150th Open Championship — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th July 2022.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the 150th Open Championship to culture and sport in the UK.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I will try to keep the puns to a minimum. I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight the fact that golf’s most prestigious event has reached a significant milestone—the 150th playing of the Open is taking place this week at the home of golf in my constituency of North East Fife. As Member of Parliament for North East Fife, I have to declare an interest, and I refer Members to the register: not only is the Open happening in my constituency, but, as a result of the St Andrews Links Order Confirmation Act 1974—private legislation passed by the House of Commons—the local MP is designated one of the eight trustees of the St Andrews Links Trust, which manages the courses in the town, including the Old Course, where the Open is taking place. As Members will see, the Act is a culmination of the interlinked relationship between golf and the town of St Andrews, which I am proud to represent.

The 150th Open is a significant milestone, and St Andrews is very much alive to the historical significance of the championship. On Monday, the Celebration of Champions exhibition match took place to celebrate the occasion of the 150th Open, and big names from the world of golf, older and newer, including players such as Tom Watson and Dame Laura Davies, took part. I hope that many saw the picture of previous Open winners, including Jack Nicklaus, appearing on the Swilcan bridge. I have appeared on the Swilcan bridge myself with my dog, and one of the great things about St Andrews is that it is public land and open to use. On a Sunday, people can walk their dog, walk on the courses and get their picture taken in what is probably one of the most iconic places in golf history.

Jack Nicklaus won the Open twice at St Andrews, but this week he was looking on from a golf buggy and his landmark moment came yesterday. It was an honour for me to attend and see him being granted honorary citizenship of St Andrews by the St Andrews Community Council in recognition of all he has given to the sport. Jack Nicklaus is the third American to be receive that distinction, following in the footsteps of Bobby Jones—another great golfer—and, interestingly, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

I am in St Andrews often in my work as an MP, and in some ways, Members take the place they represent not for granted, but as what they see all the time. However, what came through strongly for me was the emotion that Jack Nicklaus and others displayed not only about the honour of receiving the award, but with respect to St Andrews as a place and what it means to golf. I am grateful to St Andrews Community Council, and to Mr John Devlin in particular, for nominating Jack Nicklaus for the award.

Yesterday, prior to the honorary citizenship event, the University of St Andrews gave honorary doctorates to a number of golfers, including Sandy Lyle, Catriona Matthew, Bob Charles, José María Olazábal and Lee Trevino. It really was a significant event for golf fans.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, and I congratulate her on securing the debate.

Next year, the Open will head back to Wirral—specifically to my constituency of Wirral West—and the Royal Liverpool golf club in Hoylake, which is situated on the Dee estuary. As well as coverage of arguably the biggest and best golf event in the world, the many millions of television spectators are treated to stunning views of Hilbre Island and across to north Wales.

When the tournament was last in Hoylake in 2014, it delivered an economic benefit of £76.3 million across the Wirral Council area and to the wider economy of the north-west. Wirral businesses—particularly the restaurants, hotels, guest houses, pubs and shops of Hoylake and West Kirby—did a fantastic job and got into the Open spirit. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is massively important that visitors from around the world see the best of what we have to offer, and will she pay tribute to all those people who provide such a warm welcome?

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I agree absolutely. She has demonstrated not only the economic impact that the Open has on the venues that host it, but the community aspect, which is so important.

The last thing I want to say about yesterday’s event is that it was open to the public. People could apply online for tickets, and afterwards the university hosted people in a marquee; the event was treated like a graduation. There were Americans and other tourists there who had applied for tickets, but there were local people there too, and it really felt like something that people could take in and participate in. There was a procession around the town afterwards.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that the first ever Open was held not in St Andrews but in Prestwick. I am sure that Dr Whitford would have something to say if I did not mention that. That was all the way back in 1860, but golfing originated in Scotland in the first part of the second millennium, with players attempting to hit pebbles over sand dunes using a bent stick or club. Little is known about those early games, but we know that the sport grew so much in popularity that, by 1457, King James II had banned it in order to encourage Scots to focus on military activities such as archery and ensure the defence of the realm from the English. Luckily, that only lasted 45 years, and from 1502 golf was being played widely and spreading from Scotland to the rest of Europe, and from there to the world.

The events of 1860 all came about because a competition was arranged to determine the best golfer after the widely accepted champion golfer, Allan Robertson, sadly passed away. He was a legend of the golfing world. His family had lived and breathed the sport for decades, a mantle that he took on and perfected. Living in St Andrews, with a business making and selling the best golf balls, he caddied and competed in the game. Old Tom Morris, whose bicentennial the Open is marking this year, was his apprentice, and they were unbeaten when playing together. Allan Robertson made his mark in other ways, too, redesigning the Old Course and being the first to use an iron club.

