The biggest hotel in Scotland this weekend was found not in Glasgow, nor Edinburgh, nor even Aberdeen.
Instead, it was in Carnoustie.
Okay, so The Open Camping Village technically isn’t a hotel but it serves much the same purpose: a place for golf fans to rest their weary heads at the end of a long day following their favourite players at The Open.
First seen at Royal Troon in 2016, the Camping Village was an instant hit. Credit for its introduction must go to R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers. When he took the reins of the organisation – and, with it, The Open – following the 2015 championship, he immediately set to work tackling what he saw as one of the biggest obstacles that inhibited people from attending the event: affordability.
Keen also to engage with a younger demographic, Slumbers and his team came up with the idea of a creating an Open campsite, where those with tickets for the championship would be able to stay for next to nothing – and, in some cases, literally nothing.
Adult ticket holders get to stay there for £40 per night, with Youth Ticket holders and juniors with valid ‘U16's Kids go Free ticket’ eligible to camp for free subject, of course, to availability. More on that in a second.
In return, they are provided with a spacious tent, bedding, a lantern, and access to toilets and showers. But those are just the basics, the things you’d expect as standard. It’s everything else that goes into it that makes the Camping Village such a unique and legitimately brilliant experience.
The site – located on the grounds of Carnoustie High School this year, just a 15-minute walk from the golf course – is run by Tom Critchley, son of Sky Sports’ commentator Bruce. Tom, above, and his 14-strong team (it's actually closer to 50 when you factor in the outside caterers, security staff and so on) have designed the experience to be fun and relaxed, almost like a festival.
It’s less “Scout Camp”, more “T In The Park”.
Or “Tee In The Park”, as it were.
“It’s amazing to see how popular it has become and how much it has change in the last few years,” explained Tom. “We’ve got 396 tents and have been sold out on all of the championship days. By the time the week’s over and we’ve packed up, we’ll have accommodated more than 4,000 people.”
Paul Hudson and his daughter Georgia, both from Yorkshire, are two of those.
“When I realised this was available and saw how affordable it was, it was a no-brainer,” said Paul. “It just makes coming to The Open so much more do-able, especially for people like us just travelling a long distance. It’s been smashing. We stayed Friday and Saturday night and really enjoyed it.”
The site is loosely split into three sections. Families are kept together as much as possible, with general camping another section of its own. Then there’s the glamping area, above, a small collection of more plush tents, equipped with double beds and such like.
Watford lads Joe Fox, Ryan Chiverton, Steve Kingsley and Kieran Cahill, above, took the glamping option after being priced out of local hotels.
“I won tickets for the Saturday in a charity auction last year and completely forgot about them until a few weeks ago,” explained Ryan. “So, I went onto booking.com to see if I could find somewhere for us to stay but the cheapest hotel they had left was something like two-grand.
“I looked into it a bit more and then found this place. I’m glad I did because, for the four of us, this is perfect and split four ways us, it’s really great value. It’s been great. We’ve loved it. It wasn’t what we were expecting at all.”
“Definitely,” added Kieran. “It’s been ‘ten out of ten’ stuff.”
Watford isn’t the most far-flung place the campers have come from, though. Roughly one in five people who stayed at the Camping Village this week have been from overseas, with Americans accounting for 6% of all guests.
Walking around the campsite, it’s hard to keep the smile from your face. Everyone looks to be having a great time. There are kids playing football, friends sitting at picnic benches enjoying a few drinks and some grub (the vast majority of which is provided by local caterers and breweries), as well as a putting green, long putt challenge and ‘Golf Darts’.
The Guest Services tent has a charging rack where people can put some juice in their mobile phone batteries. There’s even a salon if, like Jordan Spieth, you decide you need to combine your visit to The Open with a haircut.
The central hub of the site is a giant, three-coned tipi.
“We call it The Clubhouse,” explained Tom. “We didn’t just want to give people somewhere to sleep. We wanted to provide a place where they could hang out, unwind and meet other people.
“Year one, we were based at a rugby club, so we used its clubhouse. Last year, we were in a park and didn’t have anything permanent that we could make use of, so we had to find something else. The first option was a standard white marquee but I didn’t think would be the right fit, so I started to investigate tee-pees, found one and here we are."
A live band plays each night, there have also been pub quizzes and there are even giant TV screens broadcasting coverage from the course. The bar closes at 11pm with people encouraged to keep the noise down after 10.30pm.
“There are always a few who want to keep the party going but, by and large, everyone’s pretty respectful,” laughed Tom.
In the morning, guests can come in and grab some food, with breakfast served from 6am, before heading down to enjoy the main event.
As innovations go, the Camping Village is definitely one of the smartest additions to The Open experience in years and, as its popularity grows, it’s hard to imagine that they’ve even scratched the surface of its potential.
“It’s great to see everyone having such a good time,” added Tom. “The most frequent question we’ve been asked this week is: ‘When can we sign up for next year?’ It’s pretty exciting to think about what that could be like. I reckon we’ll be fully occupied all week at Portrush. Yeah, I can’t wait.”