Open return could be 'swift'

Rory McIlroy drives off from the fourth
Rory McIlroy drives off from the fourth

by business editor Trevor Sturgess

Financial success at this year's Open Championship - triggered by "the McIlroy effect" - could mean a swift return of the tournament to Sandwich, according to a Kent sports official.

An estimated 200,000 people are expected at the four-day event which is back in the county after an eight-year absence.

The estimated benefit to East Kent could be at least £80m and may even top £100m if hard-to-quantify longer-term tourism, inward investment and job creation are taken into account.

Next year's withdrawal of drugs giant Pfizer from its plant close to the Sandwich course and the possible loss of up thousands of jobs, has made economic regeneration even more crucial to East Kent.

The crowds gather to watch Rory McIlroy arrive on the third
The crowds gather to watch Rory McIlroy arrive on the third

Chris Hespe, Kent County Council's head of sport, leisure and Olympics, said "the McIlroy effect" and a bumper crop of leading British players could bring in record crowds, even if the weather was disappointing.

That could well tempt the Royal and Ancient, the tournament organisers, to return to Royal St George's in Sandwich sooner than usual.

"We very much hope that if we do exceed the R&A's expectations, they will come back sooner than they would on the normal circuit," he said.

"Normally, we get this every 10 years of so. If we do well and the R&A make significant money from it, we want them to consider coming back earlier."

Several big-name companies were represented at the Open's first day yesterday.

Mr Hespe said: "Today, I've met a number of people who are looking to invest in Kent, develop and build their companies.

"This is an amazing opportunity for networking. The majority of major companies are in Kent this week because of the Open and that has got to benefit the county in the longer-term.

"The impact that has on business hasn't been measured and is very difficult to measure."

Allan Willett, who steps down as Lord Lieutenant of Kent next month, said the Open would make "a heck of a difference" to the economy.

"We've got special golfers playing on a special golf course," he said. "It's amazing."

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