The loss of that legend, Allan Robertson, led to the first competition of what is now the Open. Although it was then an invitational between eight top golfers, including his apprentice, with the winner taking home the challenge belt, it later became more widely accessible, hence the name the Open. The first winner of the challenge belt was Willie Park. The following year, the competition became open, with amateurs also invited. Amateurs can still apply, through the qualifying rounds, to take part today.

The competition changed in 1870, when Young Tom Morris won the championship three years in a row, entitling him to keep the challenge belt. That is where St Andrews comes back into play. Left without a prize, the whole competition was cancelled in 1871, before Prestwick joined forces with the Royal and Ancient golf club in St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to find a solution. Each club gave £10 towards a silver claret jug, which, as I hope we all know—we are all here, interested in golf—is still used today. I would argue that it is the most iconic trophy in the game.

The story is not over, though. The jug was not ready for the 1872 competition, so instead of cancelling it, the organisers gave the winner—again, Young Tom Morris—a gold medal. On Sunday, when the winners are presented, hon. Members will still hear both awards mentioned, as the gold medal is still given alongside the jug, as well as a silver medal for best scoring amateur.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is not here today, but I hope that she will forgive me for saying that it is particularly meaningful that the 150th Open is being held at the home of golf, as Prestwick has not hosted it since 1925. St Andrews is so tightly wound up in the history of the game that, for many, the R&A and the Old Course are synonymous with it. The R&A first held the Open at St Andrews in 1873; in 1894, the Open was first held in England, at St George’s; and in 1951, Portrush in Northern Ireland hosted it for the first time. The competition returned there with great success in 2019. Interestingly, the Open has never been held in Wales. The R&A says that it is happy with its current list of 10 courses, but it would be lovely to see a British Open truly representative of all four nations. Hopefully the R&A can find a course in Wales to suit.

Returning to the history, the first evidence of golf being played in St Andrews is a charter from Archbishop Hamilton permitting golf in the town, in the area that is now the Old Course. What is incredible about the course is that it has always been public land. That came through very strongly to me during the pandemic. In Scotland, we were able to play golf more than in other parts of the UK, given the restrictions, and it was good to see the land in St Andrews being widely used by many people. The public nature of the land is really important. At a time when sport was often reserved for gentlemen, that a young Allan Robertson was allowed to play on the greens outside his window arguably shaped the world of golf forever. That is why the links trust is so important. I sit on the trust as an elected representative, with others. It is focused on balancing the needs of the sport with the needs of the town, ensuring it benefits the people of St Andrews.

It is not just the rules of the game or the modern 18-hole course that originate from the Old Course, although both do, but the equipment itself, which is another reason why St Andrews is so synonymous with the sport. Allan Robertson made golf balls and alongside Hugh Philip, a local club maker, formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later Forgan of St Andrews. It is now the oldest golf manufacturer in the world. The craftsmanship has been perfected and passed down through generations, and we see that in the worldwide demand for equipment today.

The R&A has a responsibility for standards. I visited its Kingsbarns equipment standards facility; some of the tests they do look like really good fun, to be honest! Every club is tested on behalf of the 152 affiliated organisations, and every ball is approved, every year. There is a library full of weird and wonderful clubs and golf balls.

I am proud to say that more recently our golfing tournaments have become more diverse. St Andrews hosted the women’s Open for the first time in 2007 and then in 2013. It will return in 2024, alongside the Phoenix cup, disability golf’s equivalent of the Ryder cup. Scottish Disability Golf & Curling is based in North East Fife and I have attended several events to speak with participants and discuss equipment and access needs and requirements. I am grateful to the all-party parliamentary group for golf, which hosted a SDGC session.

I think I have made it clear that the Open taking place in St Andrews is a big deal, but I will be the first to acknowledge that it has not been without issues. There is no doubt that the train strikes in Scotland and the inability to reach an agreement on pay with the trade unions until this week has had an impact. To anybody listening, I remind them that the recommendation is not to travel by train this week and to make use of park-and-ride facilities to attend. St Andrews is in a rural part of Scotland and it is difficult to get there, so get there by car early and use park and ride.

I also acknowledge that not every resident of St Andrews loves having their town full of tourists. There is definitely scope to work more closely with local communities, especially in maintaining facilities such as cycle lanes for future events, and I will certainly push for that engagement in both my roles in the future.

None the less, after the two years of the pandemic where golf tourists stayed away, hosting the Open is a significant event. It is a major employer in North East Fife. In 2016, it was found to support nearly 2,000 jobs directly. If we take into account local hospitality and other ventures, that number is far higher. Golf clubs, hotels, restaurants, shops and local attractions are the obvious local beneficiaries of the arrival of golf fans to North East Fife, but the golf tourism industry is much more than that. I spoke in this place many times during the pandemic about the lack of support for golfing-specific parts of hospitality tourism. Companies such as coach businesses, drivers taking golfers from course to course and smaller and private golf courses who benefit from golf fans but struggled to attract them as a result of the pandemic missed out on some of the support that was offered. We expect more than 250,000 golf fans this weekend and very much hope they will bring those businesses back to life.

