Published: 14:30, 27 May 2021
| Updated: 08:10, 28 May 2021
The R&A are revising their plans to host The Open at Royal St George’s this summer as the country continues along the roadmap out of lockdown.
Up to 30,000 spectators are expected to descend on Sandwich each day, players and officials will be in their own bubble and additional park and ride schemes are expected to be put in place.
But with more sporting events hosting big crowds on a trial basis - including cricket and horse racing - next month, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers admitted their plans remain uncertain.
“We are thoroughly excited about July,” he said. “It's beginning to take shape.
“Whilst we would really like to provide certainty to everybody on how The Open will work, the inevitable is that there remains great uncertainty. The one thing that I am clear about is that we will play the 149th Open at Royal St George's in the third week of July in not that many days from now.
“Uncertainty is about what the environment will be that we will need to operate in. We've been working very closely with the UK government and Public Health to understand what we can do and what we can't do, and there is no doubt it is extremely complex and very challenging indeed. There are multiple plans and multiple options.
“But we are approaching the point in mid-June which we believe is the key date that we will have for a greater understanding of what rules will apply.
“We are retaining as much optionality as we can until the rules become clear, and then we will start to lock in and communicate exactly on which options we are going to go forward to.”
Royal St George’s can normally host 40,000 fans each day at The Open but Mr Slumbers expects that to be capped at 75 per cent, although he did not rule out that there could be as few as 10,000 spectators on course each day.
He said: “We are optimistic of is a significant attendance, and we are looking to have an attendance at Royal St George's of up to about 75 per cent of capacity.
“We expect to have somewhere between 25 and 75 per cent of what we would normally have for the championship, and hopefully by the time we get to St Andrews for the 150th, we'll be back up well over 200,000 spectators in 2022.”
Getting people in and out of Sandwich will be a challenge under Covid-19 restrictions, along with keeping players and officials in their own bubble. It’s a concept that elite golfers are used to, but Mr Slumbers admitted it might take on a slightly different look in Kent.
“We do not want to get ahead of Public Health and related government policy, and the safety of the players, officials, media, spectators, is paramount,” he said.
“We had originally before the pandemic started work with Kent Council and Dover to build two new train platforms at Sandwich that do take 12 carriage trains down from London with the expectation that more people are going to come in on trains, and we bought land to be able to move the crowd through safely.
“The expectation at the moment is that more people will want to drive as against come on the train, so we are working on additional park and rides and how we move people in.
“The players will be in a bubble of players and officials and the championship staff that will be looking after the players and the championship, and they will be kept separate and away from whatever crowds we're allowed to have.
“That's just unfortunate the way it's got to work at the moment. It is critical to manage the public health issues about bringing the players in internationally. We're very much monitoring where the players are and particularly those that may be coming from red countries and how we keep them very careful within the bubble and according to the guidance the government will give us.
“It's what's making all of this very challenging, and it will feel different. As everyone who's been to a golf tournament in the last eight to nine months knows, it doesn't feel exactly the same, and that's entirely appropriate.
“Many of the (players) wouldn't have played outside of America since the pandemic hit, and we're very conscious of that and we're talking to them and explaining how it will work here. I think communication will lie at the centre of that.”
The 149th Open takes place from July 15 to 18 at Royal St George's.