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April 29, 2008

Peter Dawson

PETER DAWSON: One of the things I want to discuss this morning is drug testing. As you know, the R & A has been instrumental, to say the least, in persuading the professional game that drug testing we should embark upon in golf. And the U.S. Tour and the European Tour have both announced that they plan to start testing round about July of this year. They've already embarked on some tight extensive and important player education programs.
At the Open Championship a considerable proportion of the field is made up of players who don't regularly play on the U.S. or European Tours but perhaps come from Asia, Japan, from Africa and Australia and New Zealand, and they would not have had, by July of this year, the opportunity for drug education. That's one issue.
Another issue is that we're not just certain yet when the American and European Tours will start testing. We have taken the decision that we will not be drug testing at this year's Open. It is just very slightly too early, but we will certainly be doing it in the following year at Turnberry.
Another couple of pieces of information; one of the iconic landmarks, if you like, of The Open Championship, are the 18th hole manual big yellow leaderboard on top of the grandstands; they've been getting rather old, and we have been doing quite a bit of investigating and survey work as to how to replace these boards, whether to do something digital, something with moving images, something electronic and so on, and you'll be interested to know that the results of these surveys is that the current boards are so popular that we've just decided to replace them. We're not looking at anything electronic, but we're going to see a new and enhanced board but very much on the same manual system.
I'm going to leave it there now. The Open is coming up very soon, and I think this is all about your questions rather than hearing any more from me, so I'm going to hand it over to you.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about golf and the Olympics recently, and I'm wondering if you have an estimate just on what the chances are that -- I guess it's the 2016 Games would have golf as a contestant sport.
PETER DAWSON: You're correct that 2016 is the first year that golf could be included, and the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, will be making a decision in 2009, as to the program of sports for the 2016 games. The game of golf is, we've been given to understand, one of seven sports not currently included which is being considered for inclusion, and it has been very heartening recently to learn that the support of some of the top players, I've heard Phil Mickelson, for example, and of Tim Finchem at the PGA, are supporting the inclusion of golf in the game.
As you know, it's very important, I think, to the development of the game around the world, especially in countries where golf is just starting, that I think Olympic inclusion will bring huge benefits to the development of the game in those areas.
There's quite a process yet to go through in terms of being a bit premature for inclusion, and it's setting up an organization structure for golf interfaced on all Olympic matters.
I'm very optimistic personally. I think with the support of all the major players in the game, and I don't mean the golfers, but all the different participants in the administration and the players, that golf's credentials will be strong enough to see it through. I think when you compare it with many other sports that are in the Olympics and are up for consideration this time, golf's credentials are very strong; strong international participation with women and men and young and old. I think golf can put up a very good case, and I would be optimistic.

Q. My question has to deal with the course setup for the Open. As you know, there was a bit of consternation at The Masters as to how things played out the last couple years, and these questions always come up at the U.S. Open. I'm just curious your philosophy on how you like the course to play when the tournament begins in July.
PETER DAWSON: Well, the last time the Open Championship was here at Birkdale was ten years ago in 1998, and as we know, the game has moved on somewhat since then, and we have made a considerable number of course alterations here at Birkdale. Only two holes have had nothing done to them. The majority of holes, the alterations have been all about repositioning bunkers and run-off areas around the greens, but five holes have been significantly altered. And overall, the length of the golf course has gone up by 155 yards, which is only 2 percent of an increase. So the player length for this year's Championship will be 7,173 yards, but most of the changes have been designed to be strategic or requiring more accuracy from the players.
Our course setup philosophy is basically weather-dependent. If we get warm, dry, windy weather between now and the Championship we will have a fast-running links with rough that's not too penal. If we have a lot of rain and warm weather, then the course will not be so fast but the rough will be thicker, and entirely in the hands of the gods for that one.
Our philosophy is we try to keep a combination of good scoring because I think that a great buzz at the Championship when birdies are being made or even eagles on the one hand; and on the other hand, we are, of course, trying to set a reasonably stiff examination to try to determine the true champion golfer of the year. Every year there is a compromise here between excitement and low scoring on the one hand but still a stiff examination on the other, and our course setup philosophy tries to achieve that.
Easy to say after the event, quite difficult to do coming into it.

Q. So I guess the winning score or the total, it doesn't really enter into your thinking going in; you really can't control it, and it doesn't -- I'm guessing that doesn't really matter that much to you.
PETER DAWSON: No, it doesn't, and we're not particularly conscious of par, either, because if you look at the Open Championship record books, the variation of winning scores for any given course has been really quite large, and it is very much dependent on the weather conditions at the time.