Golf is not just about St Andrews. It is alive and well across North East Fife and beyond. That is not just member-based clubs. The Fife Golf Trust and courses such as Scoonie and Leven in my constituency are publicly run and ensure wide participation.

For a community that thrives on summer tourists even once the Open has gone, the value of being broadcast worldwide is invaluable—although that is not quite true. The value is estimated as worth up to £50 million to the local economy, which is the same amount estimated that Royal Liverpool brings to the Wirral.

Anyone who knows me—in fact, anyone who has walked through the atrium of Portcullis House recently—will know that I am more of a fan of picking up a shinty stick than a golf one. I have had a lesson and I admittedly did find that the skills of hitting a ball with a stick are transferable, but I have still not been able to find a passion for playing the sport. It is potentially too late for me or, more likely, the demands of this place keep me too busy to pick up a second sport that takes four hours to play a round. I think the family would go off their rockers at that.

Golf takes time in its traditional format and I am glad to hear that different ways of attracting people to play and different formats such as nine-hole competitions are being looked at. With golfing on everyone’s lips in North East Fife and beyond, and with so much investment in and celebration of the sport, I hope we see more young people playing. I am pleased that this is the most accessible Open we have seen for families and young people: 20% of general admission tickets have been allocated to under-25s, including to 20,000 under-16s who are able to go free of charge. That makes it clear to the next generation that golf is not just for their dad, uncle, mum or anyone else. It is a sport for everyone to get involved with.

There are other modernisations this year, such as an area filled with massive bean bags, where people can lounge and watch the big screen, which I am looking forward to. There will also be a kids’ soft-play area, and a swing zone for children to try out golfing themselves. That will ensure that golf gets a new lease of life for future generations. There is snowball effect, with the Open growing in visitor interest. This is the first year where tickets have had to be balloted, and there is already a huge demand for tickets for next year’s event in Liverpool. The ballot is open now for those who are interested.

Although I have been talking about how important the Open is to St Andrews as the home of golf, I know it is also vital further afield. I am one of 10 MPs who represent constituencies that host the Open via the current rota, some of whom are here. As with any sporting event, the Open has a ripple effect in many ways across the country. It promotes sport domestically, boosts demand for golf-related goods and services from tourists and leads to more investment and facilities.

Sheffield Hallam University did a major piece of research in 2016, supported by the R&A, looking at the value of golf to the UK economy. The results were astounding. In 2014, there were 3.883 million adult golfers, of whom more than a million and a half played at least once every four weeks. Those figures will inevitably now be higher, with population growth and the switch to outdoor sports during the pandemic. Social prescribing is also beginning to be used for those suffering mental health challenges, since playing sport is good for them. Golf has been involved in that, which is something the all-party parliamentary group on golf has looked at.

In 2014, the gross value added to the UK economy was a little over £2 billion, with almost £1 million raised in taxes. One in 500 jobs is linked to golfing in some way. KPMG broke that down further in an older report in 2011, showing that golfing leads to spending and investment in equipment, manufacturing, training and hospitality. The courses need building and maintaining by companies that need accountants and lawyers, representatives from marketing and human resources.

Through direct spending on clubs and balls, maintaining grass, and running clubs, through indirect spending on hospitality and construction and through the multiplier effect, when all those people go out and spend their income, golf is worth billions to our economy. That will only grow as participation in golf grows. I have mentioned the growth in women’s and disability golf in recent years. Golfing is for everyone. It can be enjoyed alone, with or without friends.

More and more golf clubs are ensuring that they are accessible to their local communities, clubs such as Scoonie, which I mentioned. It is a sport for all ages and abilities. It is good for the body and for the mind. The Open plays a part in that; I am so proud that North East Fife and St Andrews are hosting the 150th Open at the Old Course this year. I am hoping it stays windy, as I experienced yesterday, because that will make for a more challenging outing for professional golfers. It is an incredibly historic event, which brings huge benefits to St Andrews and the wider community. I am equally looking forward to a future of women’s Opens and the British Masters for disabled players, because St Andrews is the home of golf. It continues to welcome those who are playing, participating or spectating, and I hope it continues to do so for years to come.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The debate can last until 11 o’clock. We find ourselves already on the back nine, because we are going straight to the Front-Bench speeches and Gavin Newlands for the SNP.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 9:49 am, 13th July 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. You have certainly aced it thus far with your puns. I have not planned many puns, but I congratulate Wendy Chamberlain on securing the debate and highlighting the role the Open championship and golf more generally play in our society, particularly in Scotland, North East Fife and St Andrews.

It is a shame that, as you said, Mr Hollobone, there are not more Members here for such an important, interesting and enjoyable debate. We have lots of debates in this place in which we shout at each other, but this is one in which we would reach a fair level of consensus. It is apt that the debate is happening today, not because the 150th Open is being played this weekend at St Andrews but because my first new set of golf clubs in 25 years is due for delivery today. I am hoping to see how much they improve my game—I suspect not very much.

