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  • Alistair Tait

Is the Old Course’s Open cycle in jeopardy?

While the R&A sorts out the logistics of this year’s Open Championship, it might be pondering another logistical issue: Breaking up the Old Course’s five-year cycle of staging the game’s oldest championship.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers released a press statement yesterday denying a decision had already been taken to cancel this year’s Open Championship. Slumbers used the word “postponement” in his press release, not cancellation. However, it seems highly unlikely Royal St George’s will see the world’s elite playing on its famed links this year.

Even if we come through this coronavirus nightmare any time soon, imagine the worldwide travel restrictions, the potential limitations on large gatherings, that could be in place until health experts find a vaccine. If that takes a year to 18 months as some experts predict, then that means no Open Championship this year, the first time the Open won’t have been staged since 1945.

Just as well the R&A, like Wimbledon, took out comprehensive insurance to protect its premier product. The governing body would have paid a high premium for that insurance, but it looks like a wise decision in light of what’s happened. Who says the R&A don’t always get things right?

So, if we work on the assumption – and I’d wager a lot of money on that assumption – that this year’s Open Championship will be cancelled, then it makes sense to shunt everything up a year. That means Royal St George’s will stage the 149th Open Championship next year, and St Andrews remains the venue for the 150th Open, which will now take place in 2022.

Royal Liverpool was slated for 2022 with Royal Troon in line for 2023. I wouldn’t be surprised if those two venues switched in the succession line, with Royal Troon remaining on course for 2023 and Royal Liverpool taking the 2024 slot. Royal Troon lobbied for the 2023 date to celebrate the 100th anniversary of holding its first Open in 1923, when Arthur Havers won the old claret jug. It makes no sense to deny Troon that opportunity, and I can’t see why Hoylake would have any objections to moving to 2024.

The question for the R&A is what does it do about 2025? Does it return to St Andrews just three years after staging the 150th Open Championship, or wait until 2030.

The Open has been held at St Andrews every five years since 1990, when Nick Faldo won the second of his three Opens. There’s nothing written in stone that the Old Course has to stage the game’s greatest championship on a five-year basis. That unwritten policy came into being when Sir Michael Bonallack was R&A secretary, and successor Peter Dawson kept that cycle going.

It makes sense to return to the Old Course on a more frequent basis. As the Home of Golf, St Andrews should stage the Open more than any other links.

Other venues work closer to an 8-10-year time frame with the exception of Turnberry. It’s now working on a Donald Trump time frame. The four-time Open Championship venue last staged the Open in 2009 when Stewart Cink won, thereby spoiling the greatest story in golf of Tom Watson winning his sixth title at 59 to match Harry Vardon’s Open tally and become the oldest major winner. (I still get depressed when I think of that day.)

It’s true the Ayrshire course poses logistical and attendance problems for the R&A, but the 45th president is the biggest problem. The last thing the R&A wants is for The Donald to turn up and highjack its championship, as he did when the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open was staged at Turnberry. R&A officials looked on in horror. No wonder the governing body is working on an unofficial “take the Open back to Turnberry when Trump no longer owns it” policy.

Back to St Andrews. Will the R&A take the Open back to the auld grey toon if this year’s championship is cancelled and the Old Course stages the 2022 Championship, or does it wait until 2030 to go back to its five-year cycle. That’s surely a question Slumbers and the R&A’s championship committee is considering?

My predicted Open Championship schedule

2021 – Royal St George’s

2022 – St Andrews

2023 – Royal Troon

2024 – Royal Liverpool

2025 – ?

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