The sun is setting over the birthplace of golf, casting the majestic Old Course in rose gold. For the 150th Open Championship, huge stands have been prepared and the flags above them flutter in the steady wind. This year’s slogan on a giant banner below the leaderboard is: “It’s all been leading up to this.” The tournament runs from Thursday to Sunday.
The course is empty as spectators leave for the day. But there’s soft pop music blaring in the distance and the happy chatter of kids playing soccer as you walk toward it. The sound comes from behind the Old Course Hotel & Spa, a great spot to watch Tiger Woods and other stars of the game this week.
The sound grows louder as we approach the manicured playgrounds behind the hotel, now populated by neat tents that spread out like the streets of the neighborhood. Blue tents here, smaller green tents there, and black tents in the middle, each with a small solar panel the size of a political lawn sign.
These may be the largest and most ingenious residences in the sport – 770 cozy nylon homes well-hit from 17-to-six irons.c Green was selected by the home lottery for several thousand lucky golfers this week.
Rest your head here and you have an ideal golf lie.
“It’s about providing a safe and affordable place to stay,” Tom Critchley said.
This is the fifth tented village the R&A has assembled since 2016, when the championships were held at Royal Troon. At that time there were 100 tents, and this number increased with each successive Open. This year, the village is closer to the course than ever.
Nightly rates range from $59 for basic single tents for up to six people and $357 for the largest “glamping” tents with two bunk beds equipped with rugs, beds, sheets and blankets and those solar panels.
Any profits made by the R&A are plowed back into the operation of the tent village. The idea was to create an affordable way for people to see the Open Space without paying the prices of local hotels and house rentals, which can cost thousands of dollars per night.
Plus, to instill a love of golf in the next generation, the R&A allows adults aged 16-24 to stay for free, only paying a deposit if they can damage the tents.
The camp is sleeping 2,400 people this year and Critchley said the R&A has given more than 4,000 free bed nights to people under 25.
“It’s quite an interesting contrast; Cheapest place to stay at the Open, opposite the most expensive,”
— Alex Fothergill has worked in all five British Open tent villages
“I’ve just finished my exams this year so I wanted to do something,” said Finan Farrell, 18, a keen golfer from the west of Ireland who was staying for free with his brother Eoghan. “It’s really good value.”
Instead, guests live in luxury at the 175-room Old Course hotel. Even when the Open wraps up and leaves next week, the cheapest room there is $627 a night.
“It’s quite an interesting contrast; The cheapest place to stay outdoors, as opposed to the most expensive,” said Alex Fothergill, who has worked for all five years the villages have been in operation and helped set up the tents in the original iteration at Royal Troon in 2016.
Those tasks are now handled by professionals, who need a week to set up this temporary campus, which includes portable toilets, showers, food trucks, and a tented clubhouse that features a variety of live music, DJs, trivia contests, and special guests like open competitors. come to answer questions.
There are outdoor areas for kids to play soccer and softball, picnic tables, booths for charging phones or trying golf clubs, a large fence around the area, and security guards so the tents aren’t disturbed while residents watch the golf.
The community rules are pretty simple.
“It’s all about being a good place to sleep,” Critchley said. “So we don’t want to be too messy. We talk to people about respecting neighbors, trying to be quiet after 10 p.m. No fire, no barbecue. We’re not like Glastonbury [the British version of the Coachella music festival] where do you bring your tent from? All tents are pre-set up so it’s like a hotel.
“We’re the biggest hotel in Scotland this week.”
And certainly the most joyful. People are happy to be there, and they come from all over the world, including many Americans. Critchley said he counted 17 different nationalities among the residents of the Northern Ireland village of Portrush, the last before the pandemic. He hasn’t calculated that yet this year.
“If it wasn’t for golf, I don’t think it would work,” said Alex Gurnell, an Englishman who not only stayed in a tent but also works for FootJoy, the shoe and clothing manufacturer that sponsors the village.
“You can go to a festival like Glastonbury and it’s there to some extent. But with golf, it’s a whole different level of respect. Everyone is there to watch golf, enjoy it and have a great time.”
“We’re all here for the same reason – to have a good time, drink a few beers and watch some golf.”
– British Open camp Matt Hillier
Committed golfer Simon Nelson from Northern Ireland brought his wife and two young daughters to the event, and they are staying in one of the larger, spartan tents. They were at Royal Portrush in 2019 and had a great time despite getting wet in the frequent showers.
“You’re in Ireland, you’re in the North Atlantic, so you’re going to get wet at some stage,” Nelson said. “You don’t come to Ireland to stay dry. I hope that the wind here will pick up a little so that the scores are not stupid.”
James and Sarah Jones, who live in Wales, treat it as a couple’s getaway, with one daughter at Glastonbury and the other staying with her friend. They said the experience so far had been refreshingly easy as they parked at a satellite site four miles away and a bus was waiting to take them to the tent village.
“The only hard part was getting all the beer,” James said. “But it will be empty when I go home.”
Golf fan Matt Hillier could travel the furthest. He works for an airline and was able to arrange a cheap flight from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
“Yeah, it’s hard to camp anywhere,” he said. “But you meet people. I met 100 people in the last three days and it was amazing. I met the guy I’ve been hanging out with for the past few days on the bus coming here. From there we formed a small group of six people from England, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Australia and Scotland who were here for the same reason. We’re all here for the same reason – to have a good time, drink a few beers and watch some golf.”
Hillier admitted that sometimes in these close quarters you get to know people a little better than you’d like.
“Everyone is very respectful, but it’s a camp,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of a symphony orchestra, everyone is snoring around me. But I know that I will probably lead this work as soon as I fall asleep.