In opening the debate, the hon. Lady spoke very well and passionately about the subject. She is lucky to have St Andrews in her constituency, and even luckier to be a member of the links trust. I hope she can arrange a round on the course for all of us who have spoken in the debate. I very much look forward to attending St Andrews this weekend for the event. She mentioned a host of big names from the history of the game, all of whom are fantastic, but she included my favourite, Tom Watson. Who can forget Tom, at the age of 59, nearly winning the Open in 2009? It was very nearly an incredible achievement.

The hon. Lady mentioned the claret jug, one of the most iconic trophies in the game—I would argue that it is one of the most iconic trophies in world sport. She also mentioned the growth in participation. At least 1.5 million people play the game at least once every four weeks. The pandemic was very difficult for all of us, and for sport in the round, but golf and tennis bucked the trend and may have seen a growth in participation.

Margaret Greenwood, who is no longer in her place, rightly advertised next year’s event in her constituency at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which is another excellent course. I look forward to that. In preparation for the debate, I researched the courses of Strangford, but sadly Jim Shannon, did not attend today, so that research has gone to waste.

I mentioned that I have new clubs arriving today. I have a love-hate relationship with the game, it must be said. I can just as easily hit 79 as 109, although recently I am much closer to the latter, mainly because of my slice. I said to my friend Michael Somerville, who I will be attending the Open with this weekend, that I would mention in my speech that the last time out I beat him seven and six. Hopefully that is now on the record for all eternity, and he will surely be buying me a pint at the weekend.

My hon. Friend Dr Whitford is not here either, so I can say that St Andrews is indisputably the home of golf. It is fitting that, for its 150th edition, the Open returns home to the Old Course—just one of seven courses in what is not a huge town. As the hon. Member for North East Fife said, there are many, many other courses around Fife. The Old Course is one of the few courses used for majors—indeed, for the major championship—where anyone can book a round without being a member of a club.

Aside from St Andrews, every part of Scotland has influenced the development and history of golf. The size of the hole is based on tools used at Musselburgh Old Course, itself a six-time host of the Open. Leith provided the earliest surviving rules of the game, published by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers before its flit to Muirfield. Its rulebook still sits in the National Library of Scotland.

It was a challenge match in 1681 between the future James VII, John Paterson and two English guests of the then duke that settled once and for all Scotland’s role as the cradle of golf. The two guests of the duke maintained that golf belonged to England. To settle matters, the duke arranged a challenge match and enlisted the help of Paterson to play alongside him. After seeing off the visitors handily, the duke gave his winnings to Paterson, giving him the resources to build his own house on the Royal Mile, in an area that is still known today as Golfers Land.

It was St Andrews that standardised the 18 hole round in 1764, without which golfers today would be sipping a libation on the 23rd hole after carding a score of 130. Some of us can easily get close to that in 18 holes, let alone 23. The early forms of golf were so popular in Scotland that successive King Jameses outlawed them, such was the time they took up compared with militarily more useful pastimes, such as archery.

This year marks the first time the R&A’s three major championships—the men’s Open, the women’s Open and the men’s senior Open—will take place in Scotland in the same year. That is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the team at VisitScotland, who have supported golf across the country this year, selling Scotland to the world and, in turn, delivering millions of pounds into our national economy. Clearly, though, not everything is rosy. In my view, the ownership of the Turnberry course is still a stain, and some poorer families are discouraged from participation in what is still—despite the sport’s best efforts—perceived as a middle-class sport.

I grew up playing at what we colloquially call the Royal Barshaw, the local public course where it is still only £10 a round, and I have played there recently. The work done by Scottish Golf and the R&A over the years has made great strides in dispelling the perception of the sport, but there is always more to do to ensure that we do not miss out on the next generation of Sandy Lyles, Colin Montgomeries and Catriona Matthews over the coming years. As the hon. Member for North East Fife said, golf is truly for everyone. Scotland has shown over the years that we can produce world-class talent across the sporting arena, whether that is Andy Murray, Laura Muir or Katie Archibald. Although we may be going through a temporary barren patch in golf right now, I know that with the work going on at grassroots level, success is just around the corner.

Golf accounts for around £300 million of value to the Scottish economy and more than 5,000 jobs, and it is one of the best shop windows for Scotland overseas. The eyes of the world will be on Fife this week, and while the chances of a home-grown victor this time may be a little smaller than before—although I would keep my eye on Bob MacIntyre; if I were a betting man, that is where I would put some money each way—those watching will be in no doubt that, to borrow a phrase, golf is coming home.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:57 am, 13th July 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Wendy Chamberlain on securing the debate. She gave a really interesting speech about Scotland’s proud golfing history and the importance of golf in her constituency. I would never have imagined the link between Jack Nicklaus and Benjamin Franklin—I will know that for future pub quizzes.

