Shane Lowry of Ireland smiles after making a par putt on the 12th hole green during the second round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 19, 2019
The Open was last held on the Royal St George's course in Kent on England's south-east coast in 2011 when Northern Irishman Darren Clarke claimed victory.
"We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but this pandemic is severely affecting the UK and we have to act responsibly," Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said in a statement .
"I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible."
The one silver lining for Royal St George's is that it will host the tournament next year instead. The 2021 event, which would have been the 150th, was to be held at St Andrews. It will now return to the 'home of golf' in 2022.
The Open is the only one of this year's majors to be cancelled. This month's Masters and PGA Championship have been postponed, while the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, New York in June remains on the calendar, for now at least.
Shane Lowry of Ireland would have been hoping to retain the trophy at Royal St George's.
"Obviously I'm disappointed that I won't get to defend my title but people's health and safety come before any golf tournament," he said in a video posted on Twitter.
"I'm sure the R&A have thought long and hard about this. You can guarantee the Claret Jug is in safe hands for another year and I look forward to seeing you all in 2021."
Preparations for staging the Open involve a huge logistical operation and the "build" would have begun soon in Sandwich on the Kent coast. Slumbers said it would have been unreasonable to put any extra pressure on the local authorities.
"We rely on the support of the emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organisations to stage the Championship and it would be unreasonable to place any additional demands on them when they have far more urgent priorities to deal with," he said.
The R&A said tickets and hospitality packages purchased for the 2020 championship would transfer to 2021 with full refunds for those who cannot attend next year.
Apart from stoppages due to World Wars, the only other time the Open has been cancelled was in 1871 because there was no trophy -- Tom Morris Jr having been allowed to keep the Challenge Belt for winning the tournament three times in a row.
The British sporting calendar, like that across the world, has been decimated because of the coronavirus pandemic that by Sunday had claimed just under 5,000 lives in the UK.
Last week the Wimbledon tennis championships were also cancelled for the first time since World War Two, while the soccer, rugby and cricket seasons are all suspended. (
The US Golf Open has been postponed until November 2020.