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July 15, 2015

Peter Dawson

Derek Lawrenson

Peter Unsworth


MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and welcome to this R&A press conference on the eve of the 144th Open Championship. To introduce the gentlemen to my right, on my right far Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the Executive Director for Championships at the R&A, and to his left Peter Unsworth, the Chairman of the Championship Committee and on my immediate right Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A. Before we take questions, Peter Unsworth is going to read a few opening remarks.

PETER UNSWORTH: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us at the R&A press conference. In the five years since The Open was last held at St. Andrews, we have made substantial investment in enhancing the spectator experience at the championship. You will all by now have seen the improvements in staging infrastructure around the course. The grandstands around the 1st, 17th and 18th holes will be the largest arena in championship history, and will undoubtedly create a wonderful atmosphere this week. We have invested in technology to offer spectators free wi-fi around the course to enable them to access an array of digital content, including video, scoring and player information. The LED leaderboards keep spectators fully up to date on what is happening around the course. This week spectators can also gain free admission with The Open tickets to the British Golf Museum, which recently reopened after a substantial refurbishment and now boasts a new cafe and expanded gallery space. Turning to the course itself, we are delighted with the way the links have been presented and it will certainly provide an excellent test for the world's best golfers. As ever, Mother Nature will have a big say in how the course plays over the next four days, but the green keeping team has done a fantastic job of preparing the course. It has been well received by the players. This will be the 29th time The Open has been played on the Old Course, and the stage is set for another excellent championship. We look forward very much to learning who will be the Champion Golfer of the Year. Malcolm?

MALCOLM BOOTH: Thank you, Peter. We're now ready to take some questions. If you could raise your hand, we'll get a microphone to you.

Q. Peter, I asked Rickie Fowler yesterday about drug testing and what can best be described as a vague answer. I wonder if you could share with us what the protocols are this week, where it's happening, who's conducting it, and also looking forward to the Olympics and the whole rigmarole that goes on with drug testing and where golf is in this record?
PETER DAWSON: Well, in answer to your question, drug testing this week will be conducted under the European Tour's anti-doping policy, and we will be at random testing players largely on Thursday and Friday, and this is a practice that we've engaged in at The Open since the '09 championship at Turnberry. As far as the Olympics is concerned, the IGF, International Golf Federation, their anti-doping wider compliance policy will come into effect 13 weeks prior to the Olympic Games, and players who are in the registered testing pool will be tested under the auspices of the IGF. Sometimes the testing will be done by the Tours, sometimes by national anti-doping organisations. But in that testing, it will be expanded to that which golf normally does into blood testing and into the full range of wider banned substances.

Q. Will it continue after the Olympics?
PETER DAWSON: Well, it's a matter for the Tours which anti-doping policies they want to operate. I would certainly urge that golf moves towards being wider compliant at all times and right across the world, and I think the game of golf is working towards that. That said, it's still my belief that we don't have a major drug problem of any kind in the game of golf, but we certainly can't afford to be complacent, and we must continue to test fully.

Q. Peter, I've seen the golf paper today and it's been very critical about the R&A taking The Open away from the BBC and personally attacked the R&A for being superior beings and things like that.
PETER DAWSON: I have seen it, yes. I'll leave it to you to judge whether we're superior beings or not. I don't think we are and I don't think we pretend to be, and I don't think we think we are. Good timing on that article this morning, Wednesday of Open Championship week, and I don't recognise really anything in that article that I would regard as being close to the truth, frankly.

Q. Could you tell us how many tests you intend to -- drug tests you intend to do this week, and if you're not prepared to tell us now how many tests, in the next number of weeks will you tell us how many tests have been conducted?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we don't actually publish our drug test numbers. They are at random. We don't necessarily want there to be a player expectation of how many will be tested and how many won't but it is a significant number.

Q. Why not reveal the number? If it's an impressive number, why not reveal it?
PETER DAWSON: I think we're following what is normal practice across sport in not revealing that. If I'm wrong in that, I apologise, but I believe that to be the case.

Q. Most sports publish in detail how many tests they have conducted.
PETER DAWSON: Well, let's see if we publish it after we conduct them.

Q. Greg Norman has made some comments about how to expand the game to make it appeal to youth, and he said golf has got to get out of the traditional box that it's in. If a kid wants to get in a golf cart and play loud music, then let him do it. If someone wants to play nine holes, fine, but let a son play with his father with his headphones on, let them dress a little bit different. He's saying golf has got to appeal more to youth. Any comments on what Greg Norman has said?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution to golf participation. If there are certain parts of the world or certain golf courses or clubs that want to allow that to happen, that's fine. If there are others that don't, that's fine, too. There's no one all-embracing solution to the participation issue. I mean, I can imagine plenty of golf clubs or golf facilities where if they had that policy it would reduce participation. I can also imagine where it might increase it. So it's a matter for courses and clubs themselves to appeal to their own market, it seems to me.

Q. Just wondering obviously after the 16 years you've been involved you're stepping down. I wonder if you could sum up your emotions and have you accomplished everything you hoped to as chief executive?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we don't do cult of personality at the R&A. I think it's a team effort. I think a lot of things have moved on, and perhaps the thing I'm most proud of is the way the team of people at the R&A has developed as we've gone. It's a much bigger, more professional, if that's the right word, organisation than it was 16 years ago, and that's not a criticism of what it was like then. Will I be emotional? Not sure yet. A bit too busy to be so at the moment.

Q. With work beginning to start at Royal Portrush to make the changes to the golf course, have you any update on when the year will be confirmed when The Open is coming back to Northern Ireland?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we have announced up to 2018 at the moment as you know with our Open venues. We will be making announcements about future about future years in accordance with our normal schedule, and I'm sorry to say you are just going to have to be a little more patient yet.

