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July 13, 2016
Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland
MIKE WOODCOCK: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Open press conference. I'll introduce our panel this morning. To my immediate right is Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of the R&A. And then we have Peter Unsworth, the Chairman of the R&A Championship Committee. And on the far right, Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, Executive Director of Championships at the R&A.
I'll ask Peter to say a few introductory remarks and then we'll open the floor to questions.
PETER UNSWORTH: Thank you, Mike. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and welcome to the 145th Open Championship. This year at Royal Troon there is a lot to celebrate. The Open's quality lies in the sum of its most vital components - the stage, the players and the spectators. We are presenting Royal Troon in the best possible condition. We are welcoming the very best players in the world, and collectively, we'll be inspiring a large, knowledgeable and passionate golf crowd intent on seeing golf's true test, produce a Champion Golfer of the Year.
This is the 20th year of our Kids Go Free policy, during which time hundreds of thousands of kids have attended the Open for free. We are committed to innovation and making the Open accessible to the next generation of golf fans. And our new campsite for under 25s and families continues the theme of making our championship open to all.
For the benefit of all our spectators, we have taken the practise ground to a level never seen before at a golf championship. From the grandstand, our spectators can watch the ball flight of every shot hit with our Protracer technology. And for those not lucky enough to be here, the Open Zone, developed in partnership with Sky Sports, features the best players displaying their skills, describing their strategies and bringing the unique challenge of the Open into people's homes across the U.K. and Ireland.
Continuing the television theme, we are delighted to have two new broadcast partners on either side of the Atlantic in Sky Sports and NBC. The R&A has taken what I believe to be a bold and positive step to take control of our own television pictures. We have invested millions of pounds in delivering what will be an outstanding world feed with new technological innovations that will revolutionise the viewing experience of the Open.
As I said before, the Open's quality lies in the combination of the finest stage, the finest players, and the finest spectators. The Open's global profile, however, is largely generated by the media, whether traditional, digital, radio or television. We welcome you all to Royal Troon, and we thank you all for your support of the Open Championship.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you, Peter. I'll ask you to raise your hand and we'll get a microphone to you for questions.
Q. Martin, can you talk about the course, how it's set up, obviously, and the buildup has been a bit changeable. Are you pleased with the way the course is playing?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, we're very pleased where it is at the moment. We had a very wet winter, as many people know, and at one point during winter I think there were six fairways completely under water. We were pumping about a million gallons of water off a week. So I mean the grounds team here, the greens staff, here have done an absolutely outstanding job to get it to this position.
A few weeks ago it was a little bit browner, a little bit firmer, but Mother Nature is one thing we can't control. But, no, I'm very pleased with it. The set-up is exactly what we worked on last year, and we spent a lot of time talking to not just ourselves here but also with a lot of outside people about how the course plays and how it should play for these great players.
So we're feeling good and I have to admit, I'm quite looking forward to seeing the first tee shot tomorrow morning.
Q. Gentlemen, those of us who were at Oakmont saw an unfortunate situation as far as the rules were concerned. I wonder whether you could tell me how much time you have spent looking into that and what moves you've made to try and make sure that something like that doesn't happen here? I don't know whether I said that very well, but you know what I mean.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, this is just throughout the process, the team here have been thinking about how to respond and monitor any sort of chain of command around rules for over ten years now. And about ten years ago a fundamental change was made by the team here, which I think makes a big difference in the way we would deal with any situation that arises in the next four days, which is that the chief referee doesn't leave this compound here. He has access to video replays in his office, and in addition to that, either Peter or I are also always here.
So we are very focused on -- rules are complex. This is a big, big animal out there being played on. All sorts of things can happen, we know that, and generally do happen in this game. It is the speed and the clarity with which we respond, which is something that we're very focused on, have been for a number of years. And I think it's that function of us sitting here, just about 50 yards away, being able to respond and provide instructions back to the referees, is the difference in how we would deal with it.
Q. Martin, just how pleased are you that I think you've got a record number of different countries represented this week?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think it's great. I mean, the Open Championship we pride ourselves on being the most open of all the majors. Our qualifying series that we run throughout the world is focused on getting access and people playing in it from all over the world. And I think that's what part of what makes the Open special is seeing it truly international, and I think it's terrific.
Q. Martin, what is your take on Rory McIlroy's comments regarding not feeling a special need to give back to the game?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think everybody has a right to their own opinions, and from our perspective I think we have three fundamental roles in the game: One is what's going to happen over the next few days in the Open Championship, two is governance, and three is about how we develop the game. It's part of our DNA to focus on developing the game. I think you have to look to the future always. I think it's great to celebrate wonderful talent out there today, whether it's in the professional game or the amateur game, but it's equally important to look to the future for us, and that's something we're focused on.
