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July 16, 2014

Johnnie Cole-Hamilton

Peter Dawson

Peter Unsworth


MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the R&A's Eve of The Open Championship press conference here at Hoylake. My name is Malcolm Booth and I'm the director of communications for the R&A. I'm delighted to introduce Peter Unsworth, the chairman of our Championship Committee, Peter Dawson, our chief executive, and Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, our executive director of championships. We'll open up to questions shortly, but just before we do, Peter is going to say a few opening words.

PETER UNSWORTH: Thank you, Malcolm. As he's already said, I'm Peter Unsworth, chairman of the R&A Championship Committee. It's a great pleasure to be presiding over my first Open Championship in this role. Welcome to you all to Royal Liverpool. It's one of golf's most historic venues. The inaugural Open Championship was played here in 1885, with The Open Championship arriving in 1897 when the great amateur Harold Hilton, a member of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, won The Open for the second time. Fast forward 33 years and another great amateur, indeed the greatest amateur of all, Bobby Jones, won the second leg of his 1930 Grand Slam here at Hoylake, creating a unique piece of history in our sport. Five-time champion Peter Thompson of Australia won The Open for a third straight year here in 1956. And in 1967 Roberto De Vicenzo, became the first men's Major champion from South America. Most recently in 2006 we saw one of the game's greats win his third Claret Jug, and we are all absolutely delighted to see Tiger returning from injury here this week. The Open has been played at Hoylake on 11 occasions, and has produced champions from seven different countries, in this the most international of Major championships. There are 27 countries represented here this week and who can guess as to which will add an Open champion in four days' time. We expect big crowds and great drama over the next four days. I must commend the greenskeepers here at Royal Liverpool for presenting the golf course in immaculate condition. You'll remember how hot the conditions and how brown the golf course was in 2006. And it certainly has a greener hue this time around, but don't let that fool you. The course is firm and if the weather stays fair, I expect it to become firmer still. The members and staff of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club have been an absolute pleasure to work with, and I wish them an enjoyable and successful week as we showcase their golf course to the world. The experience for our spectators will, I believe, be the best they have ever received. Using their own smart phones and tablets and our groundbreaking Wi-Fi network, which is available in every grandstand, they will be able to enjoy life BBC television and radio coverage, live scoring, and get news and updates without leaving their seat. Couple that with the LED leaderboards on holes 1 to 17, the information available to our spectators has never been so readily available. We have built integrated viewing platforms or 8th, 15th, 17th and 18th stands for disabled spectators offering the best possible viewing experience, another first this year. Today at the West Lancashire Golf Club the R&A are holding the last day of the Junior Open. This is an event for boys and girls under the age of 16. The entry this year comprises 126 competitors from 77 countries. And is probably the most international gathering of young golfers ever. We have an exciting week ahead. The best players in the world are here. The golf course is in fantastic condition and I'm sure we are set for an outstanding championship. Welcome to you all once again and enjoy your week at the Open Championship.

MALCOLM BOOTH: Peter, thank you.

Q. Peter, one newspaper this morning about the TV deal that may leave the BBC and go with Sky the next time it runs out. Can you comment on whether that's a possibility?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we have had an extremely long relationship with the BBC and a very happy one. I think it's now 59 years since The Open Championship was first televised in 1955 on the BBC. Our current contract runs through the 2016 Open. And what will happen thereafter remains to be seen. Being a rights holder we obviously have to balance that long-term relationship and the high viewership of the BBC against commercial considerations. The value of golf rights has accelerated dramatically, particularly in the United States just in the last 12 months. And that's perhaps a bigger item in the equation than it might otherwise have been, that's for sure. But it's massively premature to speculate on what might occur.

Q. Peter, I was just wondering if there's going to be any implications on the difference in dates from next year onward to The Open Championship?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we do know that Wimbledon is moving a week later. I understand that's to give a longer lead-in on grass once the end of the clay court season comes along. And it will -- we've talked obviously about the BBC about this, the last thing we want to do is clash with Wimbledon, but The Open will be the week following the end of the Wimbledon fortnight. And BBC are very happy that they can make arrangements to cover both events up to their usual high standards. So The Open date will remain unchanged.

Q. There's a very bad weather forecast I noticed this morning for Saturday. A severe summer storm is coming they said. Have you noticed that and are there any implications for the Championship?
PETER UNSWORTH: I can probably answer that one. The forecast that we have received this morning is certainly not as bad as it was two days ago. We're expecting some heavy rain probably tomorrow. But the rains that are predicted over the weekend are not going to be as much as we were expecting before, and the likelihood of thunder is reduced. We're hopeful that over the weekend we will get a good weather forecast.