When we think about the great British sporting events, we think about Wimbledon, the FA cup final, the grand national, the Ashes and the Open—especially the Open at St Andrews, the home of golf. We look forward to this weekend’s 150th edition of arguably the world’s greatest golf tournament.

Research estimates that last year’s 149th Open at Royal St George’s brought a £113 million economic boost to Kent, the host county. Kent also gained an additional £94 million in gross advertising revenue thanks to the thousands of hours of global television coverage, traditional TV and online news coverage, digital streaming and social media content. That is in a year hit by covid challenges, so the Open is a real economic opportunity.

This year, we are set to have the highest attendance yet, so the Open could be even more of an economic boost for Fife. A record-breaking 290,000 fans are expected to attend, and the R&A says it received more than 1.3 million requests for tickets. Hosting such an event is fantastic for an area, bringing thousands of people to spend their money while enjoying the scenery, cafes, pubs, restaurants, arts and crafts, and independent shops.

St Andrews is a seaside town with a population of under 20,000, and it is expecting 250,000 visitors. Even if the trains were running smoothly, accommodating that number of people is always a challenge, but the Scottish National party’s ScotRail cuts and the temporary timetable have caused real problems on Scotland’s trains in recent months. A pay deal may have been agreed, but that may well have come too late for some of the thousands of visitors heading to St Andrews this weekend.

I echo the plea of the hon. Member for North East Fife for people to go early and use the park and ride. That is sensible advice for visitors. A ScotRail spokesman has said that the operator expects to run a quarter of the trains that it had planned for the Open, and the R&A has warned that fans who travel to the Open by train may find that there are no services to get them home. That it is a real worry. The lack of trains is likely to lead to thousands of fans filling the roads, and we hope it does not lead to problematic congestion for local residents. The problems on the trains have certainly hit businesses, tourist destinations and passengers for weeks, and the Government really need to get the basics right.

The last couple of years have been difficult for businesses, especially those such as golf that rely heavily on inbound visitors. Pre-pandemic, Scotland attracted around 17.5 million overnight visitors every year, which generated £5.9 billion in visitor spend, and an additional 134 million day trips were taken, with visitors spending £5.8 billion. In Scotland, spending by tourists generates around £12 billion of economic activity for the wider tourism supply chain and contributes around £6 billion—about 5%—to Scottish GDP.

Office for National Statistics figures suggest that accommodation and food services—the services most strongly linked to tourism—were affected worse in Scotland than in any other of the four nations by the pandemic restrictions. Even now, with the majority of restrictions lifted, a recent survey by the Scottish Tourism Alliance found that half of businesses have fewer bookings than normal for the summer period, compared with the same timeframe in 2019, and 40% reported a fall in spend since May 2021. The recovery is difficult and slow.

Scottish Labour has called for a new national plan for tourism to build a sustainable recovery and ensure that key tourist destinations have the infrastructure and investment to support demand. Scotland’s tourism sector can at least be happy that the Scottish Government are investing more generously in it than the UK Government are in English tourism. A recent Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee oral evidence session revealed that the finances devolved to VisitScotland are, in relative terms, something like six or seven times the core funding available to VisitEngland.

As a United Kingdom, our sporting culture is one of the biggest draws for visitors. In 2017, more than 2 million visitors went to a live sport event as part of their trip to the UK, which is 6% of all visits that year; more than 350,000 inbound visitors played golf during their trip to the UK, spending about £418 million; and 18,000 international visitors watched a live golf event during their stay, spending at least £30 million. Scottish tourism is still on a shaky road to recovery but, after a difficult few years, golf appears to be on the up and can play a key role in driving that tourism. As we know, when people come to play golf, it is not just the golf courses that profit but the tour operators, local accommodation, local restaurants, pubs and bars, taxi drivers, golf equipment shops, and everybody in the various supply chains.

Importantly, the nature of golf means that it is played in wide open spaces and is often naturally socially distanced. Back in the days when I used to hack around the public courses in Manchester, I was always socially distanced from my fellow players—and from the fairway. That aspect of the sport means that many people have been able to enjoy it as a form of entertainment and exercise with a low covid risk. In most places, golf courses reopened sooner than other sports facilities after the covid restrictions ended.

The rise of the sport’s profile appears to have further boosted participation. A survey of 99 UK golf clubs found that four in five members’ clubs and nine in 10 proprietary venues reported growth last year. According to research by the R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys, the total number of people who played a round of golf in the British Isles nearly doubled from 2.9 million in 2019 to 5.2 million in 2020. It is also fantastic that women are increasingly embracing the sport. The number of women players grew from just over 400,000 in 2019 to 1.46 million—28% of all golfers—in 2020. There is still a long way to go, but professional women’s golf is also enjoying a significant rise.

