Counting the months till The Open at Muirfield
The Muirfield tent at Lytham & St Annes last week (pictured above) previewed details of next year's event, which is expected to attract more than 160,000 golf fans to East Lothian and inject an estimated £30 million into the local economy
AS THE final putt of the 141st Open Championship dropped at Royal Lytham & St Annes on Sunday, attention turned almost immediately to East Lothian and Muirfield as the hosts of the 2013 contest.
Preparations are well under way as the county readies itself for one of the world's biggest sporting events, with an anticipated £30 million set to be injected into the local economy as more than 160,000 golf fans descend on Gullane from July 18 to 21 next year.
Work on the course has already taken place over the past two winters to ensure it is a stern test for the best golfers on the planet - the course's length has been extended by 200 yards with additional alterations to fairways and bunkers.
Staff from East Lothian Council's economic development department were part of a Visit Scotland team which attended the weekend's championship in Lancashire, while a group from the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield also travelled south.
Ironically, they witnessed South African Ernie Els lift the famous Claret Jug - and he will defend the title next year at the course where he won his first Open Championship when Muirfield last hosted the competition in 2002.
Alastair Brown, secretary at Muirfield, told the Courier how all eyes had turned to 2013 and the competition's 142nd staging.
"For the last two winters, we've been making changes to the course," he said. "There have been changes made to 15 holes. Generally the intention is to keep Muirfield as a very competitive test of golf for championship players.
"It's early days for us in terms of meetings with the event organisers [the R&A], and that will happen in the autumn to make final agreements on how they want the property laid out.
"We've had 15 Opens here and we tend to follow the lessons that have been learned from the previous times."
The course now measures 7,209 yards and Mr Brown said: "It will be slightly different [from the last Open in 2002] and there will be the same demand on shot-making, but hopefully it will provide a good challenge.
"The golfers' equipment is getting better and better, and championship courses have to adapt. The same process that we've gone through at Muirfield has been done at all of the other Open venues."
A £2 million investment will be made in spectator facilities at Muirfield by the R&A, including two restaurants to be housed in a new double-deck pavilion overlooking the ninth hole.
A bistro-style restaurant will also be situated in the tented village, with enhanced event TV and leaderboard information.
Mr Brown added: "The countdown and the spotlight has moved north, it's on us.
"There will be an awful lot to do and there will be an awful lot of involvement from people in the golfing community. It's going to be an exciting time."
The R&A is said to have done "quite a bit" of preparation already for next years event, and is hoping to improve on the crowds of about 160,000 which attended the 2002 Open.
A recent Scottish Enterprise study indicates an economic impact of about £30m in East Lothian from the 2013 event.
A council spokeswoman explained that planning was already in progress by the local authority.
"A party of economic development officials and Councillor John McMillan [economic development spokesman] were at the Open in Lytham last week, getting an understanding of how the promotion of golf has maybe changed in the last 10 years," she said.
"There are always plans well advanced in terms of directing traffic, putting signage up, creating car parking spaces or more importantly, advising people on public transport routes.
"In terms of promotion of the county, the council is building on the joint [venture] of the Golf Tourism Alliance and Scotland's Golf Coast, to try and encourage people to come back to East Lothian."
Bob Gunning, chair of East Lothian Golf Tourism Alliance, added: "The council and Golf East Lothian had a large presence at Lytham last week.
"The interest in Muirfield 2013 was very strong and we must have handed out 1,000-plus East Lothian golf guides.
"The council's economic development unit, under Susan Smith, has already held a number of Muirfield 2013 planning meetings in which I've been involved and a number of key issues have been identified which need to be addressed if tourism businesses in East Lothian are to maximise the benefit of having The Open at Muirfield."
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Aug 1, 21:22