Q. Related to Oakmont and the ruling there, specifically a lot of the questions centred around this specific rule that was in question, 18-2, and the change in that rule over the course of the last few months. I'm curious if you all have been thinking at all about whether the rule needs to be reinterpreted again here or whatnot because of the confusion of the rule itself, and the rewording the rule has made?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, the change that was made on the 1st of January was in response to sort of understanding how the old 18-2 worked. We have a rules review program that goes on. There is a four-year cycle, as you know, around the rules. And that will, I mean, the situation that happened at Oakmont will factor into that, and it may well be a change needed in 18-2 in the future.
Q. Is Turnberry being considered as part of the future rota? And do the results of the United States election have anything to do with that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I've been very, very clear around this. Turnberry is, was and is, part of the pool of courses for the Open Championship. There are at the moment nine courses and Turnberry is one of those. We have announced Opens out to 2019. And although there are some fascinating ones to happen between then and 1990, it's going to be pretty special as we go back to Portrush.
We're also very close to announcing '20 and '21, one of which will be in England, and one of which will be at St. Andrews. We don't have to consider beyond that for a couple of years, and we'll pick that up in a couple of year's time.
Q. You obviously go to these golf courses that are iconic, they've been around for decades, a hundred years. How do you think and why do you think they withstand the test of time and are able to still challenge these guys with all the advances or are you concerned that they may not at some point?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The Open courses, the links courses?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You know, it's we're going to play Royal Troon at 7190 yards come Thursday morning, 15 yards longer than it was in 2004. I think the beauty of a links golf course is the weather makes a massive difference. The way the ball moves on the fairways, depending on how firm it is, the ability to control that. The ability to make sure where you want to put the ball versus where the ball has to finish on the green. I think that protection, and then you add in the weather is what makes links golf so difficult and so different and provides more than enough challenge for the players.
I find it fascinating going around this course, and I'm sure you've all been around it, watching the different type of holes and the different way the guys are playing it. There isn't one way to play it. You can quite often see in a three ball three different shots, completely different ways how they've seen how they want to play it, and I think that's the beauty of links golf.
Q. Troon initially said that their membership review wouldn't be completed until the end of this year, but as soon as you took the Open away from Muirfield, that seemed to accelerate the process. How pleased are you that they did, in fact, do that and vote to admit women members? And what's your reaction to Muirfield holding a second vote hopefully at the end of the year?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I've been very clear all along on that in saying the decision around the membership policy for the club is that for the club. It's not our importance on that. What we care about is the outcome of that vote, and I was very clear about that with Muirfield and also with Royal Troon.
I'm delighted because now we can talk about golf. We're here to celebrate the 145th Open Championship, and that's what I want to talk about.
Q. Rory McIlroy said yesterday drug testing in golf is not vigilant enough. He said he could take human growth hormone and it wouldn't be detected. What is your response to that, and I also ask how many tests took place at this event last year?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Let's just establish for this week, one week in the golfing year, and our anti-doping policy follows that of the European Tour. The European Tour administer it and run it on our behalf. For those players that are in the registered testing pool for the Olympics, in addition there is the IGF additional testing that is being carried out during this week.
I think in the view around both anything to do with doping is that when you play sport and doping comes into it, it undermines the integrity of the sport. And our belief is that we should be as a sport right at the highest level of standards around anti-doping, and that's something that the tours and ourselves need to -- are privately talking about behind closed doors. It's not a matter for public discussion.
Q. (No microphone).
MARTIN SLUMBERS: That I don't know. I honestly don't know that number. We can clearly get you that number.
Q. Going back to Oakmont, have you hammered home to rules officials how important it is to avoid any repeat of similar instances over the next four days?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I was just listening to the rain and thinking about your very first question. It might be getting a bit softer out there.
We, as in previous years, have very clear rules meetings. In fact the rules meeting was this morning. And the process by which the information goes from the walking referees to our rovers and back into the chief referee's office was discussed, clarified and reinforced. I think we're pretty good at getting that right. We've made some changes in the light of Oakmont and being more prescriptive.
But I would say the referees that we have here are highly experienced referees. A lot of them work on the major tours and the major amateur events all year around. We have the best professional referees coming from the tours here as well. Our feeling is that the standard of the refereeing that will be out there this weekend is second to none.
Q. I'm just wondering what attendance figures you're expecting this week? I'm wondering if there is a general concern about attendance in general? Because we've seen numbers down at the Irish Open. We've seen numbers down at the Scottish Open last week. I just wonder if you have any concerns about golf attendance?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Our overriding concern/objective this week is to put on an absolute world-class experience for our players, our patrons and our spectators and our viewers. What we've built out here, what we've delivered through the TV is all designed to provide that world-class experience. We've not skimped at all in trying to do that. So far, our anticipated, our planned attendance is somewhere around 170,000 for this week. As of last night we are broadly on target for that.
