By Ed Osmond
SANDWICH, England (Reuters) - Organisers are relieved and thrilled to be able to stage the 149th British Open this week after the 2020 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said on Wednesday.
The world's leading golfers are gathered at Royal St George's for the year's fourth major starting on Thursday.
"After such a difficult time in the last year or so for the whole world, I have to admit we are relieved, thrilled, and a little bit emotional in being able to get to stage The Open once again," Slumbers told a news conference.
"It's a great privilege to welcome the best men's golfers around the world and a large number of fans to the championship."
Slumbers said the COVID-19 safety protocols had presented a huge logistical challenge.
"We're under no illusions of the complexity of the problems that are caused by the pandemic, specifically when you're trying to stage a global sporting event with players from 27 different countries participating," he said.
"We have worked extensively with golf and health authorities to be able to make that work."
A number of players have withdrawn from the tournament, including Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and American Zach Johnson, the 2015 British Open winner.
"We have seen some player withdrawals, but they have been for many different reasons when you look at it," Slumbers said.
"At the end of the day, what counts is that we'll have 156 of the world's best men players teeing off tomorrow morning, and on Sunday we will present the Claret Jug to the next Champion
The tournament will welcome 32,000 spectators each day as part of a government test event.
At last week's Scottish Open a spectator got on to a tee and took a club out of former British Open champion Rory McIlroy's bag.
"We are deeply conscious all the time of the health and safety, particularly the safety of the players, no more so this year than in previous years," Slumbers said.
"But we're not changing any of the procedures around the tee. As a spectator, you can't get on the tee. We have enough marshals around our tees to prevent that," he added.
The crowds will be held further away from the players than normal.
"Spectators play a massive part in sport, but we must not forget we are staging a major event still in the middle of a global pandemic," Slumbers said.
(Reporting by Ed Osmond, editing by Christian Radnedge)