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A Message to the R&A - You Cannot Be Serious!

By: | Thu 02 Apr 2020 | Comments

IN THE words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. Hours after Golf Digest reported that the 149th Open Championship was going to be scrapped, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers issued a statement that implied it may still go ahead. 

You have to ask yourself what world Slumbers and his cohorts in St Andrews are living in. The Masters has been postponed. The Olympic Games will now take place next year. Euro 2020 will now be Euro 2021. Wimbledon has been axed for the first time since 1945. There is no football. There is no major tournament golf being played anywhere. There is no sport. Right now, it is not important. We are living in extraordinary times.

But the R&A are dragging their heels, clinging on to the hope that The Open can still go ahead this year. What gives them the right to believe that their tournament is more important than Wimbledon or the Olympics?

After Golf Digest’s story, Slumbers issued the following statement: “We are continuing to work through our options for The Open this year, including postponement. Due to a range of external factors, that process is taking some time to resolve. We are well aware of the importance of being able to give clear guidance to fans, players and everyone involved and are working to resolve this as soon as we can. We will give a further update as soon as we are in a position to do so and thank everyone for their support and understanding in this challenging situation.”

The key word in that statement is “postponement”. It implies that the R&A believe it may be possible to hold the tournament later in the year. The word we were looking for was “cancellation”.

Golf is often criticised for being out of touch and I am sorry to say that this is another example of precisely that. The Open is played in July or not at all. Just call the thing off.

Of course, it will be a terrible blow to businesses in and around Royal St George’s. Accommodation in the area has been fully booked for months. Tickets have been sold. The nightmare scenario is that hotels, guesthouses and campsites that are already closed because of the coronavirus lockdown will have to provide refunds - with much of that money having already been spent. And the R&A will be forced to give back ticket money to the tens of thousands of people who bought them in advance. 

But there is no other realistic option than to simply admit this year’s Championship cannot go ahead.

Even if the crisis is over by July - and, let’s face it, the chances of that are just about non-existent - how on earth could they get everything into place to stage the event? Only essential maintenance is being carried out on the course, hotels and guesthouses have been closed, with staff laid off, and the players haven’t seen any competitive action since early March.

There is still talk of The Masters, US Open and US PGA Championship being staged later in the year, but that is not a viable option for the R&A with The Open. Normally we would see a field of 156 players - by the time we get to August and September, there is less daylight so the only way the world’s oldest major could be slotted in would be with a reduced field - and that would devalue it horribly. So, sorry to say, but we are going to have to endure a year without seeing somebody striding down the 18th fairway on a Sunday afternoon to collect the Claret Jug. And the sooner the R&A accept this, the better.

The 2021 Open is due to be played at St Andrews and with so much accommodation and hospitality packages having already been purchased at the Home of Golf, Golf Digest had reported that what would have been the 150th Championship would still be held there, with Royal St George’s being asked to host in 2024. 

Unusually, the All England Club had the foresight to take out an insurance policy covering them against a cancellation caused by a pandemic, and it seems the R&A did the same thing. One of the conditions of that policy is that the R&A had to cancel The Open by a specific date, so why don’t they just do it. 

Like Wimbledon, it will be first time since 1945 that The Open will not have been staged, and it is just the latest nightmare for the R&A, who announced that the Curtis Cup has been put back 12 months. The Amateur Championship has been rescheduled, moving from June to August, but huge question marks remain over whether it will go ahead.

Duncan Weir, executive director at the R&A, said: “We have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the players and everyone involved in our events so moving the Amateur and Curtis Cup is the right thing to do. We are grateful to all the venues for their continuing support in these challenging circumstances and we will update everybody involved with our plans when we know them.” That was the right thing to do.

England Golf has announced that nothing will now take place before the end of July.

In a statement, they said: "As always, England Golf’s priority when taking decisions at this time is to assist the national effort to combat the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure we protect our NHS and save lives. With golf courses now closed until further notice and restrictions for travel and public life in place for an indefinite period, England Golf has taken the pragmatic decision on the postponement of events beyond our original date of June 7."

The following England Golf championships have been added to the postponed list:

  • English Senior Women’s Stroke Play – Abbeydale, 16-18 June
  • England Golf Medal – The Kendleshire, 17 June
  • Golf Captains – Broadway, 17 June
  • England Golf Medal - Drayton Park, 21 June
  • England Golf Medal – Brancepeth Castle, 25 June
  • Golf Captains – Moortown, 30 June
  • Logan Trophy – Sand Moor, 3-5 July
  • Senior Series and Golf Captains – South Staffs, 7-8 July
  • English Schools’ Team Championship – Woodhall Spa, 8 July
  • McGregor Trophy – Heworth, 14-16 July
  • English Girls’ Open Championship – Sandy Lodge, 21-23 July
  • Carris Trophy – St George’s Hill, 21-24 July
  • Golf Captains – Piltdown, 22 July

James Crampton, director of championships, said: “It is with regret that we have had to extend the list of postponed England Golf events as we all adhere to the expert advice and necessary measures now in place to combat the spread of coronavirus. All England Golf championships have now been postponed until week commencing 27 July. We will continue to regularly review our championship plans beyond this date.

“If possible, we aim to re-schedule some of our postponed events and will provide information as and when it is practicable to do so. There are a number of intricacies associated with championship golf which need to be considered well in advance of any event taking place and these, as much as golf courses being open for play, are key factors in our decision-making.”

In addition to championships, all England Golf regional and national squad coaching sessions for men, women, boys and girls remain cancelled until further notice. Individual coaching sessions – apart from those done remotely by video call - have also been cancelled.

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