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THE ROYAL & ANCIENT GOLF CLUB MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 13, 2011
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you for joining us for this the R & A's Eve of the Open Championship press conference. I'll introduce the top table: To my immediate left is Jim McArthur, chairman of our Championship Committee, and to my far left Peter Dawson our chief executive. I'll turn it over to Jim, who will say a few words to open it up.
JIM McARTHUR: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and thanks for coming along this morning. I just want to say that on behalf of the R & A we're absolutely delighted to be back here at Royal St. George's for the 140th Open Championship and here for the 14th time. This was, as I'm sure you all know, the first course outside of Scotland in 1894, when J.H. Taylor won the first of his five titles.
We believe that Royal St. George's is a true Open Championship test. It's very much based on strategic player rather than muscle per. The course is in terrific condition. The wind perhaps a wee bit stronger than we would like at the moment, but we like that wind on links courses.
It's also a wonderful venue from a spectator's standpoint. It's 400 acres here. There are many natural vantage points on the course, so we're hoping to get a good turnout of spectators over the four days of the championship. I'd also like to thank Royal St. George's, the captain, the Committee and their members for their support of the championship. It's been fantastic. I'll just pass it over to Peter Dawson, who will bring you up to date with some latest developments in the championship this year.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you. We're delighted to be back at this wonderful course at Royal St. George's. We've got an excellent field for the championship, and all the players that I've spoken to at least have been consistent in their praise for the condition and the setup of the golf course.
As Jim said, we do have some wind issues out there which may, dependent on wind direction, make some of the very back tees difficult to reach fairways from and so on, so we have told the players that we may move some tees up, depending on wind conditions.
Before moving on, can I just thank the AGW and those who were here for last night's dinner, a most enjoyable occasion, and to thank all of the media here at the championship for their support of the event.
Before moving on to our usual question and answer, I've just got a few remarks to bring you up to date. This, of course, is the first Open Championship since Seve's death, and we have, of course, taken the opportunity to mark his passing in a number of ways this week. There is a tribute article in the programme. We have quite an amount of signage around the golf course or around the tented village at the entrance points featuring Seve. His image will appear on the draw sheets every day, not necessarily as the main picture, but he will be on there every day. And we are donating all of the draw sheet proceeds to the Seve Foundation, which will supplement the large amount raised by the Seve Foundation at last year's Open Championship, which I understand was the biggest single source of income for the foundation last year.
We have also placed a book of remembrance at the registration for all the players to sign, and all of them have done so, and some of them have chosen, in fact, the majority, to write a message in that book, and that book will be passed on to Seve's family as a memento of this year's championship, of course, but more particularly of Seve's connection with the Open.
We also, you may have seen, have some silhouettes of Seve around the 18th green on the grandstands, together with his dates, and we think that will just remind everyone as to what a great man he was and his connection with the Open.
So what's new this year. We have two new patrons at the Open Championship: HSBC and Mercedes-Benz, who joins Rolex, Nikon and Doosan as major corporate supporters of the championship, and we're grateful to them for that. You may also have seen an announcement yesterday that MasterCard will be joining the patron family from next year's Open Championship in 2012, and we welcome them, too.
Some innovations in the tented village, particularly the HSBC Golf Zone, which is a very exciting new development and spectator facility. It's got the road bunker built in there faithfully for people to try to hit out of. It's got simulators, a kids' zone, video wall, video games, photo experience centre and so on, and it's already proving very popular, and if you haven't visited it, I recommend you to do. It's something very new for The Open Championship.
We also have for the first time this year what we call The International Marquee, which allows the general public to buy a higher level of ticket and have the sort of executive lounge experience that you might see at an airport, if they want to take the weight off their legs during the week.
Many developments also in digital media: We're running a new digital channel at the Open Live, and that's providing behind-the-scenes access and insight into the championship for fans around the world. The channel will be presented by Dominic Holyer and Georgie Bingham. The three-hole channel covering channels 14, 15 and 16 will be streamed live on opengolf.com as well as on iPhone and Androids mobile apps. That's in permitted markets where our television contracts allow.
We have a new mobile phone app on the Google Android platform. I'm sure you all now this is the most voluminous platform for apps in the world. It was actually news to me but I'm sure it wasn't to you. So much going on on digital media.
And also for the first time we are going to supply the media each day with details of that day's course setup and the rationale behind it. So you will have something to work with there, which I at least hope you'll find useful.
So we're set for I think a very interesting championship with the position that so many Europeans and British players now have high up the World Rankings, expectations are high, ticket sales are strong. We're expecting big crowds. And let's see what happens. There's many subplots and stories to unfold over the next few days, I'm sure.
And with that, over to you for questions and answers.