I don't know whether you were out on the course yesterday or in here, but there were 13,000 people here yesterday, which is pretty good for a practise day, and we're expecting it to be as full today.
Q. When it comes to other tournaments, I think you were at the Curtis Cup, too. I thought the numbers were down there, as well. Is there a general concern about people not coming out to watch tournaments as they would do in the past?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: There may well be. Curtis Cup is wonderful golf. I think it's part of our responsibility when you stage a golf tournament to make it attractive for people to come and watch. You can't just expect people to turn up. We have to give them a product that they want to come and see and want to come through the gates, and that's really important.
Q. Just to go back to the anti-doping, could I ask how come you don't know the numbers from last year? This is a pretty big deal, isn't it?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The team does know the numbers, and we absolutely have those numbers and we know the numbers that have been tested for this year, I just don't have them with me.
Q. Have they ever been published these numbers?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Johnnie, are you aware?
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: I'm not aware of them ever being published, but we have those numbers.
Q. Is that a policy that the numbers aren't published? If it is, could you explain why that would be the policy?
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: Well, I mean, you've asked the question, so we need to go and speak to the people who are doing the testing first here this week and come back to you on that one. We don't have the figures in front of you at the moment.
Q. That does sound like it's a pretty lax attitude that you don't have the numbers here. I mean, Rory talked about this yesterday. It's a hot topic today. I would have thought you would have had the numbers.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't think it's lax at all. I think it's private information around players and the championship, and we're following their testing. There is testing going on, and there are ample amounts of testing. We do have those numbers and we'll supply them later. But don't underestimate the seriousness that Anti-Doping takes. I'll reiterate what I said: Any doping undermines the integrity of sport.
Q. Brexit and its possible repercussions and so on, does it have any bearing on your thinking about future venues for the Open?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Do you know that's one question I was not expecting (laughing).
No, that's probably the simplest answer in terms of venues. But being serious, Brexit does give us some other items to think about, but, no, not in venues. Venues are focused on the quality of the course and the other very important infrastructure that sit around that.
Q. But should the perhaps extreme situation of Northern Ireland no longer being part of whatever we are now, you would go ahead and continue to use it as a venue for the Open?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: At this point I can't see any reason why we would not.
Q. Martin, could I ask you about a new era of television coverage for the Open Championship this week. There's been some research done that since cricket was lost to free-to-air television slightly over a decade ago now, the number of people playing cricket has fallen quite considerably. Is that something you worry about with golf going forward? No doubts that Sky will do a good job, but in terms of pure numbers, there have been an awful lot of people, millions of people that won't see the Open this week. How much of a worry is that for you? Is that a worry at all? And how do you see the future of the Open TV-wise going forward?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think the package of opportunities to view the Open this year are broader than they've ever been. You've got from Sky through to NOW TV, to the two-hour highlights that will be run at primetime. We've never seen primetime highlights of the Open Championship on the BBC, and we're going to see it this week. I think that combination is very, very powerful.
On top of that, the world is changing. The way people consume sports is changing. It's no longer people sitting and watching for six, seven hours doing that. There is a whole digital effort makes a massive part of that. When you look at overall reach, the Open isn't just a U.K. thing, it's a global event and we look at it on a global reach as well. Our focus at the moment is to give the greatest viewing perspective that you can of an Open, and I am absolutely delighted with our new partners at Sky, and NBC, and European Tour Productions. There's been a terrific partnership working through that.
Q. Have you got a ballpark as to what kind of viewing figures you're hoping for, for either the live coverage or the highlights?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, because that's not something I can manage to. I'll look at that come Monday morning next week. I'm focused on what we can control, which is the product that we're putting out. And we think we're putting out the best product in the world, and we're seeing what happens at the end, how many people watch it at the end of that.
Q. You've hosted the amateur championship at Portmarnock before, and I'm wondering if there's anything that precludes you from hosting an Open Championship in the Republic of Ireland?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think we have nine courses for the Open Championship. Nine quite different courses within that pool, and I think that's quite an adequate group that we have.
Respect to the island of Ireland, I think Royal Portrush is going to be very exciting in 2019. If you haven't been to see it, anyone, it is quite spectacular, and I think it will showcase golf in just a wonderful way.
Q. Is there anything that prevents you from hosting a championship in the Republic of Ireland?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, at the moment they would do, yes. In the round of our view that we'll only go to a mixed-gender club.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us.
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