Q. Why has the tie been ditched for the more casual look?
PETER DAWSON: We thought you might like it. I think we've been appearing like this for some time. Saves a change mid-morning, thank you. And very good of you to appear looking so dapper yourself (laughter).

Q. Can I ask for an update on the Olympic course in Rio. If you saw the lead-up to the World Cup in Brazil, there were some infrastructure issues. Is that a concern for you?
PETER DAWSON: You obviously missed our IGF press conference that we held here on Monday. Progress on the golf course has accelerated massively in the last few months. Grass is going down now. Being sodded on the fairways. And if we can get grass down, which we confidently expect to by November of this year, it will give us two growing seasons prior to the Olympic games, and that will allow us in that climate to have a golf course right up to the condition that we're looking for. So much still to do but progress much more encouraging.

Q. The saying that if there's no rain, it's not golf, what do you want in terms of weather for this championship? And do you think it has been more or less affected by weather in the last few years than, say, 20 or 30 years ago or even later, even longer?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we remember, don't we, some pretty horrendous scenes. I think it was at Birkdale when the tents blew down all those years ago. I don't think in this week in July that we've seen massive changes in weather compared to before. What we want, I think, is good links. Breezy, sunny conditions is what we'd like to see. We know we won't get that every day, but we hope we'd get some of it. And I think our mindset is just to accept what weather we get, and players have to adapt to it. What you probably don't want is the same thing every day of the four days.

Q. You had a long span (no microphone).
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: From a playing perspective, I agree with Peter. From an infrastructure perspective, rain is not great for us in great quantities, and lots of levels of it in terms of what's outside in car parks, our tents and infrastructure can withstand winds far in excess of what we'd be coming off the course for - 70-80 mile-an-hour winds, all these infrastructure calculations. So we have contingency car parks, and contingency plans for getting players and officials off the golf course. So I think we all want sunny weather with some wind and a good test for the world's best players.

PETER UNSWORTH: Could I just add that the weather forecast is for the wind to change direction and go into an easterly quarter on Friday. So that's going to be interesting for the players, too, to play the golf course with winds coming from different directions over the four days.

Q. With only 40 or so, I don't have a number in front of me, qualifying spots around the world, there's been some concern about the openness of The Open Championship. How do you balance that with getting the field you want, the strength of the field that you'd want?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I must say we've been very happy with our new Open qualifying series this year. It's very international, as you know. The events span Australia, Australasia, Asia, South Africa, Europe and the United States. We've used toured events by and large, for two reasons: One, to try to get a 72-hole qualification, a more rigorous qualification. We've also made it more convenient, I think, for the Tour players by doing so. However, we have to be careful to not just make this an event for Tour players, and so we still keep up our regional and final qualifying here in the UK. And it's good to see that two players, I think, in the field, have come right through that process. And one of them being a local player, John Singleton. I know the crowds will be very keen to see him play. So it's a balance. But this is a Major championship. We're looking for, on the one hand, as strong a field as we can, and on the other hand keep The Open ethos going.

Q. Do you continue to look at it or do you think you've got the balance right?
PETER DAWSON: We're very pleased with what happened this year. I think in Asia where we had one of the old style international qualifying events, we'll turn that into a 72-hole event. But I think we're very happy.

Q. Do you envision the addition of Royal Portrush having any implications for any of the other courses on the Open rota?
PETER DAWSON: Well, only mathematically in that we would have one more course, and therefore, every other course will get The Open slightly less often. But we're not contemplating removing a golf course from the rota.

Q. There's a clash again this year with the flagship Test match at Lord's, I believe next summer is The Ashes. Could you not sit down with the ECB, possibly, and try and work out a way of avoiding two great sports events of the summer constantly going head to head?
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, I'd be very, very pleased to do that, actually. I know it's a difficulty for many people. And a very unfortunate clash. In what's becoming a very crowded summer these days. Part of the reason, I think, and this isn't a criticism, is that different television companies now cover events that the same television company used to cover. So the chances of clashes are perhaps slightly greater than in the old days. But I accept the point, and I would be more than open to such a discussion.

Q. Can you clarify what instructions, if any, have been given to the players about placing bets upon the result of the Championship and explain to us whether there's regulations apply to the caddies, as well.
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: All I can say is that the players at registration are asked to sign the anti-gaming regulations, which are in operation in the European Tour. And they follow the same -- so they sign the same thing that they sign when playing on a European Tour event. I can't tell you the exact detail. I don't have it in front of me, but they follow the same regulations as the European Tour.

