Sky Sports has won the rights to live coverage of the Open Championship, bringing to an end the BBC’s long-standing relationship with the showpiece event of the golfing calendar.
The R&A today confirmed that from 2017 the Open will be screened exclusively live on Sky in a five-year deal thought to be worth at least £75m, more than double the BBC’s current £7m-a-year contract.
It brings to an end 61 years of free-to-air coverage, although the BBC will retain a primetime highlights package.
By 2017, when the Open will be hosted at Royal Birkdale, live golf coverage on the BBC will have reduced from 24 days a year to only two – the weekend’s action from the US Masters.
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: “We’re obviously disappointed that we were unable to retain live TV coverage of The Open Championship.
“However, we’re pleased to be continuing our 60-year partnership with the R&A and feel that a comprehensive two-hour highlights programme – a format which has already proven successful – in a prime-time slot over four days will allow us to continue to bring all the best action and key moments from The Open to a large free-to-air audience on TV, radio and online.”
The prospect of the deal had come in for criticism from players including Lee Westwood, who said it would be “an absolute disgrace”.
But Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis said its coverage could help to grow the game.
“Sky Sports has a passion for golf that has spanned two decades, offering unrivalled commitment, airtime and promotion as well as year-round innovative coverage,” he said.
“We look forward to working with The R&A to entertain and engage new and existing golf fans through our multi-platform coverage and also at the grassroots level via Sky Academy.”
R&A chief executive Pete Dawson said it was “the best result for the Open and for golf”.