Golf: Interest in Birkdale and 'Golf Coast' Still Bright despite Tiger's Absence; BUSINESS OF SPORT

Article excerpt

Byline: By Peter Sharkey

Fears that Tiger Woods' enforced absence from the Open would have a marked negative impact upon Birkdale's attendance were dispelled yesterday when R &A officials described lastminute ticket sales as 'brisk'.

Although the world's No 1 is at home in California nursing a long-standing knee injury, more than 200,000 golf fans are expected to have descended upon England's 'golf coast' by tomorrow, thereby creating an estimated economic benefit of pounds 70 million for the region.

"The prospect of indifferent weather, rather than Tiger's absence, is playing a greater part in whether spectators attend the final two days," said Alan Bradshaw, of Merseyside sports agency AJJB. "After all, most of Birkdale's tickets were sold long before the US Open, after which he announced his withdrawal from the rest of the season."

While a number of US Tour events have grown dangerously dependent upon Woods' attendance to guarantee healthy financial returns, the Open does not fall into that category.

Following a detailed study of the financial benefits accruing from the 2005 Open at St Andrews commissioned by the R&A, the body's director of championships David Hill said: "We forecast the Open at Birkdale will create an economic impact of more than pounds 70 million. Some pounds 32 million of that will be 'new money' while around pounds 40 million will be all the 'picture postcard' images that are broadcast all around the world."

He might have added that although Woods creates an undoubted buzz in whichever tournament he happens to be competing, a golfing major is considerably bigger than one man, even Tiger.

Nonetheless, it's noticeable that fewer than 20 American print journalists have travelled to Merseyside to cover the Open for US newspapers, almost 50 per cent fewer than attended Carnoustie last year.

This is a shame for Royal Birkdale, with its distinctive art deco clubhouse, designed to resemble an ocean-going liner sailing through the dunes, is commonly believed to be England's finest golf course. It is the focal point for the North West Development Authority's (NWDA) 'golf coast' initiative, one of three 'Royal' courses sandwiched between the Dee and the Ribble.

The body is conscious of the significant economic impact golf has upon the region. This is presently estimated to be worth more than pounds 10 million annually, although that figure has been considerably enhanced during the first half of 2008 as Liverpool's status as 'European Capital of Culture' has attracted a considerable number of visitors to the city, a sizeable proportion of whom have found time for at least one round of golf along a strip of England's north western coastline. …