A series of strict COVID protocols has drawn the ire of some PGA Tour players leading into next month’s Open Championship, with some considering a boycott of the prestigious event and others simply miffed by the regulations.
The 149th Open is scheduled to be held at Royal St George’s starting on July 15th, but the R&A sent players a long list of specific mandates that will alter the accommodation plans many had arranged.
One player, who spoke with Golfweek under the condition of anonymity, said he strongly considered skipping the major, which was canceled in 2020. Shane Lowry has had the Claret Jug for 22 months now after he won his lone major at Royal Portrush in Ireland in 2019.
“I’m going to go because it’s the British Open. But I certainly thought about not going. I just can’t believe with the numerous examples of successfully run safely held tournaments and majors here that they can’t figure out a better situation,” the player said.
“If someone on your plane tests positive on way to the British and is sitting anywhere close to you, you’re out no questions asked, no matter if you’re vaccinated. It’s aggravating that they deem the tournament safe enough for 32,000 fans a day to attend, but won’t let a player’s wife, children travel and watch the tournament, nor will they even let players visit a restaurant without threat of disqualification.”
According to the note Golfweek obtained that was sent to players, caddies and coaches by the R&A, those on different player teams will not be allowed to stay together, which makes things difficult for many who travel in support of players.
“The up-to-four persons [regulation] within private rental accommodation must be included within the players’ own support group … For example, multiple players or multiple caddies are not permitted to share private self accommodation,” the R&A email read. “We recognise this is difficult for many that used to share during the championship but the Government’s strict contact tracing requirements mean that this will not be possible in 2021.
“No-one outside the accommodation ‘buddy’ group is permitted to visit other self-catering private accommodation. This would be a breach of the Covid-19 protocols and could lead to withdrawal from the championship.”
The potential for being ousted from the tournament has players angry, especially in light of the eased restrictions for patrons. The R&A recently announced that up to 32,000 fans will be able to attend each day at Royal St George’s — that’s 80 percent of the typical 40,000 spectators allowed on the site.
“They care more about the revenue of the fans buying beers than they do about the actual people participating in the tournament,” said the player who spoke with Golfweek. “Any fan can go to a grocery store or a restaurant and we can’t. Does that make sense? And I’m vaccinated. How does that make sense?”
Coach Pete Cowen, who works with Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka as well as others, said that he’ll be forced to find a new place to stay.
“I was due to stay with a few of the caddies in a huge RV just by the practice range,” he told Telegraph Sport in a story that was printed in the Guardian. “It wasn’t cheap, but it seemed the wisest option in the current climate. But we’ve just found out that we are not allowed to stay together because it breaks the Government protocols.”
Cowen echoed the comments from the player who spoke with Golfweek.
“There are going to be 32,000 fans allowed in every day and they’re saying we can’t stay in anything other than the dedicated hotels — most of which are already sold out — because we’d be mixing with the public,” Cowen said. “And we can’t stay together, like we have on the PGA Tour for the last year. We have all been vaccinated and will have been tested before we are allowed in. This ‘bubble’ we have created between ourselves has produced no problems at all.
“It makes no sense at all when there will be 60,000 at Wembley, 140,000 at Silverstone (race track) and all those at Wimbledon on the weekend before — sitting next to each other. I suppose I should be grateful I am going at all, as initially the wording of the regs made me believe instructors would be banned.”