Golf fans are almost certain to be aware that The Open Championship is due to be staged in Kent this July at the Royal St George’s course near Sandwich. It will be the 149th time the event has been held and marks the 15th occasion the course has hosted it.
I guess the big question is: What form will the championship take in relation to the crowds – or lack of them?
Whenever The Open comes to the county it’s a big thing. Only 14 courses in total have had the privilege of hosting the championship. Two others in Kent – Prince’s Club, also in Sandwich, and Royal Cinque Ports in Dover – although, combined, they have only hosted it three times and neither has featured since 1932. Both are no longer on the Open rota.
The rest of England has had a pretty rough deal. Three north-west courses are in the mix around the Liverpool area although the championship seems to favour Scotland with half of the 14 courses found north of the border. Completing the 14 is Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland which staged the event in 2019.
I had the great good fortune to see The Open at Royal St George’s in 2003 when a then unknown American, Ben Curtis (pictured), won the famous Claret Jug after being the only player in the field to break par over the 72 holes at one-under. A hospitality company I had used a fair bit rang me on the Friday and said they had a late drop out for a table for 10 the next day. Was I interested? Personally, the answer was a big yes, but filling 10 seats at a day’s notice was another matter. I rang a printer mate who lives in Borough Green and asked if he and a few clients would care to go along. In the end we split the table. I don’t recall the per head asking price, but do remember thinking that the figure might, at a push, have covered the food and drink. The golf, in effect, was free. My, how I miss those days.
But, back to this year. What are the prospects?
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, has given the following message to The Open’s fans. He says: “We are focused on staging The 149th Open at Royal St George’s from July 11-18, 2021 and on delivering a fantastic Championship for the country and the world of golf. I would like to assure you, our fans, as well as our players, officials, patrons, partners, contractors and suppliers that we will do all we can to make this summer’s Championship a huge success.
“We are acutely aware that this remains a difficult time for so many people and the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is causing substantial disruption to all our lives, but there is growing cause for optimism with the rapid roll-out of the vaccination programme.
“There are, undoubtedly, many more pressing concerns facing people at the moment, but we are trying to look forward with cautious optimism. We believe that seeing the world’s best men’s golfers in action at golf’s original Championship will bring some much needed joy and excitement back into our lives this summer.
“With that in mind, we have been working closely with the Government, our medical advisers and partner agencies as part of a rigorous scenario-planning exercise for staging The Open this year. We continue to plan for a full-scale championship, but also have robust plans in place for a reduced capacity or behind closed doors model.
“I can also assure you that we would like nothing more than to welcome you, our amazing fans, to The Open once again this July. We will be doing all we can to make that happen while ensuring the safety of all involved and following all necessary Government guidance.
“Thank you and stay safe.”
My money is on it going ahead, but with reduced capacity. But, I hope it goes ahead, whatever.