PETER DAWSON: I can say that this whole business of keeping sport clean in terms of betting is very high on the IOC's agenda at the moment, and something that we're following very closely because it's just a killer to sport to think that any outcomes might have been predetermined. And I really don't think that's applying in golf. But we have to be vigilant.

Q. With grandstands full of people watching pictures on their phones and whatever, are there any concerns that reaction to TV images could detract from the player in front of them?
PETER DAWSON: Thanks for that question. We did debate this at great length, as you could imagine. The great thing about coming to The Open Championship is that you can watch these wonderful players live in front of you and get the atmosphere of the event. The drawback always of watching live golf is that you can't see what's going on elsewhere on the golf course. And we think it's a very powerful player enhancement that we've introduced the greenside electronic boards, scoreboards and information boards, and that we have The Open app. and we have installed a Wi-Fi network around the golf course, which will allow spectators to watch what's going on, if you like, elsewhere on the course, be fully informed what's going on, while at the same time watching the player in front of them. I think that is a massive step forward in golf spectating. However, the issue of how responsibly that is used is very important. I'm very confident that the golf fans will understand that they mustn't disturb the players in front of them. It's something we've discussed. But I think in the modern era, the way that people now embrace this technology is something that golf also has to embrace. And that's exactly what we're doing. And I think the spectators are going to feel a great benefit this year.

Q. Those of us from Scotland know there's a clash on the 18th of September. How likely is it that the answer to the referendum in St. Andrews will be yes?
PETER DAWSON: Well, actually the situation is that the actual voting process at St Andrews has not quite been finalised, but at least they announced there will be announcement of the result on the 18th, which I think is probably before there will be announcement of the referendum. It's a matter for the R&A members to determine what that outcome will be and certainly not for me to speculate.

Q. If I could follow-up on the gambling question, as you noted, the European Tour has those regulations, the PGA TOUR, as well. Is this the first time, however, that you've asked the players to sign this waiver? And if so, what compelled you to do that?
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: No, we've been -- I think St. Georges in 2011 was the first time we asked all the players to sign that regulation. And I think it was something that was happening in the sport. As Peter said, it wasn't because there was any great concern amongst our committee or the people making decisions at the R&A that we had a problem. It was just following what other sports were doing, and what else was happening in golf, too.

Q. Just to follow up on the referendum situation, Louise Richardson the principal of St. Andrews, has made some comments in the media this week about her disappointment about not being allowed to be a member. Are those comments disappointing? She said that some of the members waved their ties in her face and she felt humiliated.
PETER DAWSON: Yes, I did read those comments. I obviously don't want to dwell on this in what's an Open Championship press conference. To be honest, we just don't recognise those remarks as in any way accurately representing the relationship between the R&A and St Andrews University. We have an excellent relationship. We're very supportive of the university. We've been very supportive of its fundraising efforts. In fact, it's 600th anniversary fundraising just finished, and we contributed 500,000 pounds to it, a not inconsiderable sum in support of St. Andrews University. And really that's all I have to say on this. We just don't recognise those remarks as in any way accurately representing the relationship between the two bodies.

Q. Have you changed the rules allowing proxy and postal voting at the business meeting?
PETER DAWSON: No, the situation on that is that it's clear that the majority of R&A members feel that postal voting would be appropriate in this case. The rules of the club do not cater for postal voting and therefore, those rules would have to be changed for a postal vote to be held legitimately. And there will be a business meeting in St Andrews next week to determine if those rules are going to be changed to allow postal voting. If they are, there will be a postal ballot on this issue. If they are not, it will go to the business meeting as normally in September.

Q. There was great excitement in Ireland last month when you announced that Royal Portrush was going to be invited back on the rota for 2019. Given the course changes and the infrastructure needed for hotels, et cetera, is 2019 too soon a date for The Open to return? Are you looking maybe at 2021 for Royal Portrush, instead?
PETER DAWSON: The fact of the matter is we haven't determined a date because it would be premature to do so, awaiting for what the members of Portrush decide about all the course infrastructure changes. We have announced, as you know, The Open Championship up to and including 2018 at the moment. We'll have to wait and see how quickly we can get on at Portrush before determining the date.

Q. Just to follow up on Louise, are you calling into question the truthfulness of Louise's remarks?
PETER DAWSON: I don't know what Louise actually said, and I assume that the article was accurate in reflecting what she said. But I do feel that one or two things are not quite as portrayed. But really that's all I have to say on that matter.

MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, if there are no more questions. Thank you very much for joining us.
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