Hopes of a typical British sporting summer in 2021 have been boosted by the R&A, which is “cautiously optimistic” of welcoming a full attendance well in excess of 100,000 to the Open at Royal St George’s. The R&A plans to resume ticket sales for the 149th staging of the event early in the new year.
In an interview in late October, the R&A’s chief executive, Martin Slumbers, said there were three scenarios in play for next year’s Open, postponed for 12 months in July because of the Covid pandemic. They were a full event, a reduced-capacity Open and a closed-door staging of the major.
The second of those options, allowing tens of thousands of spectators to attend the Sandwich venue, was thought to be the most likely until recent weeks. Vaccine developments have given the Open’s organisers fresh hope, despite vagueness from the government regarding when sporting events can take place in front of full crowds.
“We are progressing our plans for staging the Open at Royal St George’s with a full capacity and remain cautiously optimistic that this will be possible,” said a spokesman for the R&A. “The rolling out of a vaccine is very encouraging, but we recognise that it is still an uncertain situation and are developing contingency plans in case they should be required.
“Our overall priority is to stage the Open safely for players, fans, officials and volunteers. We work closely with our medical advisers and the health authorities, and will continue to monitor developments to ensure that our plans are as robust as possible.”
The R&A must still monitor what social distancing criteria are likely to be in place for next summer and the scale of strain on public services. The 2020 postponement was covered by pandemic insurance, with the R&A and Wimbledon in the rare sporting position of being able to take decisions while covered financially.
April’s Masters at Augusta is, for now, expected to take place before limited galleries, having been played behind closed doors in early November. Augusta National is expected to make clear its 2021 plans no later than February.
The last staging of the Open at Royal St George’s, in 2011, attracted 180,000 spectators to Kent. In July 2019, the R&A said advanced ticket sales for the following year had triggered record demand.