The rain dripping over the awnings around the 17th green of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club one afternoon last week, the air was so cold that it wasn’t even an English summer. A veil of mist clouded the landscape. Still close enough to peek at, the Welsh coast is a handful of long tee shots across the estuary.
The British Open, which is due to conclude on Sunday, may not come close to Wales.
First played when Queen Victoria was on the throne, it’s a national ritual that includes just so much of the nation: unlike England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales hasn’t hosted it. With sites slated for 2026 and Wales still ruled out, the drought will continue at least until the opening of the first 154 sites. By then Northern Ireland, which did not welcome a modern Open Championship until 2019, will have caved in again.
The R&A, organizers of the Open, have explained Wales’ exclusion as routine matters of infrastructure and capacity – no small issues since the tournament requires the temporary setting up of a heavily guarded, hospitable, championship-level coastal zone for tens of thousands of people a day. However, the R&A’s stance has prompted years of questions about whether one of the country’s signature sporting events reflects Britain as much as it should.
“Not all parts of the UK were affected by The Open, and leaving a whole nation out doesn’t feel right to the mantra of golf that’s open to all,” said Ken Skates, a Welsh MP who, when he was economics minister, lobbied the R&A to bring in the Welsh Open.
“It’s a bit frustrating,” he let out politely as he stood behind first-team Royal Liverpool on Friday.
Competing for hosting rights is nothing new to the sport, and men’s golf is a particularly valuable target for few venues that boast courses tough enough to test the best in the world. Of the four major tournaments, three are played in different venues each year. (The exception, the Masters Tournament, is always held at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.)
The number of eligible open R&A courses is actually only nine these days, from a cluster of Scottish estates along the North Sea to the Royal St. George’s in south east England. After this weekend’s event in Royal Liverpool, in the northwest of England, the tournament is set to return next year to Royal Troon in Scotland, followed by Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and then England’s Royal Birkdale.
By almost all accounts, R&A routinely faces a quandary about where to fit Open into its usual standard. A handful of former venues are no longer in the mix, including Prestwick, the original open course that was ultimately judged too small for packed crowds. More recently, former President Donald J. Trump’s ties to Turnberry have kept R&A at arm’s length.
Wells, however, had no role whatsoever. Indeed, one of the biggest problems facing Wales is that the R&A has stopped staging more tournaments than the country has contenders to host one. Royal Porthcawl is only a possibility, and even its fans acknowledge its shortcomings.
Yet the exclusion is stinging.
“We have an inferiority complex”, said John Hopkins, a golf writer who has been a member of Royal Porthcawl since the late 1990s of the Welsh people, adding that they are famous mainly for “our ability to play rugby and our ability to sing”.
But he said hosting the British Open would “show that we hit our game of golf”.
Some believe that forces beyond tournament logistics are at work keeping the Open elsewhere, perhaps due to historical inertia or the innate tendency of the R&D team at St Andrews to favor England and Scotland. in 2019, urged the telegraph R&A “to cut politics” and “ignore concerns about ‘infrastructure’ and the strength of ties because they are just smokescreens.”
There is no doubt that the R&A has been warming up to Royal Porthcawl for other important events, an approach seen by some as a consolation prize. Next weekend the Seniors Championship will be decided there, and Royal Porthcawl’s Women’s Open is due to start for the first time in 2025. Although there are concerns about whether Royal Porthcawl is long enough for today’s strong men’s players, the course itself is largely considered suitable for the Open, in part because it is particularly prone to the unruly weather that can determine the tournament, as seen by Bernard Langer during the two Grand Opens.
“One was completely dry: The ball was running 100 yards on the fairway,” Langer, who also won two Masters tournaments, said in an interview. “And one of them was as wet and windy and miserable as can be, and that’s what connects golf.”
R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said Wednesday that the course was “absolutely world class.”
“But we need a lot of land,” he quickly added. “We need a lot of infrastructure. We need a lot of facilities for a tournament of this scale. Right now, that’s not possible in this part of the country.”
Established in 1891, Royal Porthcawl has a cordoned off footprint, with relatively little space to erect gates, grandstands, premium seats, registration tents and all the other temporary facilities required for the major. This year’s Championship was expected to attract 260,000 spectators, second only to the 290,000 who filled the Old Ground at St Andrews last year. The last time the British Open reported an attendance of fewer than 150,000 people was a decade ago, at Muirfield.
When Langer last played the Senior Championship at Royal Porthcawl, in 2017, the tournament drew around 32,000 people, despite bad weather causing the event.
Although the course is about a 45-minute drive from Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the area around the club has a handful of restaurants, hotels and transport links that make The Open one of the smoothest international sporting events. During this tournament at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake’s many restaurants and rental houses hosted hordes of visitors. More than that they make the short journey to and from Liverpool, a city of nearly half a million people, and often use the train service that runs every 10 minutes.
Langer, who had no doubts that Royal Porthcawl could prove to be a suitable Open host from a golfing perspective, seemed more reluctant to say he could manage the other challenges of the 31-time tournament.
“It is difficult to build new roads, highways, 100 hotels, and make room for a village of tents and 50,000 spectators,” he said.
Welsh leaders indicated their willingness to pursue public investment in return for going to Royal Porthcawl, and some members of Royal Porthcawl attempted to purchase nearby farmland which, if vacated, could make opening the field more feasible. But their years-long efforts have not yet yielded the kind of breakthrough that could overcome R&A’s fears.
However, the rise of the Royal Portrush Company in Northern Ireland gave Welsh officials something of a strategy, or at least a dose of confidence, ultimately misplaced or not.
Skates expected R&A to bend within a decade.
Then he wanders off to find his brother, Wells soaring in the distance.