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Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the British Open Golf Championships, at Royal Portrush, in Northern Ireland, on July 18, 2019.

Peter Morrison/The Associated Press

This year’s 149th Open Championship due to be held at Royal St. George’s has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the R&A announced on Monday.

A statement said the decision to scrap the 2020 tournament, scheduled for July 16-19 in Kent on England’s southeastern coast, had been made with a “heavy heart” but was the only option.

It will be the first time the Open, the oldest of golf’s four majors, has not been held since 1945.

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The Open was last held on the Royal St. George’s course in 2011 when Northern Irishman Darren Clarke claimed victory.

“We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but this pandemic is severely affecting the UK and we have to act responsibly,” Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, said in a statement.

“I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible.”

The one silver lining for Royal St. George’s is that it will host the tournament next year instead. The 2021 event, which would have been the 150th, was to be held at St. Andrews. It will now return to the “home of golf” in 2022.

The Open is the only one of this year’s four majors to be cancelled because of the global health emergency.

This month’s Masters and PGA Championship have been postponed until Nov. 9-15 and Aug. 3-9, respectively.

The U.S. Open at Winged Foot, N.Y., was postponed on Monday, with a September date slated, the same month as the Ryder Cup.

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LOWRY DISAPPOINTED

Shane Lowry of Ireland would have been hoping to retain the trophy at Royal St. George’s.

“Obviously I’m disappointed that I won’t get to defend my title, but people’s health and safety come before any golf tournament,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

“I’m sure the R&A have thought long and hard about this. You can guarantee the Claret Jug is in safe hands for another year and I look forward to seeing you all in 2021.”

Preparations for staging the Open involve a huge logistical operation and the “build” would have begun soon in Sandwich on the Kent coast. Slumbers said it would have been unreasonable to put any extra pressure on the local authorities.

“We rely on the support of the emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organisations to stage the Championship and it would be unreasonable to place any additional demands on them when they have far more urgent priorities to deal with,” he said.

The R&A said tickets and hospitality packages purchased for the 2020 championship would transfer to 2021 with full refunds for those who cannot attend next year.

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Apart from stoppages caused by World Wars, the only other time the Open has been cancelled was in 1871 because there was no trophy – Tom Morris Jr. having been allowed to keep the Challenge Belt for winning the tournament three times in a row.

The British sporting calendar, like that across the world, has been decimated because of the coronavirus pandemic that by Sunday had claimed just less than 5,000 lives in Britain.

Last week the Wimbledon tennis championships were also cancelled for the first time since the Second World War, while the soccer, rugby and cricket seasons are all suspended.

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