Meanwhile, the first Disabled Golf Week will take place across Scotland this year to coincide with the 150th Open at St Andrews. Organised by Scottish Disability Golf and Curling, the programme of events will aim to introduce people of all ages, with any kind of disability or serious health issue, to golf with training and tuition. It is good to see golf taking those strides towards greater accessibility and inclusion to enrich the sport further. Not only is the 150th Open championship set to provide a fantastic sporting event and a cultural and economic boost to Fife, Scotland and the rest of the UK, but it will help to inspire a diverse range of people to pick up a club—perhaps for the first time—and to get more physically active.

Last week, a report by the National Audit Office concluded that the Government had essentially squandered much of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics by failing to make meaningful inroads in boosting people’s physical activity levels. Let us hope that the legacy of the 150th Open championship has a different fate and that the event inspires people to get involved in sport and physical activity. Let us also hope for a fantastic few days of golf ahead of us.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:05 am, 13th July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone, particularly in these rather pleasant surroundings, it being rather cooler in the Chamber than outside.

I congratulate Wendy Chamberlain on securing the debate and on her compelling, passionate contribution. I learned quite a lot from it. She is sincerely passionate about golf, and it was fascinating to hear how an Act of Parliament requires her to be so. That part of history shows, as she said, how closely linked golf is to her local community.

I also thank Margaret Greenwood and my Front-Bench colleagues, the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for their contributions. As is often the case with sport, I think that there will be a fair degree of agreement and consensus.

I am aware of the huge interest in golf. There has rightly been recognition of the value that it brings far and wide across the United Kingdom. From the grassroots right the way up to elite competition, the sport’s impact on local communities should not be underestimated. It has a social impact, an impact on physical and mental health and, as we have heard—I will come to this—a considerable economic impact. We talked about some of that before the debate—in particular how golf’s impact is disproportionately large in Scotland, and how the sport is widely recognised and respected.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife on her commitment to drive the conversations forward in many areas as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups for golf and for hospitality and tourism. We should acknowledge that those are active APPGs with many members, and that certain other activities and events taking place today may mean that colleagues who wanted to contribute to the debate are otherwise engaged.

This is a really timely moment, on the eve of the event’s 150th anniversary, to reflect on the noteworthy contribution of the world-renowned Open championship. I am thrilled that this year the Open is returning to St Andrews—it is, as was said many times, the home of golf—in the hon. Member’s constituency.

Golf has a long heritage in this country. with the Open championship first played in 1860 at Prestwick in Scotland, predating many other major sporting events that make up the British sporting calendar. The first FA cup final did not kick off until 1872, and it was not until 1877 that we had the first tennis at Wimbledon—at a different location from the current tournament, which had its 100th anniversary just last week.

The Open is golf’s oldest championship and the original of the four majors. It is only right that on the occasion of the 150th Open championship we will see the largest event in its long history, with a record-breaking 290,000 fans due to attend the world-renowned Old Course. I am extremely excited to see crowds return in all their glory after such a difficult period for spectator sport.

Last year’s championship was a brilliant success. At the other end of the country, the organising committee did a truly fantastic job to co-ordinate the tournament safely as part of the Government’s events research programme. That enabled 32,000 golf enthusiasts to attend each day of the four-day event, and I was fortunate enough to see one of them. I reiterate my congratulations on the delivery of last year’s Open at Royal St George’s with such professionalism and sensitivity as the country continued to navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

As the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North mentioned, golf did a fantastic job of engaging with Government and stakeholders, taking its responsibilities, in order to reopen safely. In the process, it managed to attract many new golf enthusiasts, many of whom have stayed with it. It has done a good job of recovering from the pandemic. Importantly, that has contributed not only to economic activity, but to people’s physical and mental health. The many benefits of golf that we all recognise are now known more widely than ever.

This historic anniversary has clearly created a renewed excitement and unprecedented demand among golf fans wishing to attend the Open championship, resulting in the highest ever number of general admission tickets being issued. We will certainly have quite an atmosphere at the Open over the next few days.

The Open follows the excitement of last week’s Genesis Scottish Open, where Xander Schauffele survived a nail-biting final round scare in East Lothian, winning the tournament with a one-shot victory. It was another fantastic sporting occasion on British soil. Another brilliant couple of golfing events will take place this summer, which I am looking forward to, with the women’s Open next month, hosted by Muirfield, and the PGA Championship in September, at the Wentworth Club in Surrey.

I applaud golf the game, as the hon. Member for North East Fife and all contributors have done, for the progress and investment made in ensuring that golf is inclusive and accessible for all, in particular the progress with women’s golf and disability golf. That is really important and is supported by the whole House.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

First, I apologise for being late for the debate, Mr Hollobone—when the planes are delayed, it is beyond my control. Hon. Members will be able to tell from the sweat on my brow that it was quite frantic to get here. I apologise to everyone, including the Minister, and especially to Wendy Chamberlain, who I wanted to support.