Q. I'm a little curious, you've been in the group that's pushing the drug testing issue, and I understand the fact that there may be some players that have not been aware of what it is, but what is your outreach program for these type of players that makes you think that it will be okay by 2009 at Turnberry?
PETER DAWSON: Well, anti-doping policies and drug testing to me are a 52-week-a-year job, 52-week-a-year operation. This is not a matter of the particular event having drug testing in a particular week. It doesn't work like that. It's very important that players are exposed to anti-doping matters before being subjected to testing, which is why the European Tour and the U.S. Tour are heavily engaged in that process at the moment.
We see the Open Championship, as far as drug testing is concerned, as just another week on Tour. In other words, we would intend to be using the exact same policy and the exact same equipment and the exact same testing agency at the Open as the European Tour are going to use week in and week out here at their events.
So we're really just in the hands of timing on the Tour. I very much hope that these other Tours will be catching up in this regard over the next 12 months, but we pretty much committed today that we will be testing next year, and I just hope these other Tours are able to catch up.

Q. Another Olympic question. Annika Sorenstam was asked just last week about the Olympics, and her comment was she's not sure how much of a priority the top players would give to it. Can you address just why the Olympics should be important to the best players?
PETER DAWSON: Well, clearly, once every four years if golf were in the Olympics there could be scheduling issues, not the least of which when Olympic cities bid for the games, they often bid using different dates. You can't be absolutely certain going forward what the exact dates of the games is going to be. It's not a fixed date in each fourth year.
That said, I would say to the top players that once every four years, to have the thrill of competing in the Olympics on the one hand, but also doing something which more than anything else will contribute to the development of the game on the other, is something very worthy of their consideration is the message I would give them.

Q. I guess my question would be then since you've put so much import into the Olympics and not knowing scheduling, if, in fact, the Olympics in 2016 were scheduled close enough or during the week of what would be the British Open week, would you be willing to move your week to support that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think the answer to that is yes, and the answer -- I give that answer for two reasons. First, because of the importance attached to the Olympics; and secondly, quite frankly, I would not want to have the Open Championship competing on the same weeks as the Olympics is on for viewers and fans and all the rest of it. The last thing I would want for the Open Championship is to be held during the Olympic Games.

Q. I'm just curious how much you guys look at the visitors coming from America to the Open. As you know, the economy isn't the greatest here right now, and of course the exchange rate makes things tough. I don't know if you have any kind of feel for how many Americans come to the tournament and if it's of any concern to you if less are coming over because of the economic strains.
PETER DAWSON: Yes, of course it is. We do from time to time survey our spectator attendance, and I think it's true to say, interestingly, that we do get a high proportion of American visitors when the Open Championship is at St. Andrews than we do for other venues. But I would estimate by number, our American visitors at St. Andrews might be in the 8 percent range, but perhaps as an average it might be half that in terms of the percentage of the total attendance. So while it's a significant number, it's not enormous.
Conversely, the exchange rate in Europe to the pound has gone the other way, and so European visitors actually find the UK a bit cheaper than they did before, conversely to the United States, so we might expect more visitors from Europe for that reason. I obviously encourage as many American spectators to come as possible. It's great to see them here, and they're usually very knowledgeable about the game.

Q. I was just wondering, I noticed a story that Peter Thomson had taken a look at Birkdale, and then he had some players play it with the changes, and what kind of comments have you been getting from those players?
PETER DAWSON: I'm sorry to say, I don't think that I'm aware that other players have yet played here. We're just coming out of our sort of winter period when I think the golf course is starting to be more towards its summer conditions, so the players themselves probably wouldn't choose to come along until after this date. So I'm afraid I've got no feedback on that for you.

Q. Have you been able to play it? Have you gone out and played it, and maybe your comments on it?
PETER DAWSON: I have, and I've walked it many times with the greens staff here. I think we're all very excited about it. The changes have gone in as if they were always here. Our architect on this, Martin Hawtree, has a wonderful talent for making changes appear not new, just as if they've always been present, and I think the golf course has always been very fair and a good test here at Birkdale. We've doing nothing but improving that. I'm very excited about it, and I think the players will like it a lot.

Q. When you started the qualifying outside of the UK and there was qualifying in the U.S. for the first time, there were a lot of problems with players not showing up and different things that somewhat irked a lot of the R & A. It's gotten a little better, but has the process gotten better and do you see yourself opening up more qualifying in the UK instead?
PETER DAWSON: We're very pleased that the process has settled down extremely well. I accept that in the first year or two we did have some issues, and we still do to an extent, perhaps players missing the cut on a Friday evening and moving away to the next site and so on. But overall we're very pleased with the way that the qualifying process has taken the Open Championship to the players and allowed them the opportunity to qualify without making the journey to the UK.
We still have a significant number of spots available for local final qualifying in the more traditional manner, but overall we're very pleased with the way we're getting approximately 50 qualifiers out of the total field of 156 in the Championship.

Q. (Inaudible.)
PETER DAWSON: Yes, absolutely. We're always looking at the qualification criteria every year, and because there are international qualifiers in the southern hemisphere that start playing quite early, we'll have next year's qualification criteria by about September, and we'll be looking at it again this summer. But we're very happy with the way the international process has been working.
Thank you all for joining us. I hope you found it useful, and we appreciate your time, and we look forward to seeing as many of you at Birkdale as can make it. Thank you all.

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