COVID-19 crisis forces R&A to move Open at Royal St George’s back to 2021

The first tee at Royal St George’s – the 2020 Open is now off because of the COVID-19 outbreak
The 2020 Open Championship at Royal St George’s has been cancelled – the Claret Jug will return to Sandwich in July 2021. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

THE R&A has cancelled The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in 2020 because of the current COVID-19 crisis – the championship will now be played at Sandwich in 2021, instead.

The Open was due to be staged in Kent from July 12-19, but following guidance – from the UK Government, the health authorities, public services and The R&A’s advisers – the decision was taken to pull the plug on staging the world’s oldest Major in 2020.

The move followed more than a week of intense speculation while the game’s governing body weighed up its options during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is the first time since the Second World War that golf’s original championship, first played in 1860, has been cancelled – following on from Augusta National’s decision last month to cancel this week’s Masters for the first time since WWII.

The decision piles on the pressure on the other two Majors in the 2020 calendar, which are all under threat – including June’s US Open at Winged Foot, and the USPGA, which has been suggested could move to early August, in the slot vacated by the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics.

Talks have been going on for past week and on Friday The R&A said it was still reviewing its options.

A shift to a date in September prior to the Ryder Cup – considered the most likely option given the current Government lockdown to beat the COVID-19 crisis could last until the early summer – was finally discounted.

The R&A stressed its plan now is to hold the 149th Open at Royal St George’s from July 15-18, 2021 leaving the stage set for the 150th Open to go ahead at St Andrews, from July 14-17, in 2022 – when the awarding of the Claret Jug and the Gold Medal celebrates a special milestone in golf’s history.

R&A: First priority is protect health

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: “Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in The Open.

“We care deeply about this historic championship and have made this decision with a heavy heart.

“We appreciate this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world, but this pandemic is severely affecting the UK and we have to act responsibly. It is the right thing to do.

“I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible.

“There are many different considerations that go into organising a major sporting event of this scale.

“We rely on the support of the emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organisations to stage the championship and it would be unreasonable to place any additional demands on them when they have far more urgent priorities to deal with.

“In recent weeks we have been working closely with those organisations as well as Royal St George’s, St Andrews Links Trust and the other golf bodies to resolve the remaining external factors – and have done so as soon as we possibly could.

“We are grateful to all of them for their assistance and co-operation throughout this process.

“Most of all I would like to thank our fans around the world and all of our partners for their support and understanding.

“At a difficult time like this, we have to recognise that sport must stand aside to let people focus on keeping themselves and their families healthy and safe.

“We are committed to supporting our wider community in the weeks and months ahead and will do everything in our power to help golf come through this crisis.”

Ireland’s James Sugrue, who won the 2019 Amateur Championship at Portmarnock – the R&A is waiting to decide if the 2020 championship can take place at Royal Birkdale, after the June date was postponed in March. Picture by THE R&A / GETTY IMAGES

Senior Open at Sunningdale ‘under review’

THE R&A’s remaining professional and amateur championships are also under review because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

They include the Senior Open at Sunningdale, in August, and The Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale and West Lancashire, which has been put back from its traditional June date, as well as the Women’s Amateur Championship and the Senior Amateur.

The R&A also organises the AIG Women’s British Open, which is set to be played at Royal Troon, in August, and which must also be in doubt now.

The British Boys Championship, held in August, is the R&A’s top junior event along with the Boys Home Internationals and The Girls Amateur, which has already been postponed from its July date.

Great Britain & Ireland are also due to face Continental Europe in the St Andrews Trophy, which the R&A organises alongside the European Golf Associtaion, while the juniors are due to contest the annual Jacques Leglisle Trophy, also in August.

Updates will be given on any further changes, an R&A spokesman added.

R&A will transfer tickets to 2021

THE R&A will transfer over tickets and hospitality packages purchased for the 2020 championship at Royal St George’s to The Open in 2021.

Purchasers who no longer wish to – or are no longer able to – attend in 2021 – whether as a result of the COVID-19 crisis or not – will receive a full refund.

Further information on the arrangements will be sent directly to ticket and hospitality purchasers in due course, said the R&A spokesman.

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