Golf-R&A hopeful of significant crowds at Open Championship

FILE PHOTO: Golf - The 148th Open Championship - Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portrush, Northern Ireland - July 17, 2019 Martin Slumbers, Cheif Executive of the R&A during a press conference REUTERS/Ian Walton

LONDON (Reuters) - This year's British Open could be played out in front of "significant numbers" of spectators, organisers the Royal and Ancient (R&A) said on Tuesday.

The 149th Open, cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place at the Royal St George's in Sandwich on the Kent coast from July 15-18.

An easing of restrictions means up to 10,000 fans will be permitted at outdoor sports events in England from May 17, while further easing could push numbers up in June.

"The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic continues to improve in the UK and the rapid roll-out of the vaccine programme gives us growing confidence that we will be able to welcome a significant number of fans to the Championship as part of a reduced capacity model," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement.

"We are working hard with the government, public health authorities and our health and safety advisers to ensure that we comply fully with all emerging guidelines. Our absolute priority is to ensure we can stage The Open safely for all involved."

When the Open was last held in Sandwich a total of 180,000 spectators attended.

While crowds of that size are unlikely this time, the prospect of good-sized galleries will be a welcome boost for organisers.

"I would like to be able to give greater clarity on our plans at this stage but we recognise that a number of important decisions have still to be made by the government, on issues such as social distancing, testing and COVID certification, which will have a significant bearing on the potential level of attendance at the Championship," Slumbers said.

"Our end goal remains to stage a fantastic Open at Royal St George's and give our fans and players something to be genuinely thrilled about this summer."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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