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Foot & Mouth fears for European Tour events

With no end in sight to the foot-and-mouth crisis, a question-mark is looming against how much professional golf will be staged in the British Isles this summer.

Even the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, from 19-22 July, may not be immune to the disease. While it’s too early to say whether or not a postponement of the world’s oldest golf championship is a possibility, the biggest tournaments in Britain and Ireland will only proceed if the governments in London and Dublin give the green light.

Peter Dawson, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient, who was in Florida for the Players Championship, knows the outbreak poses a serious dilemma for golf. "No-one needs to talk to us about the issue because we are well aware of the problem and are already thinking about it," he said.

Dawson is hopeful that Lytham, a links located in a relatively confined area, may turn out to be a fortuitous venue in these exceptional circumstances. That said, the R&A can envisage the potential for some parking problems if a couple of fields are deemed unsuitable for use.

On the European Tour, starting with the Benson and Hedges at the Belfry in May, no fewer than ten events are due to take place in Scotland, England and Wales leading up to the Ryder Cup in September.

There are also three tournaments scheduled for Ireland - notably the Irish Open and the European - where the government has taken a tough line over sporting events in a bid to minimise the outbreak.

According to Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour, his organisation will look to governments for guidance and act in line with national interests. "We’re subject to the law of the land in all the countries we play in," he said.

Until the European Tour are advised differently, however, Schofield insisted life would go on. "Our realistic position, when we have so many events on three different Tours [the European Seniors and the Challenge Tours as well as the European Tour] is that we will act in line with government wishes. With due deference to the dreadful pain and suffering which has been caused in the country, we also have a business to run in which livelihoods are at stake. Our players play golf for a living and if we lose tournaments then that is damaging to our members. That’s why any call on this issue must be an independent judgment from the people who run the country."

As yet, none of the British courses due to host tournaments this summer have been closed for play. However, there are courses across the UK which have been shut in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA, is concerned that club professionals affected by the problem won’t receive any compensation and plans to make representations to the government on behalf of his members.

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