On the morning of Monday 12 July St Andrews waited with bated breath for the oncoming flood. This was the week of the Open Championship, during which the biggest names in golf as well as around three-quarters of a million spectators and pundits were expected to stream onto our ancient streets. For golfers and business owners, this was the ultimate dream. For many of those working in catering and hospitality, in the dozens of coffee shops, pubs and pop-up tents erected near to the Old Course, this was the stuff of nightmares.
Everyone agreed that, as worth it as it may be for the hefty tips and wage slips, every penny would have to be earnt with hard work in constantly busy conditions. This opinion was all but confirmed beforehand as restaurants and other eateries laid out plans to extend opening hours and devise special menus. “Open for the Open” signs were ubiquitous.
The anticipation leading up to this week had been so great that the first few days of the event felt somewhat anticlimactic. The practice rounds were underway and the most serious and tense golf was still yet to start, and so for me, working in a coffee shop, it felt very much like business as usual. Foolishly, many of us were lulled into a false sense of security, beginning to wonder as to whether all the hype would ever reach realisation.
Saturday was that day. As the Championship reached its zenith, inclement weather postponed the penultimate day of play and left tens of thousands of enthusiasts without anything to do and nowhere to go. Most retreated to the pubs and bars clustered around the Old Course starting at 10am, whiling away the time over numerous pints, but many others fanned out further into St Andrews. Several businesses such as Mitchell and Gorgeous clocked up record takings, with waiters, cooks and hosts working unprecedentedly long shifts.
Despite how hectic the weekend of the Open was, my place of work observed the legal requirements for breaks for members of staff. Although the shifts themselves were tougher, I was by no means unlawfully overworked. However, this could not be said for all of those working during the Championship. One student, working at one of the golf pubs, who will remain anonymous explained, “I had been put down for a 12-hour shifts, and after 6 hours of constantly running around on my feet without having had anything to eat, I was desperate for a short rest. But breaks were not something we discussed. We were too busy for that.”
In addition to long hours, many of those working had to also deal with unreasonable or unpleasant customers. Sam Talbot, who took on an extra job in a hospitality tent near to the Old Course to complement shifts at a different St Andrews pub, told us “Unfortunately, my lasting memory of many guests was of drunk men-children being rude to people working 15 hours a day to make their experience pleasant. As much as we understood that this was their holiday and they should enjoy it, we still felt like we were due more respect.” There was a collective sigh of exhausted disbelief from many when the Open was extended by an extra day, as tourists desperately scrambled to change their flight and accommodation plans so as to not miss the extra day.
By Tuesday, 21 July, it was all over. Walking to work, I saw several people in dressed in Argyll pullovers pack up golf clubs and luggage into executive taxis, ready to head back to their homes across the globe. These people may have brought a financial boon to our little town, yet although I most certainly had it easier than many of my peers working across St Andrews, I cannot say I was sorry to see them go.