As golf enthusiasts look forward to The Open at Royal Troon, there is little clarity about the true costs of the prestigious tournament and its impact on the game’s general finances

While all involved are keen to talk about the economic benefits of hosting The Open, its organisers are far more cagey when it comes to discussing the costs of staging the oldest professional golf tournament in the world.

First played in 1860, the inaugural British Open was a relatively modest affair with eight golfers competing over three rounds at the 12-hole links course at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire. There was no prize money on offer, and for many years The Open was not the sport’s most-followed event as challenge matches between top players drew larger crowds.

This year’s competition kicking off later this month at Royal Troon is sold out, thus ensuring a record attendance for a Troon Open of 250,000, with adult ticket prices ranging from £25 for the practice day on July 14 up to £110 for the final round of the championship on July 21.

Royal Troon last hosted The Open in 2016Royal Troon last hosted The Open in 2016 (Image: Herald Archive)

It will be an increase of more than 70,000 people from the last time the event was held at Royal Troon in 2016, when Henrik Stenson hit a record low score to see off Phil Mickelson in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest Open contests. The all-time record attendance of 290,000 was set at 150th Open at St Andrews in 2022, the last time the event was hosted in Scotland.

That year marked the start of a financial comeback for St Andrews Links Trust (SALT), the charity in charge of the historic Old Course and a further six public links courses in the area. Accounts released earlier this year show an operating profit of £11.5 million for SALT in 2023, up from £3.7m in 2022, which has allowed the organisation to repay more than £8m of debt accumulated during the Covid lockdown and travel restrictions of 2020 and 2021.

SALT chief executive Neil Coulson says 2022 was a bounce-back year with the release of pent-up demand from the pandemic period. However, there was also a cost in terms of reduced capacity for regular play while preparations for The Open took place.

“It is quite a significant impact, to be honest,” he said. “If you think across our whole estate and facilities, we actually have closures of various courses and clubhouses and other facilities right from the spring through until the tournament, so the actual impact for some parts of the business would probably start in the early part of the spring. Then, if you think of everything off-site that [extends to] the end of the summer so the impact, whether it’s a golf course or a club house or some elements of that, is quite extensive throughout the year.”

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The international governing body R&A is officially responsible for bearing the staging costs of The Open, but how this breaks down is unclear. Even the total top-line cost of putting on the event is regarded as commercially confidential.

Asked how the R&A compensates for lost playing time on the course and other expenses, Mr Coulson said: “It varies to be honest – it will vary place to place and it’s not something that we can talk about really."

It’s a similar line from the R&A: “The cost of staging the championship is commercially sensitive information and so we would not disclose this,” a spokesman said.

Known formally as the R&A Trust Company (No. 1), the R&A is the collective name of a group of companies that together have a key role in governing the international game. R&A Rules Ltd is responsible for the laws of the game, R&A Championships Ltd is responsible for organising The Open along with more than 20 other championships and international matches, and R&A Group Services Ltd provides back office and administrative functions.

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Latest accounts filed at Companies House on behalf of R&A Championships covering the year to December 2022 note that “the majority of the company’s income is derived from the sale of rights in relation to The Open”, including broadcasting and sponsorship rights.

Turnover in that year, which included the 150th Open at St Andrews, came in at £147.5m, up from £114.2m previously. Cost of sales covering the expense of staging all competitions under the R&A’s remit was £115.2m, up from £88.2m in 2021.

R&A Championships made a profit after tax of £10.7m in 2022, £10m of which was handed over to parent company R&A Trust Company (No. 1) in the form of a dividend payment.

Along with the installation of grandstands, corporate hospitality venues, catering, merchandising and additional parking facilities, the courses themselves at Open venues are routinely altered to ensure the most challenging test possible for the world’s top golfers.

Construction workers building a grandstand alongside the 18th green at Royal TroonConstruction workers building a grandstand alongside the 18th green at Royal Troon (Image: Jane Barlow/PA)

For this year, architects Mackenzie & Ebert have added nine new tees to increase the length of the course at Royal Troon by 195 yards to 7,385, just 36 fewer than the record at Carnoustie – home to this year’s Senior Open – in 2007.

New sand traps have been added to the first and sixth fairways, and another next to the sixth green, for a total of 98 bunkers throughout. At 623 yards, the sixth hole is also set to become the longest in Open history, while provisions have been made to turn the par-three Postage Stamp at the eighth into the shortest hole on record at less than 100 yards.

The economic impact of all this golfing pageantry is well-documented with research by Sheffield Hallam University estimating total benefits of £106m to Scotland from the 2022 Open in St Andrews. Further independent research by YouGov Sport put a value of £201m on the destination marketing benefits from the event being broadcast around the world.

“I don’t think we can look at it purely in financial terms because if you look at the coverage that you get … it’s not [the kind of] financial transaction that you would have with hosting other events,” says Mr Coulson, “and certainly not when hosting here [at St Andrews] where we have that obligation to play our part in being part of that global golf environment."