Q. When we came down a couple of months ago to the media day, there was virtually no rough at all. We'd had virtually no rain for months. How worried were you at that stage about the rough, and how pleased are you that the rain did eventually come and you do have, if not the thick rough that we had in 2003, certainly enough to give them some problems?
PETER DAWSON: Well, you're quite right. We had no rainfall here to speak of between the end of February and the end of May, and whilst the playing areas, high tees, fairways and greens were obviously being irrigated to keep them going, the rough wasn't, and so the rough virtually had burnt off altogether. I think we were looking at a prospect really at that time of having a championship with very little rough indeed. We've always said we take what nature gives us, but fortunately, I think, we've had some rain, not a huge amount, but slightly above average rainfall since then, which has been sufficient to rejuvenate the golf course frankly, and the amount of rough we have out there is pretty close to what we would like I'll have to say. We don't like rough to hack out of, which all the players say it's enough to give them issue with flier lies and so on. It's not as thick as it might have been, but it's good playing conditions. We're happy with it.
You know, there are patches of very little rough and patches where it's a bit thicker, but overall, over the piece, we're very happy with it.
Q. You mentioned the possibility of bringing tees forward. Based on the wind yesterday I'd be guessing holes like 7 and 11. Can you speak to which ones are possible to be moved?
PETER DAWSON: Well, obviously depending on wind conditions, the back tee at 7 was always going to be challenging. It's about, I think, 270, 280 to the top of the crest there and 220-ish to the fairway. Some players were having great difficulty reaching the fairway from the back tee yesterday. We did put in the -- we made the players aware at the start of the week that some tees may be moved up, and they were invited to practice off forward tees if they so wished. And without wishing to preempt what exactly we do, the 7th would certainly have been a candidate, as would the 11th yesterday for moving up.
Now, if the wind turns around, it's a completely different story. But I think players should be able to reach the fairway and reach the par-3s frankly.
Q. We're back in England and back in the south. That raises the question of Northern Ireland. We've got two major champions from Northern Ireland. Where are you in perhaps thinking of going back?
PETER DAWSON: Well, obviously there's much emotion about Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy's victories and why don't we go back to Northern Ireland and perhaps Portrush in particular. And I understand that. You can't, however, base where you hold The Open on where players come from. I think that should be obvious to anyone. Portrush is a terrific golf course, may well be strong enough for an Open, but as we all know, there are other issues of infrastructure, accommodation, roads, what would the commercial success or otherwise of the championship be that need consideration.
Not ruling it out by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have to meet all those criteria, and I don't think it's something that's going to be in any way imminent, but it's certainly something we'll have a look at again in view of the success of the golfers from that part of the world.
Q. The success of those two does make you think about it?
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, we're obviously not immune to what people are saying, and it clearly would have a lot of local support. Whether the quantum of local support, whilst being very intense would be sufficient in quantity to make it a successful championship is something that would need to be judged.
Q. That was the thrust of my question, but what would be the difference of the infrastructure between Turnberry, that had been out of the mix mostly because of roads and hotels and those secondary issues we don't think about? Are there any parallels there between what you would face in Northern Ireland?
PETER DAWSON: No, because the issues were very different at each course. At Hoylake it was actually lack of land at the golf course to accommodate everything we would need to put on the golf course. At Royal Portrush there is the second course there, so there's not a land issue on-site. It's more road access, quantity of hotels, what would the level of corporate support be, what would the crowd size be, things of that nature.
Q. Just regards the remembrance for Seve, would you be able to give us a flavor of some of the messages that have been sent? And are there any plans to perhaps take a selection of the best comments and make them available to the public?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I have to say that the players were invited to give their messages in private, and I don't think it would be right for me to publish them without a particular player's consent. But the thrust of all the messages was what a wonderful inspiration Seve had been to golfers the world over and particularly in Europe, and many of them actually said that Seve was their own inspiration to playing golf. He was the guy they all watched when they were kids and so on, and that he was going to be greatly missed. That was the general thrust of what everyone had to say.
Q. I know you've touched on this in the past, but you remain relaxed about the male-only situation at this golf club. Does the R & A not view it as an anachronistic situation in 2011?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I've seen obviously articles about this again this morning. I think I've been asked this question so often now that I really have nothing new to say. And from what I've read in the papers this morning, nor has anyone else. So I think it's best left -- I have nothing left to add to things I've said over the years.
Q. From 1990 you've gone to St. Andrews every five years. Is there any reason to think that you won't do that in 2015, or is there some hangup or some resistance to keeping that five-year time frame?
PETER DAWSON: No, we haven't announced the 2015 venue yet. We have a number of detailed issues that we're working on. I would be very surprised if you were surprised at what we announce about 2015.
Q. Talking about the Olympics, looking even further ahead, can you bring us up to date with the timetable and progress on the venue, the exact venue, of the Olympics golf and the format that will be used to play the tournament? And also, forgive me if I should know the answer to this question, but what's the situation about golf being part of the Paralympic Games?
