They made the right decision. And they do their best to fill a significant gap on the sports calendar, with imagination and technology to taste the Open Week in unprecedented circumstances.
But those ‘what if …’ moments that all golf fans will experience in the coming days?
R&A CEO Martin Slumbers gets it. He already feels exactly the same stimulation and pain.
Yes, some sort of safe, socially distant tournament could have been put together at Royal St George’s this week.
The fact that many of the world’s top players are back in action on the PGA Tour proves, aside from some glaring concerns, that it can be done.
However, an open championship with no galleries would be a bad substitute for the real thing.
The best week of the golf year is not intended to be played behind closed turnstiles or even, as is now proposed for the recast US Open, for just a few thousand fans.
Imagine going from the emotionally charged glory of Shane Lowry’s triumph in Portrush last July – an event Slumbers describes as ‘one of the five best experiences of my life’ – to a virtually empty link in Kent. No thank you.
It’s been 12 months since Shane Lowry was brought to an incredible victory by the crowd of Irish crowds at an unforgettable Open Championship at Royal Portrush
Speaking to Sportsmail about Zoom, Slumbers said, “If I’m really honest, no, I couldn’t imagine what that would be like.
“I’ve talked about it in my time here to try to build the crowds, build the atmosphere, build something really special.
“We are very aware of the history of The Open, of trying to achieve one of the world’s greatest sports championships. And crowds are such an important part of that.
Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, our championship director, spends so much time thinking about this.
Up the 18th at an Open is the biggest walk in golf. And that is about building the stands, the crowds, the way we manage that atmosphere.
“So it would have been very, very difficult to have done it without crowds.
“But we live in very strange times. And this is not behind us in the imagination.
“So I think as sports fans we all get a little used to the crowds in professional sports. But The Open would look very strange.
You just have to watch last year, with Shane Lowry in Portrush. He went to work, as these guys can.
And then he was swept up in a wave of Irish euphoria. That wouldn’t have happened without the crowds. It makes a huge difference to top sport. ‘
That was certainly the case 12 months ago, with fans from all over Ireland – north and south – creating a truly unique atmosphere especially on a spectacular Sunday.
As a side effect of the fact that The Open has been postponed for the first time since World War II, the 2019 Champion Golfer is allowed to keep one of the most coveted prizes in the sport for another year.
This week, The Open would return to Royal St George’s for the first time since Darren Clarke’s memorable 2011 triumph, but now we have to wait another year
Slumbers said, “I saw Shane in Sawgrass for the Players Championship and asked,” How’s my Claret Jug? ‘
“He was great. It must have been difficult for him not to exit the following week.
“But we’re really privileged with the champions we’ve had – and now Shane can hold it for two years.
“I told a few people that Portrush was probably one of the top five experiences of my life. Certainly my sporty life.
‘The first Open I attended was 1984 with Seve Ballesteros. We were there on Saturday when Tom Watson played an extraordinary round of golf.
“Then on Sunday, when Seve and Tom got together, that was incredible.
“Seve is still my favorite golfer. I admire Jack Nicklaus, I think he is the best golfer of all time. Tiger Woods is extraordinary.
Watson who played golf on the left was extraordinary. Nick Faldo is the largest modern golfer to have produced Britain and the UK.
“But for me, Seve was the genius. And ’84 will always be my favorite.
“Portrush, with all the uncertainty there, a real sense of being the beginning of something historical, was an experience I will never forget.
“I left Portrush at seven the next morning to go to the Senior Open. We got on the boat in Belfast and went the long way to Liverpool.
“It was eight o’clock. I think I stared at the wall for six of them … “
Once it was decided to postpone, the thoughts immediately came to the following summer.
Portrush would have been difficult to follow under normal circumstances. But with a one-year gap that sharpens the appetite, Royal St George’s promises to get pretty special – with Slumbers confidently predicting record masses.
Still, this week won’t be easy, as he admitted, “I was talking to someone on the team before. We said we canceled it with a very heavy heart.
“I believe we made the right decision. For the good of The Open, players and all our officials.
“But by then we should be there. We always have a board meeting last for The Open.
“And it felt really weird to finish the board meeting – and not pack my suitcase.
“So it will feel a little strange. I think I will try to act normally.
Slumbers says Seve Ballesteros is his golf hero and the Spaniard’s victory over St Andrews in 1984 is his all-time favorite open moment
‘Next summer? The beauty of all courses is that they are really different.
Royal St George’s is an example. It has a lot of shots where you can’t see the ball landing – and a lot of players don’t like that. But the last six holes are pretty much everything in championship golf.
“We hope this public health crisis as a society is behind us – and we will have a record mass for Royal St George’s.
“In fact, we gave everyone who bought their ticket the opportunity to get a refund or turn it around.
“The vast majority have turned them around and will be there next year.
‘It is a large golf course, a lot is happening around it. I think it will be quite exciting.
“I like to move it across the country. Getting a bit of a London feel will be different. ‘
At least that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime? Well, Open Devotees will be able to taste something that sounds like a wonderful combination of age-old clubhouse arguments and the latest advancements in streaming technology.
The Open for the Ages will use 50 years of archive footage to create a competition between some of the game’s all-time greats.
It is all very complicated. But the essence of the experiment is incredibly simple.
Stick Jack and Tiger, Seve and Tom, Rory McIlroy and Sir Nick together in their prime. And try to find out who would win.
It starts on Thursday through open media channels and the virtual final round of Sunday is broadcast on Sky.
While no one will pretend to be a real replacement for live sports, it doesn’t sound more fun than the virtual Grand National or all those Masters highlights we watched in April.
“We didn’t want to forget about canceling The Open,” Slumbers explains.
“We wanted to give our fans something special to look forward to in the absence of The Open.
“And it was an idea that had been around for a while, could we show the great champions in St. Andrews? Canceling it gave us a real initiative.
‘It’s going to be very innovative, very intriguing in terms of outcome.
‘With sports fans, especially golf fans, there is always the big debate. Wouldn’t it be great to see Jack against Rory?
“Well, we’re going to show it. And we use technology to create the idea that they play against each other.
“I’ve seen a lot of the latest footage and I think people will find it attractive.
“Does that mean I know who wins? I’m not saying anything … “
To learn more about Open for the Ages, where many of the greatest champions of golf come together to compete on the Old Course in an innovative three-hour broadcast, vis the www.theopen.com.
The R&A is organizing this week a virtual battle between the best golfers ever