Q. Is '19 still the preferred year?
PETER DAWSON: I think you'll have to wait for the announcement.

Q. Peter, following on from what Greg Norman said, I think Lee Westwood has weighed in, as well, about golf is losing its appeal. Do you think you could recognise that taking The Open away from mainstream television and terrestrial television on to subscription service is not going to help that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think we've beaten that to death in the past months. It's borderline absurd actually to think that an event in just four days of the year is going to make a massive difference to participation which sort of channel it's on. If it was all year I might listen to the argument rather more. But we have said that we've taken steps in our agreement with Sky to maximize the accessibility to the broadcast through now television, through digital, through the highlights that BBC have, and we're pretty satisfied that that won't have a negative effect on participation.

Q. On a similar theme about broadening the appeal of the game, Lee Westwood suggested that the authorities should be looking more at perhaps shorter forms of the game to attracting a new audience. I wondered what the views of the R&A are on that.
PETER DAWSON: Well, if shorter form of the game means playing less holes -- is that what it means? Going out and playing nine was something we always used to do. I don't see that that's particularly innovative, to be honest with you. Yeah, people have less time. They want faster gratification these days. And if they want to go out and play six holes or nine holes, best of luck to them. I do think that golf facilities in terms of their green fee structure should allow that. That would be a good thing. I think also, golf facilities should have a very serious look at four-ball play versus two-ball play. I've never been to a golf club yet where we've generally played two-ball golf where pace of play was a problem or time was a problem. There are a lot of things in this mix.

Q. Around about this time last year the Royal Porthcawl held The Senior Open. The likes of Tom Watson said it would have the potential to host The Open itself. I was wondering what a course like that would have to do to join the roster of Open venues.
PETER UNSWORTH: I can respond to that, that we're very happy with the number of courses on the rota at the moment, and we don't have any intention to go to Porthcawl.

Q. Just on the participation figures again, is it a concern that they have dropped quite significantly the last few years, and what advice would you give your successor when he comes in about trying to improve then?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think we can talk ourselves into this participation drop and make it a bigger thing than it actually is. The statistics this year in most major golf markets is that rounds played have actually gone up quite a bit. If you look at Australia, look at the United States, look at the UK, rounds played have risen significantly this year. Let's not talk ourselves into a participation drop that's greater than it actually is. Martin Slumbers my successor I know recognises that the participation issue is going to be one of the main issues that he's going to have to deal with, and I wish him well in that, but it's not an easy one, but he certainly has it right up there as one of his top priorities.

Q. Peter, can you talk a little bit about what the weather has done to the course in the buildup to the event and are you concerned about the forecast for Friday in particular?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we were going along pretty well until a week ago Saturday when we had an immense amount of rainfall that morning. The place was awash. So any thought of getting a hard-running brown links disappeared that morning. But the course has remarkable resilience and dries out extremely quickly. Unfortunately every day or two we've had of drying weather we've then had some more wet weather, and we're getting more of that which I think was largely on the forecast this morning. But we do this quite scientifically now, the moisture measurements and so on, and they are improving day by day, as is the firmness. So we're actually under the circumstances very pleased with the golf course, and the greenskeepers should be congratulated for what they've achieved and the progress that's been made. I think all the players as Peter Unsworth said have been very complementary about the course and that's great. But it looks as if we're going to have some rough weather coming up, and that's The Open Championship.

Q. Does the R&A have a problem or is it compromised in terms of Turnberry's place in The Open rota in terms of Mr. Trump's comments?
PETER DAWSON: Well, it's had a lot of publicity, hasn't it. We don't have any decisions to make about Turnberry for quite some time, and I think we'll just let a bit of time pass and future championship committees will deal with them at the time.

Q. Do you think it's conceivable that at some point in the future the Old Course could be inadequate to challenge professional golfers?
PETER DAWSON: No. (Laughter.)

Q. Could you elaborate?
PETER DAWSON: No. (Laughter.) No, seriously, I think the course out there has stood the test of time. The players love playing it. They don't feel under-challenged by it. The R&A and the USGA have made a commitment a long time ago with a joint statement of principles to act on hitting distance if it moves up again from the plateau it's on, and there's so many subtleties of ground and wind out there that this Old Course will last well into the future as a strong challenge.

Q. Peter, the R&A has come under a bit of criticism, but corporate governance isn't one of those, so as you and a colleague of yours, Mr. Sepp Blatter depart the scene of international golf, do you offer his successor some advice in terms of what they could maybe learn from the R&A?
PETER DAWSON: No. (Laughter.)

Q. Could you elaborate?
PETER DAWSON: No, I can't elaborate.

MALCOLM BOOTH: Thank you very much for your time this morning. The AGW would very much like to make a presentation to Peter as this is his final Open Championship, so Derek, over to you.

DEREK LAWRENSON: As Malcolm said, we thought we'd be remiss if we didn't mark the occasion of your last Open with a small presentation. It's certainly been an eventful 16 years, Peter. There's been a lot of good press, occasionally been some bad press, and just once or twice some bloody awful press, and that's just from me. But we would like to congratulate you on a working life well spent and your considerable list of achievements. We just have a small presentation to you of something that might appeal, a rather nice drop of Scotch. We're not expecting you to toast us with it, but we do hope you enjoy it in your well-deserved retirement. Thank you. (Applause.)

PETER DAWSON: Well, he knows my favourite tipple, Glenmorangie, so this won't be long in the box, I can tell you. Thank you, all. That's really good of you. We've had our ups and downs, I think, on more than several occasions, but overall I think they've been ups, and golf wouldn't be where it is today without an active media, strong in its opinions, and not often right. No, but seriously, it's been a great run, and I wish you all well, and I much appreciate this. Thank you, Derek.
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