British Open Hopeful For 75% Capacity, Without Chaos Of PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson

By DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina — Along with the coastal views at Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship, it was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that a major championship actually sounded like one.

A larger gathering could happen on the other side of the Atlantic.

The R&A said it was optimistic that Royal St. George’s could have as much as 75% capacity for the British Open on July 15-21. Martin Slumbers, the CEO, also said capacity for golf’s oldest championship could be as low as 25%.

So much depends on government regulations, and that won’t be determined until a month before the Open.

“The big uncertainty for us is clarity with the government and health authorities around social distancing, and that will determine what the atmosphere will be like at the Open,” Slumbers said. “We are building the infrastructure as we would normally build, so there’s the big grandstands going around the 18th and around the first, and we’re building them in a way that we can adapt for social distancing depending on what the rules are going to be.

“I’m keen to get as many spectators in as possible because I do think that’s what creates the atmosphere, and I think actually it’s what makes the players play just a little bit better.”

Watching the PGA Championship from the home of golf, Slumbers said it was a clear there was a gap between the U.S. and the UK in terms of restrictions.

What he wants to avoid is the chaos that erupted on the 18th hole at Kiawah when Phil Mickelson was swallowed up by the crowd and had to fight his way through to the green.

That’s a typical scene, though far more orderly, at the British Open. Crowds often follow the final group down the fairway toward the green, but at some distance.

“We’re very careful on how we move the crowds around, so we will continue to keep the crowds on the side of the 18th until it’s all over and then allow them to move closer to the green,” Slumbers said. “The whole thing is a balance to getting the excitement but making sure the players are safe.”

Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, issued an apology to Mickelson and Brooks Koepka about the wild scene that trapped them Sunday. Koepka said his tender right knee was dinged a few times trying to get through.

“While we welcome enthusiastic fan engagement, we regret that a moment of high elation and pent-up emotion by spectators on the 18th hole ... briefly overwhelmed security and made two players and their caddies feel vulnerable,” Waugh said. “We always put player safety at the top of our list and are grateful that order was restored.”

Waugh said he apologized to Mickelson and Koepka on behalf of the PGA.