What Will Happen To The Open Championship?
In a statement released yesterday, Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A said “We are continuing to work through our options for The Open this year, including postponement.”
The Championship has not been cancelled at this stage as was reported by Golf Digest on Wednesday night.
In the R&A statement, Mr Slumbers went on to say – “Due to a range of external factors, that process is taking some time to resolve.”
It is indeed an extremely difficult situation and an almost uniquely complicated one in the sporting world.
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Earlier this week, it was announced that Wimbledon is to be cancelled this year.
It’s a huge blow for tennis that will have a significant impact on the sport financially.
There will be a blank year on the records.
Many will be thinking The Open will go the same way – to the extent reports have emerged stating it, but there’s a huge amount for The R&A to consider.
It’s not as cut and dry as Wimbledon.
Why it’s so complicated…
The reason the decision is so complicated for this event is because The Open doesn’t remain in the same place each year.
If The Open were to be cancelled, what would that mean for Royal St George’s, the south east and golf generally?
St George’s is the only course on The Open rota in the south of England.
It’s the only time the grand old championship is held within striking distance of London and the most populated area of the country.
The event is all-ticket this year and very nearly sold out.
The hospitality has been sold and contractors are primed to begin preparations.
Last year, The Open at Portrush generated more than £100 million for the Northern Irish economy, the figure was £64 million for Kent when The Open last visited St George’s in 2011.
If The Open were simply cancelled, the south east would be denied this revenue.
The Open also generates huge amounts for golf generally.
All of the money the R&A takes in from the championship, through tickets, TV deals, merchandise, hospitality etc… is reinvested in golf.
It goes into grass-roots development, growing the game overseas, training greenkeepers, researching sustainability, the rules, equipment research, amateur tournaments and much more.
Basically, the monies raised by The Open are hugely important to the health of the sport overall.
Additionally, if The Open were simply cancelled, that would mean the championship at St Andrews next year would not be the 150th as planned but the 149th – not the neat fit The R&A and golf fans were hoping for.
Cancelling The Open is not a desirable option.
If The Championship can’t go ahead as planned, postponement also has complications:
Could the championship be postponed until later in the year?
It would be very difficult from both a scheduling and an organisational point of view.
Would The Open take precedence over already scheduled tournaments later this season?
And would it rank higher than other events that might be hoping to reschedule towards the end of the year?
Also, there’s the uncertainty of the whole situation – we have no idea when golf will start again so it’s unfeasible to reschedule right now…
Will tournaments have restarted by August? September?
It’s impossible to say at this point.
The infrastructure required to run The Open is huge and preparations have to begin months in advance, so when would they start?
How would they start if restrictions are still in place?
What about the very essence of The Open… The fact it’s open?
If the event was pushed back to, say, September, how would all the international, regional and final qualifying take place?
It would be hugely challenging logistically and, quite probably, it wouldn’t be able to happen in its entirety.
But to play the championship without allowing a full qualification process would detract from the spirit of the tournament.
Without all the qualifiers, we wouldn’t have the potential for unlikely winners, a Ben Curtis for instance… We wouldn’t have a full field.
Hosting The Open after the summer wouldn’t be the same either… There’d be little chance of a fiery links, or seeing fans basking in the sun.
Not that The Open always delivers those baked conditions, but they’re what many of us imagine and remember when thinking of the championship.
Golf Monthly’s opinion is the best and most likely option will be for The St George’s Open to be postponed until July 2021.
That way, the south east wouldn’t miss out on the tourist revenue, although it would of course be delayed a year.
The golf fans of the south east would still get their turn to see the world’s best in action and, at least some of the hospitality and tickets sold could be rolled over.
St Andrews and the 150th Open would shift back to 2022, then Royal Liverpool in 2023 and Royal Troon in 2024.
That will be a blow for Troon as the idea was they would host in 2023, to mark the 100th anniversary of the first championship there in 1923.
But that’s an unavoidable compromise that would seem the easier pill to swallow.
The R&A has a hugely difficult decision to make and it’s not at all surprising that it’s taking “some time to resolve,” as Martin Slumbers has said.
As the Coronavirus crisis continues, it is becoming increasingly clear The Open probably can’t be held at Royal St George’s this July.
But it could be held there next July, showcasing the Kent links in all its summer glory, in front of thrilled southern fans who will get their Open fix.
For many of us, this lockdown is a waiting game, The St George’s Open is one we might simply have to wait on.