PETER DAWSON: Right, thank you for that. The situation is that very recently, as recently as within the last three weeks or so, the Rio Organising Committee and the city of Rio confirmed that the Riserva Uno site, which is a site quite close to the Olympic village and quite close to the sea in the Barra area of Rio will be the site of the Olympic golf event. And commercial negotiations are currently underway by the City of Rio to acquire that site for golf, and a golf course will be designed by an architect yet to be determined and laid out on that site for the Olympic event.
In order to be in time, we need to get the architect appointed, his designs approved, and start breaking ground in 2012 in order to make the timetable for a 2015 test event of some sort prior to the 2016 games.
The format of the event remains as per the Olympic bid for golf, which was 60 men in one competition, 60 women in another, 72-hole stroke-play event. And whilst we do have perhaps an opportunity to revisit that, we won't be doing so until after the London games because there isn't an opportunity to discuss any variation to that.
The Paralympic Golf did put a bid in for inclusion in the Paralympic Games in 2016, which was not successful. The IPC rejected the bid, and clearly there is much more work to do if golf is to get into the Paralympic Games, most of which is technical/biomechanical/medical in nature and is huge is quantity. So we've been knocked back on that, and we're licking our wounds and rethinking on it.
Q. This is by no means a new question at all, but I wanted to ask your current thoughts on pace of play. Some of the most exciting players to watch are the quickest, as well. Do you have any sense -- there are rules obviously in place to stop people from dawdling. They don't seem to be enforced much. Do you have any new thoughts about that? Are things dragging too much?
JIM McARTHUR: Obviously we have a tight schedule for the championship this week. First two rounds in threeballs the time schedule is 4 hours and 30 minutes, and for twoballs it's been for us 3 hours, 45 minutes. It is a perennial problem where it's not just The Open faces, The Tour faces it all the time. And I think we have to strike a balance between getting people around quick and keeping it as a spectacle. We can't have people running around, but I think we need to try gradually to make sure that we do speed up play a bit.
If there's one thing that we're finding, I think that the whole union probably agrees with us, one thing we do find, just the way society is, a lot of people are not joining golf clubs because of the time it actually takes to play. And I think we need to find some ways of getting around, speeding up play so people are not taking six or seven hours for a day's golf.
There are issues there. We are trying with our friends around the world to try and improve that all the time, but it is difficult.
PETER DAWSON: If I could just add to that, I think the fact that the players at the top of the rankings today fortunately are by and large quick players is going to make people think about this. I don't know if you've noticed how much quicker Luke Donald is putting now in the last few months than he did before, and how successful he's been in so doing. I'm not indicating Luke was slow before, but he's much quicker than he was. Rory is a very quick player, Lee isn't slow, and let's hope that now rubs off.
Q. Is there a correlation between fast play and good play?
JIM McARTHUR: It's quite interesting, it's amazing how many times people are put on the clock and then screw up two or three birdies in a row. So maybe there is, but there's no science to it. It's just a thought.
Q. From what you've seen in the buildup here, is there any reason to think the championship won't be back here in the next decade or so?
PETER DAWSON: Not at all. This is very firmly on the list of courses we use for The Open Championship, and if the club will be kind enough to have us again in the future, we would continue to ask to come.
JIM McARTHUR: I think also it's fair to say we do believe this is a real championship test, and it's a good variation of holes. There's a number of very, very difficult holes, no doubt about that. It's a true championship test, and yes, it would certainly be considered very strongly in the next ten years.
Q. Peter, I think we're all expecting something called Rory-mania this week. What kind of message do you think it sends to the girls who will take up golf that this great championship is held at a male-only club?
PETER DAWSON: Well, as I said earlier, I think I've said everything I've got to say on this subject. But in specific answer to that question, I actually don't think it is in any way material to whether girls take up the game or not. In my experience it's not an issue people talk to me about very much, other than in a gathering like this, if I must be totally honest about it.
Q. Peter, what on earth is an Android mobile phone app, and have you got one?
PETER DAWSON: Well, this is one of those occasions where I'm delighted to have our communications manager Malcolm Booth on hand to answer that question.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Well, I'm sure there are a few people in the room who do know what an Android app is, but much like the iPhone where you can download applications for your mobile phone, Google has come up with the Android system and that platform is now the most voluminous app opportunity for downloads in the world. So we've chosen naturally enough to follow on from our very successful iPhone app, which was downloaded more than 200,000 times last year; introduced a Google Android app for this year, which means if you have a Google Android phone, you can use this application, interact with the championship while you're on the move. And given the success, as I say, of our iPhone application last year, it's a way of bringing the championship to more people.
Q. Have you got one, Peter?
PETER DAWSON: Not to my knowledge. (Laughter.)
