How the British Open’s affordable tent city became ‘Scotland’s biggest hotel’


Some 2,400 people are staying in a tent village behind the Old Course Hotel & Spa, the chic digs this week of Tiger Woods and other stars of this week’s British Open. (Luke Walker/Getty Images)

The sun sets over the birthplace of golf, casting the majestic Old Course in rose gold. Massive grandstands are in place for the 150th Open Championship and the flags above them flap in the constant breeze. On a giant banner under the leaderboard, this year’s slogan: “It all led up to this.” The tournament takes place from Thursday to Sunday.

The spectators left for the day, the course is empty. But there is the soft sound of pop music in the distance and, as you walk towards him, the happy chatter of children playing football. The sound comes from behind the Old Course Hotel & Spa, the posh digs this week from Tiger Woods and other stars of the game.

The sound gets even louder as you approach the manicured playgrounds behind the hotel, now populated by rows of tidy tents that stretch out like the streets of a neighborhood. Blue tents here, smaller green ones there, and beige tents in the middle that each have a small solar panel the size of a political lawn sign.

These are perhaps the greatest and most ingenious accommodations in sports – 770 comfortable nylon domiciles that are a well-struck iron of the 17e green, this week’s home for a few thousand lucky golf fans chosen by lottery.

770 comfortable nylon tents are set up outside the 17th green of the Old Course in St. Andrews.

The biggest and smartest accommodations in all sports? A few thousand lucky golf fans can stay in 770 comfortable nylon tents on the Old Course in St. Andrews. (Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

Rest your head here and you have – in golf terms – an ideal lie.

“It’s about providing a safe and affordable place to stay,” said Tom Critchley, who oversees operations at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, the Open’s governing body.

This is the fifth tent city the R&A has assembled since 2016, when the Championships were held at Royal Troon. There were 100 tents then, and this number has increased with each successive Open. This year, the village is closer than ever to the course.

Nightly prices range from $59 for single single tents to $357 for the larger “glamping” tents, which sleep six and feature carpets, beds, linens and duvets and two bedside lamps powered by these. solar panels.

All profits made by the R&A go back into the operation of the tent village. The idea was to create an affordable way for people to see the Open without incurring the knockdown prices of local hotels and house rentals, which can amount to thousands of dollars per night.

Additionally, in an effort to foster a love of golf among the next generation, the R&A is allowing adults ages 16-24 to stay for free, providing only a deposit in case they damage the tents.

The camp can accommodate 2,400 people this year, and Critchley said the R&A has offered more than 4,000 free nights for people under 25.

Tom Critchley, the camp manager in charge of the entire British Open Tent City operation for the R&A

“It’s about being a good place to sleep,” camp leader Tom Critchley said. (Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

“I just finished my exams this year so I wanted to do something,” said Finan Farrell, 18, a golf fan from the west of Ireland who is staying free with his brother, Eoghan. “It’s really good value for money.”

By contrast, guests at the 175-room Old Course Hotel live in luxury. Even when The Open packs up and leaves next week, the cheapest room is $627 a night.

“It’s quite an interesting contrast; the cheapest place to stay at the Open, right across from the most expensive,” said Alex Fothergill, who worked for the five years the villages ran and helped set up the tents during the iteration original at the Royal Troon in 2016.

Simon and Elaine Neson sit outside their tent with their daughter Emma

Simon and Elaine Neson sit outside their tent with their daughter Emma at the makeshift campsite outside the Old Course in St. Andrews. (Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

These tasks are now handled by professionals, who need a week to set up this temporary city which includes portable toilets, showers, food trucks and a tent clubhouse which offers live music, a DJ, trivia contests and special guests such as open contestants who come to answer questions.

There are open spaces where children play football and volleyball, picnic tables, cabins to charge a phone or try golf clubs, a large fence around the area and security guards so that the tents are not disturbed while the locals watch the golf.

Alex Fothergill stands in front of the makeshift pavilion which hosts various events for campers during The Open.

Alex Fothergill, who has worked in all the tent villages since their debut at Royal Troon in 2016, stands outside the makeshift clubhouse which hosts various camper events. (Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

The community rules are quite simple.

“It’s about being a good place to sleep,” Critchley said. “So we don’t want to be too rowdy. We talk to people about respecting their neighbors, trying to be quiet after 10 p.m. No fires, no barbecues. We are not like Glastonbury [the British version of the Coachella music festival] where you bring your own tent. All tents are pre-pitched so it’s like a hotel.

“We are the largest hotel in Scotland this week.”

And arguably the happiest. People are happy to be there, and they come from all over the world, including a lot of Americans. Critchley said he had 17 different nationalities among residents of the village of Portrush in Northern Ireland, the last before the pandemic. He hasn’t done the math yet this year.

“If it wasn’t golf I don’t think it would work,” said Englishman Alex Gurnell, who not only stays in a tent but also works for footwear and clothing maker FootJoy, which 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 the golf and enjoy it, and have a good time.

Simon Nelson, an avid golfer from Northern Ireland, has brought his wife and two young daughters to the event, and they are staying in one of the largest Spartan tents. They were at the Royal Portrush in 2019 and had a great time despite the frequent showers.

“You’re in Ireland, you’re in the North Atlantic, so you’re going to get wet at some point,” Nelson said. “You don’t come to Ireland to stay dry. I just hope the wind picks up a bit here so the scores don’t get silly.

James and Sara Jones, who live in Wales, are treating this as a couple’s getaway, glamping while one girl is at the Glastonbury Festival and another hangs out with a friend. So far, they said, the experience has been refreshingly easy, as they parked at a satellite lot four miles away and a bus was waiting to take them to the tent village.

“The only hard part was carrying all the beer,” James said. “But it will be empty when we get home.”

Golf fan Matt Hillier may have traveled the furthest. He works for an airline and was able to arrange an affordable flight from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

“Yes, camping anywhere is difficult,” he said. “But you meet people. I’ve met 100 people over the past three days and it’s been amazing. The guy I’ve been hanging out with for the past few days, I met on the bus coming here. From there we formed a small group of six guys who are all here for the same reason, from England, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Australia and Scotland. We’re all here for the same reason: to have a good time, have a few beers and watch the golf.

Hillier conceded that sometimes in those close quarters you get to know people a little better than you’d like.

“Everyone is very respectful, but it’s camping,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of a symphony orchestra, everyone is snoring around me. But I know I’ll probably direct this as soon as I fall asleep.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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