The Minister is outlining the case for golf across in Scotland, which I fully support, but I am ever mindful of golf across all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is really good in Northern Ireland as well. My council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, sponsored the PGA EuroPro Tour just last year. It was a wonderful occasion to highlight our council’s area. Across Northern Ireland we have some of the most fantastic gold tournaments, which promote Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am sure that the hon. Member for North East Fife has talked about the benefits of golf a thousand times, but I endorse and support that, and put in a plug for us in Northern Ireland. We have some star players, including Rory McIlroy—he is the star who goes above and beyond—among many others. I just wanted to make that point, and apologies again for not being here in time for the start of the debate.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I was wondering when Rory McIlroy would be mentioned. We missed the hon. Gentleman earlier; if he reads Hansard, he will see that he was mentioned. He is absolutely right about golf’s contribution, which is what I will come on to now.

Golf has huge economic impact and importance across the UK, which is disproportionately large in the devolved areas because of the additional contribution of sport and its knock-on impact on tourism. Jim Shannon is right to highlight that importance. He mentioned the advocacy and support of councils, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, as well as the importance of golf at an appropriate price point. It is not a sport for posh people; it is genuinely a sport for all. I applaud many of the public and low-cost provisions in golf, which ensure it is accessible to many people.

Many local authorities and other institutions across the country are genuinely trying to make an effort to ensure that everyone can participate, no matter their income level. That is important for golf, because the sport recognises the perception that it is a bit posh, even though, looking at the demographics of the people who play golf, that is absolutely not the case. Again, I applaud the APPG for its work trying to get this point across. We all want golf, and all sport, to be for everybody.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Just to correct the record, and on the point the Minister is making about affordability, I said that the price for a round of golf at Royal Barshaw, as we call it, in Paisley is £10. It is £10, but it is £5 for those who are unemployed, for children and for the over-65s. That is £5 for a round of golf, which shows that it can be affordable.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which again makes the point about the creativity and effort being made to ensure that golf is truly inclusive, which I applaud.

I will spend a little more time highlighting the valuable contribution that golf makes to the UK tourism sector, alongside sport overall. The sporting calendar is one of this country’s many tourism assets. Our sporting events not only act as a springboard for promoting the UK at home and abroad, allowing us to celebrate the diverse range of destinations across the country that we have to offer, but also serve as a catalyst for the wider sports economy. Every year more than 2 million visitors attend a live sporting event as part of their trip to the UK. In 2019, the last year for which complete figures are available, 61,000 of those visitors watched a live golf event during their stay, spending a total of £129 million. That is export revenue from inbound tourism. They stay longer than any other sports fan—an average of 16 nights per visit.

Visitors come not just to watch live golf at prestigious events such as the Open, but to play it. In 2019, more than 360,000 people embarked on a journey to the UK to play golf in some of our nation’s most scenic destinations. Those inbound visitors spent £525 million—a huge amount for local businesses and communities.

Golf continues to be an incredibly popular sport to play domestically across the UK, with 3,000 golf clubs on offer. Two new participation reports show that 5.3 million on-course adult golfers enjoyed playing on full-length courses in Great Britain and Ireland in 2021. That is the second highest number since monitoring began more than 30 years ago.

An independent forecast by the Sports Industry Research Centre, commissioned by the R&A, VisitScotland and Fife Council, indicated that the total economic impact of staging the 150th Open at St Andrews, with 290,000 fans in attendance, will reach £100 million or more. There is added value to be gained from broadcasting and digital marketing, and an estimated £100 million to St Andrews and Scotland as a result of the significant and ever increasing global media exposure. That increases the forecast total economic benefit of this year’s Open alone to more than £200 million, for the first time in history. That is a truly remarkable figure.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I am ever mindful that men might sometimes feel that they can play golf better than ladies. But about a month ago the Swedish golfer Linn Grant beat the gentlemen in a final. Does the Minister agree that that is an example of how golf equalises everyone? They are all on the same page. It is good to see ladies excel and beat men on many occasions—or all the time, probably. In golf, they do it well.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes an important point that I dare not disagree with. He is absolutely right. It is important that we showcase, support and encourage our women golfers and disability sports. We need them on television, too, because that inspires people to take part, and for those participating at elite level it is important for getting sponsorship and other support. I encourage broadcasters to seek opportunities to showcase golf on television as broadly as possible, because that will have an impact.

The legacy of these games is huge. The economic impact, which we just talked about, is important, but some people could be watching these golf events for the first time, get inspired and be sports stars of the future. I am always proud to reflect on the success and outreach of the many sporting events that we host in the UK. Whether the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games, the ongoing women’s Euros or the Open championship, sport has the power to unit, inspire and generate a better future for the nation. The positive contribution of golf to not only the UK economy but UK society as a whole is clear and emphatic, as we have discussed. I am excited to see the sport continue to grow in popularity and impact across its grassroots foundation and the elite fanbase.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington made the important point about the economic contribution of sport, particularly to help the recovery of the tourism sector. I gently remind him, though, that the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector was not neglected during the recovery. In fact, £37 billion of Government support was provided to the sector as part of the recovery, and it is bounding back very strongly.

