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Rail Strife Shadows Plans for Record British Open Crowd


EDINBURGH — For the one hundred and fiftieth iteration of the British Open, organizers expect the thickest galleries within the competition’s history, with some 290,000 fans traipsing around to gawk on the Old Course at St. Andrews over the event.

But there is no such thing as a guarantee all of them will reach Scotland’s eastern edge: For this Open, labor strife has already taken more of a star turn than lots of the golfers may have before the tournament’s end on Sunday.

“We may not have the option to get you to the course,” Phil Campbell, the pinnacle of customer operations for ScotRail, the publicly owned train service, warned would-be spectators.

“There may be a risk that fans who travel by train may find there are not any services to get them home,” the R&A, the Open’s organizer, said.

Discord and uncertainty around rail service have been staples of Scottish life since May, when a dispute over pay led a lot of ScotRail’s unionized drivers to say no the additional time and rest-day assignments that train operators in Britain have routinely used to fill out their schedules. The result has been a severely curtailed timetable that has fueled transit troubles across Scotland because the spring. ScotRail and its drivers struck a deal on Monday after a union vote, but that turmoil had already spread into Open week, a vital period for Britain’s tourism economy.

Making matters worse, in fact, is that this yr, of all years, is the one expected to attract the mightiest crowd in Open history.

The R&A, which has pegged the previous attendance record at 239,000 in 2000, when Tiger Woods won by eight strokes at St. Andrews, said it received greater than 1.3 million requests for tickets for the 2022 Open. It’s a mirrored image of the tournament’s milestone anniversary, the return to the Old Course and the seize-the-day sensibilities which have recently swept much of Western Europe.

The specter of 290,000 fans seemed ambitious enough back in April, when the R&A made the announcement of the onslaught coming to a seaside town of about 20,000. Now, it just looks like a nightmare.

The discontent around train service in the UK has not been limited to ScotRail. On Monday, fan-stocked trains traveling from London to Edinburgh faced hours of delays within the north of England due to an electrical failure. Last month, Britain faced its largest railway strike in three a long time, and Britons are bracing for a summer of labor turmoil across several sectors.

The union that represents ScotRail drivers said Monday that its members had voted to simply accept a latest deal, however the rail service has said that it is going to take time, perhaps greater than per week, to resume its normal operations. It told golf fans to be prepared for difficulties throughout the Open and went so far as issuing what it termed a “travel warning.”

So, perhaps improbably, the camping and glamping options around St. Andrews, or perhaps even Gary Player’s 1955 strategy of sleeping on a sand dune, seem more appealing. But most everyone seems to agree — and within the era of LIV Golf, big hitters and the feud between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, agreement is in brief supply around courses as of late — that Leuchars, the train station closest to St. Andrews, might be a multitude, and so will the roads funneling spectators out and in of St. Andrews.

A ScotRail spokesman said the operator expected to run 25 percent of the trains it had planned for the Open, suggesting that many hundreds of fans will fill the roadways from places resembling Dundee and Edinburgh. The R&A, which isn’t offering refunds for Open tickets due to travel problems, has been scrambling so as to add parking areas.

There may be also an official helicopter landing site.

What’s all but certain, though, is that, transit chaos or not, the Open may have way more spectators this yr than last. In 2021, when Britain was still wrapped up in public health protocols, just 152,330 fans were in attendance at Royal St. George’s in England, the bottom tally since 2013.

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