Royal St George’s can wait a year to stage the Open Championship. The same might not be said for 1,000s of small businesses in Kent looking forward to the boom an Open Championship brings.
Don’t underestimate the money a major sporting event like the Open Championship brings into areas it visits. Northern Ireland saw an influx of £100 million when the Open was staged at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951. The championship attracted 237,750 fans.
Scotland received an economic benefit of £120 million thanks to the staging of the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie. The Angus area alone received a £21 million injection of new money.
Martin Slumbers announced in February that he was expecting 200,000 fans to flock to Royal St George’s this summer, an increase of 17,000 on the previous record for the Kent course. That’s a lot of people swilling around Sandwich, Deal and other surrounding towns and villages.
Those hotels, boarding houses and bed and breakfast facilities gearing up for a huge cash influx that comes every 10 or so years will now have to wait until 2021. Ditto for restaurants, bars, shops, etc.
The R&A put out an official notice today refuting reports that the Open Championship will be cancelled, which read:
“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 Open hasn't been cancelled since 1945. However, you don’t need to be an Oxbridge graduate to conclude that the chances of the game’s greatest championship being held this year have the proverbial two hopes. That’s a conclusion most aficionados reached at least two weeks ago.
Expect the R&A just to bump everything up a year. So the 149th Open will now be played at Royal St George’s next year, the 150th will take place at St Andrews in 2022 and so on. The governing body won’t want to squander the opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the game’s greatest championship at the Home of Golf.
Fans who bought tickets for this year’s championship have been promised refunds. Advanced tickets holders received this email over two weeks ago, which read:
"We can confirm that if The 149th Open at Royal St George’s is cancelled, all fans who have purchased tickets directly via TheOpen.com or The R&A Ticket Office will be entitled to a full refund.
"In the event of other outcomes being confirmed, we will communicate with ticket holders as soon as information and processes are in place.”
Small businesses don’t have the same safety net. Many might not be around in a year’s time.
Golf courses in that neck of the woods are in the same dire situation as other clubs in the British Isles. They're hurting because of closure forced by the coronavirus. While facilities in other parts are facing uncertain futures, at least the Kent courses held out hope of a respite thanks to the Open Championship. It was badly needed after a winter of discontent thanks to storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, and incessant rains that made golf in all areas of these isles an extremely unattractive proposition.
Shane Lowry can wait a year to defend the title he won brilliantly at Portrush. Considering what we're going through right now, him waiting another 12 months to hand back the trophy is no great hardship.
Royal St George’s has an affluent membership. It will survive. The same cannot be said for other courses in the area, small businesses. Remember, an Open Championship isn’t only about who wins the old claret jug. It brings huge economic benefits too, a fact that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.