A couple of Members mentioned the impact of the train strikes that we are unfortunately facing at the moment. All the politics aside, if an event is impacted by train or other strikes, it is important that people plan ahead, because they could be inconvenienced. However, I am pleased to say that at the Open, and indeed as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Glastonbury, the organisers are trying to communicate the challenges, encourage people to plan ahead, and put alternative measures in place, including park and ride, additional bus services, earlier or later trains, where possible, and so on. Again, with good communication, some of the challenges can be overcome.

However, I also appeal to all stakeholders, including the unions: please do not target sport; please ensure that people who have been planning these events, in many cases for years, can go ahead and deliver them as effectively and efficiently as possible. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking forward to sporting and music events and so on over the next few months—particularly as we recover from the pandemic—it is important that those go ahead and they can enjoy them.

Of course, if there is an impact, alternative plans and mitigation measures are being put in place by organisers. However, it is important that we do everything we can to enable the recovery of our sporting and tourism economies. Everybody has sympathy for the cost of living challenges that many people face, but there is a way to do things, and deliberately targeting events that people have been looking forward to may well not achieve the public support that is perhaps hoped for. I respectfully appeal to all stakeholders to work together so that we can overcome the challenges.

Our trains, in particular, are a really important part of the overall sports ecosystem. Many people going to sporting events rely on the trains. Similarly, tourism right across the country—for both domestic and inbound travel—relies heavily on trains. I think that we all want to ensure that people have long-term confidence in using our train services, and that trains can play their important role in the overall economic recovery. We understand the circumstances and the cost of living challenges, but let us all be sensible about how we achieve our goals.

I once again say a huge thank you to everybody who has contributed to this incredibly timely debate. I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife for securing it. I now look ahead to what I know will be a captivating few days of true golfing excellence at this historic 150th anniversary.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

We now find ourselves on the 18th green, with Wendy Chamberlain to sum up.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 10:22 am, 13th July 2022

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. Before we retire to the clubhouse, I think—[Interruption.] Yes, my round—it sounds like it. We have had a very positive debate. Although I have had apologies from other APPG members, it is good that everybody who has attended has contributed so well and given us all a history lesson. I am grateful to Margaret Greenwood, who is no longer in her place, for rightly noting next year’s event, when the Open goes to England, to Royal Liverpool.

I am also grateful to the SNP spokesperson, Gavin Newlands. I got more history—Paterson is my maiden name, so I will now go and do some research. He highlighted Bob MacIntyre—probably Scotland’s greatest hope this weekend—who is left-handed, famously, as a result of shinty. I will always bring it back to shinty if I can.

On shinty, I will say one other thing. We have talked about participation by people with disabilities and women, and that participation in sport is important. However, it is also really important that we start to see women operate in different positions in the governance of games as well. Since my election in December 2019, I have been encouraged to see an increased number of trustees from more diverse backgrounds in the links trust. As for myself, I was the first female director of the Camanachd Association between 2017 and 2019. It is also important for people to see that.

The shadow Minister, Jeff Smith, highlighted the pandemic’s impact on golf and the fact that, for all that golf was really impacted, it has been seen to buck the trend by increasing and widening its participation. That has been really positive. The Minister talked about the APPG for golf, which is a very positive APPG. The reason for that is not just the participation of Members—from this place and the other place—but the engagement we have had from the national sporting unions and others such as the R&A. There is a real passion to drive forward and work productively with Government and parliamentarians.

All Members were right to highlight the importance of sporting tourism. We are all looking forward to welcoming visitors. I was in St Andrews yesterday, and lots of visitors are there already. I know people who are planning to be there for the whole week. We have had the events to mark the 150th Open, and there are events into next week. There is no doubt that people can come to sporting events and make that part of their visit, as opposed to that being the reason for their visit.

It has been a really positive debate. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford for getting here in the end and making a contribution. He rightly mentioned Rory McIlroy and the importance of Northern Ireland from a sporting perspective.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

This has probably been mentioned—I know the Minister mentions it regularly. For us back home, golf featured greatly in our wellbeing during the covid-19 outbreak—indeed, that applies to all sports. It is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Back home, the impact mentally, socially and emotionally has been great. Golf has been almost a release valve. The hon. Lady deserves great credit for securing the debate, because golf can do really good stuff for everyone.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the hon. Member for that contribution. In my opening remarks, I mentioned social prescribing and, increasingly, golf and other sports are looking to participate in that.

This has been a very positive debate. However, I feel it would be remiss of me if, having mentioned Rory McIlroy, I did not mention the fact that golf, from a media perspective, has not been in the most positive light lately, given some of the developments in the game. I agree with Rory and Tiger Woods, who have both spoken on this matter, that we all have a responsibility in sport. We have talked widely this morning about the real positives, such as participation and how we look up to our sporting greats, and it is for all who participate in all sports—golf included—to ensure that they always have that at the forefront of their minds.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the 150th Open Championship to culture and sport in the UK.

Sitting suspended.