Jordan Spieth watches his shot during a practice round at Royal St George's
Organisers of the Open Championship have drafted in the Army to avoid repeats of the serious security breaches which marred last week’s Scottish Open.
The R&A was horrified to see a spectator saunter unchallenged on to the first tee at the Renaissance Club last Friday and grab a club out of Rory McIlroy’s bag before taking a few swings. A 35-year-old man, who witnesses described as smelling of alcohol, was eventually led away before being arrested and taken to hospital
There were only 4,000 fans allowed for the Scottish Open but there will be 32,000 at Royal St George’s on Thursday for the first Open Championship in two years. With the potential for emotions to spiral over the next four days – especially with the ongoing feud between Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau – the R&A has taken extra steps to counter any flash points and rowdy behaviour, including keeping fans further away from the players than normal.
"We are deeply conscious of the health and safety of the players, particularly their safety," Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, said. "As a spectator you cannot get on the tee. We will have enough marshals around our tees to prevent that, including a number of army marshals.
"There’s very strict conditions for any of those spectators to be able to get into the grounds, and they’re being held further back from the players than we would normally do. You can see the ropes are further back. We’ve got plenty of security all the way around the course."
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However, Slumbers was clear that the players also risk expulsion if they breach coronavirus protocols. Players have been prohibited from going to bars, restaurants and supermarkets and must stay in approved hotels or private accommodation limited to up to four members of their team.
"I think players know the risks," Slumbers said. "They’re all responsible. They don’t want to put their fellow players at risk. I’d like to treat them as professionals in that regard."
Slumbers would not go as far to guarantee disqualification for any miscreants – "I’ve learnt… that you want to understand the circumstances, but I don’t think that will be an issue" – but he believes that test and trace issues are "probably inevitable".
"The most pressing part of it is for the players," he said. "The worst thing you can get is a player being contact-traced, because you’re out for 10 days and have to quarantine and you can’t test out of it, so you’re out of the Championship.
"For the spectators, it’s different. They’re here as part of a research programme for the Government and the Government will be monitoring all that. They’re actually trying to very responsibly understand with these big events how Covid does transmit outside, in 500, 600 acres of land and wind blowing.
"There’s a different set of rationales for the players and for the spectators. But I think it’s probably inevitable that we will have some problems and we understand that. We mustn’t forget we are staging a major event still in the middle of a global pandemic."