The 149th Open Championship at Sandwich has been cancelled for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and will instead be played next year, the R&A has confirmed.
A statement from the St Andrews-based governing body said the decision to cancel the world’s oldest major championship for this first time since the Second World War was necessary to based on guidance from the UK Government, the health authorities, public services and The R&A’s advisers.
The R&A will stick to their announced schedule of venues for the championship and simply move everything back a year. The 149th Open will be played at Royal St George’s Golf Club but in 2021, and it means that the plans to commemorate the 150th Championship at the Old Course, St Andrews, are now rescheduled for July 10-17, 2022.
The R&A say they will transfer over tickets and hospitality packages purchased for the Championship in 2020 to The Open in 2021.
Purchasers who no longer wish to (or are no longer able to) attend in 2021 will receive a full refund.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, 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 that 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.”
Slumbers continued that the R&A felt placing any additional demands on emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organisations would be unreasonable.
“There are many different considerations that go into organising a major sporting event of this scale,” he added. “These bodies 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.”
The R&A chief executive did not address another issue thought to be significant in the decision to cancel, in that The Open is the only major golf championship covered by an insurance policy against a pandemic which means the governing body can recoup any losses from the championship not going ahead this year.
While it was generally accepted that because the Open would not take place in the scheduled date of July 16-19 because of the COVIDS-19 outbreak – work on building infrastructure at Royal St George’s was due to begin this week and had already been delayed – it’s understood The Open did have a “reserve” slot set in place in September.
However as discussions developed with partners, local authorities and emergency services, in addition to the logistical difficulties of reduced daylight and ensuring that the entire Open field would be able to attend from all parts of the world, R&A sources indicated that it became clear that the only option was cancellation.
Slumbers had spoken in detail to other organising bodies in golf worldwide but the decision was made in an entirely UK-based context, it is believed.
The Royal St George’s and St Andrews Opens will move back a year, while the R&A are in discussions with Royal Liverpool and Royal Troon, who were scheduled to be the next two hosts. Royal Troon had requested the 2023 date as it marks the centenary of the first Open there, and it may be that they and Hoylake swap places in the schedule.
With The Open’s decision now made, the remaining major golf events of the year, including the three other major championships, have announced provisional dates in the autumn months.
The PGA Championship, originally set for Harding Park in San Francisco, is looking at the first full week in August. The Ryder Cup is set for its originally scheduled date of September 25-27 in Wisconsin, the week after the US Open has been rescheduled, although whether that can take place at Winged Foot near New York remains to be seen.
The Masters, which would have been taking place this week before last month’s postponement, has announced a new date for their 2020 tournament in November.
However the full extent of the effect of the virus in the USA is still to be felt and all these dates are provisional. The hope is to restart the PGA Tour at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in Ohio in June, but that is likely to be behind closed doors if it takes place at all.
The European Tour, after announcing two more cancellations yesterday, has now cancelled all events up to the BMW International in Germany in late June. The Aberdeen Standard Management Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, due for the week before The Open was scheduled, is still going ahead at the current time, although it has to be in some doubt.
Defending Open champion Shane Lowry expressed his disappointment at the cancellation but said he believed the decision had been made for the right reasons.
“I’m sad and disappointed, but at the end of the day everyone’s health and safety come way before any golf tournament,” said the Irishman.
“I’m sure the R&A have thought long and hard about this but are putting everyone’s safety first.
“You can trust that the Claret Jug is in safe hands for another year and I’ll see everyone at Royal St George’s in 2021.”
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