The R&A are having to plan for three different options of Open Championship at Royal St George’s this July, but could have up to as much as 75% of the usual capacity of around 200,000 spectators.
Chief executive Martin Slumbers said that it was hoped they would have final clarity on continuing Covid-19 restrictions from the UK government and health authorities by mid-June.
At the moment they were working on the premise that they might have a crowd as small as 50,000 for the week – the usual attendance is 40,000 a day – or as large as 150,000.
‘It’s inevitable there is great uncertainty’
— The Open (@TheOpen) May 23, 2021
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Slumbers. “It’s inevitable that there is great uncertainty, however much we would like to be certain.
“There are multiple plans and multiple options. We are hoping for an audience at Royal St George’s of about 75% of capacity. But the scope (of options) is from 25% to 75%; that shows you the uncertainty we’re having to work with.”
The challenges in staging the Open relate to physical distancing that will required – Slumbers expects that all spectators will be masked – plus bringing in international players and officials, some of them from countries on the government’s red list but also some from countries where there are fewer restrictions.
“The biggest uncertainty for us is clarity with government and public health around social distancing,” added Slumbers. “We are building infrastructure as we’d normally do but we can adapt it for distancing depending on what the rules are.
“We’re keen to get as many spectators in as possible, that’s what creates the atmosphere and I believe makes the players play better.”
Players will be in a strict bubble
The players will be in a bio-bubble separate from the public, he added.
“That’s the way it’s got to work at the moment,” he continued. “Bringing the players in internationally, particularly those from red list countries, keeping them in the bubble with the guidance of the government. It’s one of the things that’s making this very challenging.
“I’d have more concerns if we were not communicating with the players and explaining the environment we’re in.
“Many of them won’t have played outside the US since the pandemic. We’re talking to them and explaining how it will work. Communication lies at the centre of that.”
18th fairway will be clear until championship is complete
There will be no repeat of the weekend’s scenes on the 18th at the PGA Championship at Kiawah island, when fans invaded the fairway as the leading players walked to the final green. That was an old tradition at the Open ended in the 1990s when player safety became a concern.
“We’re conscious of keeping that space safe and clear, to give the players the freedom to play the final hole,” said Slumbers. “We’re careful on how we move the crowds around and will continue to keep them on the side on the 18th until it’s all over. Then we will allow them to move closer, as we did at Portrush.
“Some of us will remember Nick Faldo here at St Andrews and the police having to literally drag him from the crowd. I’m not sure we want to do that again.”
‘Absolutely no regrets we cancelled the Open when we did’
Read an update from Martin Slumbers, The R&A's Chief Executive, on planning for The 149th Open at Royal St George's 👉 https://t.co/wnXrS0llf6
— The Open (@TheOpen) May 11, 2021
The chief executive said the last Open played at Royal Portrush was “one the best experiences of my working life”. The decision to cancel the Open last year because of the pandemic was one of the worst.
“I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever that we cancelled the Open for the reasons we did,” he said. “It was the situation we were in, in this country at that time, that we didn’t have a choice.
“Did I miss it, yes a lot. So did everyone who worked on it, and the players, but we made the right decision at that time.”
The Open, like Wimbledon, did have insurance against communicable disease outbreaks, so any financial impact of the cancellation was minimal, he said. In fact, the R&A was able to issue of £7 million assistance package to the game to deal with issues arising out of the pandemic.
Scottish Open will have ‘limited tickets’ on sale on Thursday
Tickets for the 2021 #ASISO will go on sale Thursday, 27 May 🎟️
🔎 Witness the world's best, up close
🎫 Limited capacity crowd @RenaissanceGC
✔️ An experience like no other
Find out more & register your interest below 👇#RolexSeries
— Scottish Open (@ScottishOpen) May 25, 2021
The first significant golf tournament in the UK to re-admit spectators after the pandemic will be the Aberdeen Standards Investment Scottish Open on July 8-11, the week prior to the Open Championship.
The Scottish, again at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian, will have a strictly limited number of tickets will be available for each of the four competition days.
Fans who purchased tickets for the 2020 edition – which eventually took place in September without spectators – will be given an exclusive three-hour priority access window to purchase tickets from 2 pm on Thursday of this week.
A percentage of the tickets will be donated to key frontline workers in recognition of their work throughout the pandemic.
All tickets for Scotland’s national open will be subject to Scottish Government health guidelines. A comprehensive refund policy is in place should spectators not be able to take up their place.