R&A hoping to have ‘significant number of fans’ at The Open

The R&A is hoping to get the green light to have a “significant number of fans” at this summer’s delayed 149th Open at Royal St George’s in Kent.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers brings out the Claret Jug for the trophy presentation during the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 2019. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

The encouraging news was delivered by chief executive Martin Slumbers in his latest update on the Claret Jug event, which was cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

No fans were in attendance at any golf tournaments held last year in the UK, including the Scottish Open, Ladies Scottish Open, AIG Women’s Open and BMW PGA Championship.

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That will also be the case at this week’s British Masters at The Belfry, but, with coronavirus restrictions starting to be eased, the return of spectators to the fairways in the UK is looming on the horizon.

In a message to fans, Slumbers said the R&A is looking forward to the The Open on 11-18 July with “increasing optimism and continuing caution” as part of “an exciting summer of sport in the UK”.

In providing an update on planning for the event: he added: “The situation with the Covid-19 pandemic continues to improve in the UK and the rapid roll-out of the vaccine programme gives us growing confidence that we will be able to welcome a significant number of fans to the championship as part of a reduced capacity model.

“The pandemic has certainly not gone away, however, and is still extracting a terrible human cost in some parts of the world. Our thoughts and best wishes continue to be with all those affected.

“We are working hard with the government, public health authorities and our health and safety advisers to ensure that we comply fully with all emerging guidelines. Our absolute priority is to ensure we can stage The Open safely for all involved.”

Irishman Shane Lowry, who won at Royal Portrush in 2019, is set to defend the Claret Jug in the event’s first visit to the Sandwich venue since Darren Clarke won by three shots from Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in 2011.

Tickets for the return to Royal St George’s had sold at the fastest rate since Open records began and the tournament was nearly sold out when the decision was taken last April to cancel the 2020 staging.

“I would like to be able to give greater clarity on our plans at this stage,” continued Slumbers in his second update on the plans to push ahead as planned this summer.

“But we recognise that a number of important decisions have still to be made by the government, on issues such as social distancing, testing and Covid certification, which will have a significant bearing on the potential level of attendance at the championship.

“In the meantime, we are emailing our ticket holders and hospitality purchasers with more information about their tickets. We are contacting international ticket holders to assist them with refund options if they are unable to travel due to international travel restrictions.

“I fully recognise the challenges that awaiting further guidance causes for our fans, players, volunteers and officials and appreciate that it is making it difficult for people to confirm their plans just yet.

“I apologise for any inconvenience this is causing and thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through the process and respond to the government guidance as it emerges. We will provide further updates in the coming weeks.”

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The event will be the final major of the year for the second time, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama winning the Masters in April and the US PGA Championship and US Open to come at Kiawah Island and Torrey Pines respectively over the coming few weeks.

“Our end goal remains to stage a fantastic Open at Royal St George’s and give our fans and players something to be genuinely thrilled about this summer,” said Slumbers.

“It has been too long since we have been able to see the world’s best men’s golfers competing on one of our greatest links courses and I’m sure you are looking forward as eagerly as I am to what will be a truly memorable sporting occasion.”

It is also hoped that some fans will be in attendance at the AIG Women’s Open, another event run by the R&A, at Carnoustie in August.

The same goes for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club the week before The Open and the Trust Golf Scottish Women’s Open when it pays a first visit to Dumbarnie Links straight before the AIG Women’s Open.

Pilot schemes to allow fans inside some sports venues in limited numbers began recently at the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield.

The Carabao Cup final at Wembley between Manchester City and Tottenham was also played in front of 8,000 spectators at the end of last month.

The final weekend of the Premier League in England is set to take place with crowds in attendance on Sunday week, with fans also now set to be in attendance at Wembley for England versus Scotland in the delayed Euro 2020 clash on 18 June.

In addition, the Scottish government has given approval for 12,000 supporters - 25 per cent of the stadium's capacity - to attend Euro 2020 matches at Hampden in June.

Scotland are set to start against the Czech Republic at Hampden on 14 June while the national stadium is also scheduled to host Croatia's Group D meeting with the Czechs four days later, followed by Croatia v Scotland on 22 June, and a last-16 game on 29 June.

It was announced recently by the All England Club that Wimbledon hopes to welcome at least 10,000 fans on each day of the 2021 championships.

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