I didn’t write this on my return from Sandwich last night because I was still stewing about it. But I feel on the grounds of public health and safety that I have to post this in a measured way.
The R&A have said that it’s important to have the public present and were successful in getting The Open test event status so that 32,000 spectators a day can come in.
Everyone working or visiting the event was told about the covid protocols and that there would be additional checks on the way into the course. We accepted that. Showing your vaccination status is one hurdle to come in, then there is airline style security, then you have to show a QR code on your phone with your downloaded pass or tickets, showing you have also watched a film and answered some questions. All this is well managed, that isn’t the issue.
The divot goes to whoever in the R&A approved the spectator access to the course from the train station. It is diabolical and it is dangerous.
The logistical problems of having Royal St Georges as an Open venue are clear. It is in a small mediaeval town and the roads are narrow leading into the course.
This is the fifth Open I’ve attended at this venue and never before has the access to the course been organised in such a heinous way from the train station. The problem is that the R&A have withdrawn the buses that have always been in place to transport people to the course from the station. There are buses in place from the two park and ride sites in outlying villages. I saw several of these buses pass in the road near to the station, without stopping as they could, and they were either empty or had a couple of people on board. They can, and should, stop to pick up people arriving at the station.
The problem with there being no buses is this. When the trains arrive from London or Ramsgate there are enthusiastic volunteers, often waving a pointed sponge finger in the direction they want you to go, and one of them shouts “if you’re going to the golf, this way”.
Do not listen to them. There is a mobility bus which no one tells you about, I found out about it only after I had a rant to the station master.
THIS IS SERIOUS. If you follow the spongy pointy finger you had better be young and super fit. It is a long mountaineering exercise up slopes, a long, long walk across fields before you are confronted with the first of two very steep bridges which you have to climb over to get to the first check point, the covid check.
In order to get to the second check point near to where you can actually get into the course after showing the QR code, you have to climb up and over another even steeper and more dangerous passenger walkway. There are gaps in the handrails at the top going down so it is precarious, never mind exhausting getting down these steps safely.
The other option to get to this point is to get out at the station and go through the town of Sandwich down several country paths until you reach the main pathway which I took last night. It was an unlit path surrounded by countryside and a good 20 minute walk. It did not feel safe, any more than the dangerous bridges did.
And this is the point. A steward told me that he’d had to attend to several accidents on the bridges (this was during day one). I saw a lady clearly having a panic attack being forced to use the bridge. But worse was an elderly, overweight man who was in tears. He was saying he just couldn’t climb it. He’d been so excited about coming to The Open but he literally couldn’t get up it.
This is not good enough. The station staff I spoke to agreed that people needed to be told there was the option of accessibility travel, which I have booked for tomorrow. I refuse to go over those dangerous structures or take that 35 minute walk again. I am reasonably fit but I was exhausted when I arrived at the course.
What really makes me so annoyed with this pathetic planning was that it was mostly about keeping access to the clubhouse free.Certainly for the second bridge which goes over an access road where courtesy cars were driving, There is a small, not busy road which the first bridge goes over but there are other venues, notably Walton Heath which will host the Womens Open in a couple of years, where you literally have to cross a fast flowing road to gain access to part of the course. They always have police manning that crossing to help people across.
Why couldnt they have done that at Royal St Georges? Get the spectators across the road instead of making people physically exhausted.. “They’re trying to kill us” somebody remarked.
“They all look so miserable” I heard a volunteer remark to another about the incoming spectators. You wonder why?
This was selfish, inconsiderate decision making and not helped by no communication to the spectators other than shouting one option to them.
A divot to those responsible for not stopping the buses at the station and taking everyone safely in. It spoilt many peoples experience, especially those frightened, upset or injured.