far, ticket sales are 28 percent ahead of 1998, when the Open Championship last visited Royal Birkdale in northwestern England, according to the R&A. Unlike the U.S. Open, the British Open doesn’t cap admission and tickets (55 pounds or about $110 per day) are sold at the gates throughout the tournament. That means attendance is a pretty accurate gauge of fan interest, especially here near large cities like Liverpool and Manchester.
“We’re very confident there will be 200,000 people here during the week, and even today they’re pouring in through the pay gates more than we anticipated,” Hill said. “I think more people are coming to see the Open than ever. It’s disappointing that Tiger is not here, but the fans think this is a special week and they’ve made their minds up to come.”
The key factor in attendance will be the weather, Hill said. When the Open Championship was at nearby Hoylake in 2006, about 230,000 fans came out to watch Woods win playing only irons on scorched fairways in the summer heat. This week’s more traditional Open forecast of rain and wind will keep that number down more than Woods’s absence, Hill said.
“[Ticket sales] are running just about similar to Hoylake,” Hill said. “So my judgment is that it’s the old story: If the weather isn’t brilliant then we’ll finish up at 200,000. If the sunshine was to come out, as happened at Hoylake, we could get up to 230,000.”