Preparations for The 149th Open are firmly underway in Kent, with visitors to the St Lawrence Cricket Ground getting their first glimpse of the Claret Jug during their recent County Championship clash with Essex.
The Open will return to Royal St George’s for the 15th time in July, and cricket fans in Canterbury were given the opportunity to get up close and personal to its top prize in a celebration of world class sport returning to the county.
Members of golf’s elite will be welcomed to Sandwich for the first time since 2011, when Northern Irishman Darren Clarke was famously crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Whether it’s the emotion of Clarke’s win – which came five years after the death of his first wife, Heather – or the shock of world number 396 Ben Curtis emerging triumphant in 2003, drama is ever-prevalent at England’s first Open venue.
South African legend and keen golfer Allan Donald, now assistant coach at Kent, insists the course
requires a huge level of skill to master, while outlining that the whole county is anticipating The Open’s return.
He said: “I was lucky enough to play at Royal St George’s last year with our director of cricket – Paul Downton – and even though I play off eight, I found it incredibly tough.
“It was one heck of an experience just to get a taste of what it’s going to be like playing The Open there and it makes you realise how talented these guys are.
“There’s certainly a buzz around Canterbury knowing the competition is coming back to Kent and I for one am really looking forward to it.
“As a cricket club, we’re excited to be able to support it – in my opinion it’s the biggest Championship in golf and it’s a brilliant four days of action to watch.”
Simon Storey, Kent chief executive, believed hosting the Claret Jug as part of the 168th Canterbury Cricket Week represented the start of a successful partnership between the two sporting organisations.
“The Open and Kent Cricket Club both have great sporting traditions, and the golf returning to Sandwich coincides with our 150th anniversary so it’s an exciting time for the area as a whole,” he said.
“The cricket week predates the club itself and being able to reach out to the community by offering them the chance to come and see the Claret Jug is fantastic.
“I am very much look forward to continuing an already fruitful partnership in the build up to the main event at Royal St George’s, which is sure to be a brilliant occasion.”
With less than a year to go until the first tee-off, fans at the cricket leapt at the opportunity to get their photo taken with one of sport’s most iconic accolades.
David Pasola, from Broadstairs, said: “I was there in 2011 and to have The Open back at Royal St George’s is fantastic – I can’t wait!
“I’ve already got my tickets secured for the full week and I’m hoping to get the chance to volunteer through my club, as well.”