Q. Peter, going back to the Olympic course, in what state is the ground at the moment?
PETER DAWSON: It's a Greenfield site, but it's within the city limits. And it's sand-capped by and large but does have mangrove at the south end of it. So there will be some work to do on drainage and so on.
But amazingly a golf course was laid out on this site by believe it not Martin Hawtree five or six years ago but was never pursued. The golf course he laid out wasn't laid out with championship golf in mind particularly, but clearly Martin thought it was a suitable site for a course, and I'm much heartened by that.
Q. Was it your choice or whose choice who will design this course?
PETER DAWSON: I'm pretty sure there will be a tender process go out to architects who have registered an interest, and that process will be administered by the Rio Organising Committee, whose responsibility it is to provide venues, but The International Golf Federation will have the role of checking that the venue meets golf's requirements technically.
Q. Peter and perhaps Jim, with your experience of Open courses would you just quickly summarise the particularly unusual aspects, good and perhaps bad, of Royal St. George's?
PETER DAWSON: Well, The Open courses we use have a lot of variety about them. They are, of course, all links courses. This one, I think, needs more knowing than most because there are rather more slightly blind shots here or indeed blind shots, the kicks you can get off the fairway, you need to know them. And once you know this golf course, I think once you hit the shot, you've got a pretty good idea if you've hit it where you're going to get a good bounce or not.
I think the course needs knowing. Like all the links courses, it's very wind dependent of course how it plays. But the condition of the course here -- I say we, Royal St. George's have got the condition of this course into just where we would want it for a championship, so there's no conditioning issues.
And the size of this site I think makes it just feel quite formidable out there. There's a lot of rough ground in between the holes, whereas at other courses the holes are much closer together. So it feels a more robust site to me than others.
I don't think we're going to get particularly low scoring here this week, especially with the wind up. The course is tough, and for my money, it's right up there with the best.
JIM McARTHUR: Can I just add, I think, too, it puts demands on the players where they have to play most of the clubs in their bag, unlike some other courses, I think, and I think the long irons in particular are going to be very important to this week, and I think that's good for spectators and good for us to see how the players do that.
Q. Peter, what would be regarded as a good crowd here at Royal St. George's? What are the numbers usually like?
PETER DAWSON: Well, in 2003 when we were last here, we had a significant up-surge in the crowd size to I think 185,000, 186,000 from memory, which was considerably more than we'd had in the past here. And advanced ticket sales and early indications on the practice days are ahead of where we were in 2003. So it might be quite busy. That would be great.
Q. I don't know if the schedule has been announced for the '16 Games in terms of when it's held, but have you and the other organisations begun thinking about what the schedule would look like that summer?
PETER DAWSON: Absolutely. We had to do that prior to making the bid to ensure that we could meet the commitment that no significant -- no major golf event would clash with the Olympic programme. So all of the major golfing authorities, both men's and women's, have a plan. It's not for me to announce that plan here.
Q. Why not?
PETER DAWSON: Because they're not all our events. But it will be announced in due course, and there will be some modifications in dates to both major championships and Tour events that year.
Q. And secondly, I was curious if you were happy with where you are with your criteria for exempt players. Has there been any thought given toward taking the top 50 in the world a little bit closer to the championship instead of in late May, which I believe it is?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think we take the top 50 at the closing date for entries. I know there is a case perhaps for doing a second top 50 perhaps a little bit later, but now that we reach down the rankings at the end of week 27 for all our reserves, and we've had to do that on a number of occasions in the past few days, I think it's okay. I think it's in balance.
Q. What exactly happened to David Hill?
PETER DAWSON: David retired from the R & A in April.
Q. For what reason?
PETER DAWSON: Well, that's a matter for him. I'm not here to say anything more than that. He decided to retire, and he'd been with us for many years, I think since the late '70s, and did a wonderful job for The Open.
Q. Was there a big presentation? It all seems to have been slightly mysterious.
PETER DAWSON: Well, I'm sorry if that's the case, but it isn't. David, once he decided to go, wanted to go with no fuss, and we respected his wishes.
Q. Just a quick clarification on the Olympics: You said you can't revisit format issues until after 2012. Does that indicate you would like to revisit?
PETER DAWSON: Well, the reason I say "we can't" is that we haven't got a real opportunity to discuss any reformat with the IOC. It's just a practical issue. But there are a number of thoughts that perhaps the format is a little stereotyped. But the format was based on our polling some top players as to what they thought it should be, and those top players thought the format we use for major championships should be the same format used in the Olympic Games?
Q. 72-hole play as opposed month match play?
PETER DAWSON: I don't want to start that hair running because that wouldn't be right.
Q. But it's stroke play or not as opposed to --
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, or could we get a team competition in amongst it, as well, is really what's on my mind more than anything else.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us.
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