July 16, 2003
ROYAL ST. GEORGE'S, ENGLAND
DAVID PEPPER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 132nd Open Championship. I hope that you find this year your seats comfortable and the chairs in front of you, as well. And I understand the photographers are happy with their facilities. Additionally, we have for the first time put in an overhead projector, with the leaderboard on it, and I hope you'll find that useful. Can I also thank John Hopkins and all the members of the Association of Golf Writers for the dinner last night. It was a very pleasant occasion, and some excellent speeches.
Perhaps I could just say a word or two on the golf course and Peter Dawson will then follow me and pick up on other points on the golf course and other matters concerning the Open.
Hopefully we have a fast running links golf course, which is exactly what we were hoping for. And just like in 1993 there is the threat of a thunder storm overnight, and just at this present time nobody quite -- there are storms brewing over France, but they don't know whether they're going to hit us or move marginally to the west of us. But I think we're safe for an hour or two, from what I understand.
We've had a lot of complimentary remarks from the players. The fairways, although they're pretty bumpy, are also reasonably wide. And those fairways which are bumpier than others, we have quite deliberately made the semi rough a little wider than it might have been otherwise.
Furthermore, the rough, itself, is not too penal, and the course which lies just that little bit higher than Prince's and Deal on either side where the rough is rather thicker, but it is certainly going to penalize the players if they go in it, but with a bit of luck, we won't have too many lost balls.
We're told throughout this week the players have been practicing principally into the east wind, which all the locals will say never blows in July. But we're assured that come the morning the wind will be from -- traditionally from the southwest and could become quite windy.
In the last two Open Championships the pace of play has improved considerably, and we're hoping we can continue that trend, but that all depends on what the weather is like. We do have a galaxy of referees to help us to do this. We have a walking rules official with every match, as usual, and a series of timing rovers, and they are all experienced referees that the players are used to seeing each week.
So far the golf course is like compared with 1993. We have nine new tees and it is some 250 yards longer. And we're playing this time to a par 71, which is the same as Muirfield last year and will be at Troon next year.
So perhaps I could pass you on to Peter Dawson.
PETER DAWSON: Good afternoon everyone. I, like David, was going to start off hoping that the press center and all its facilities were to your liking, but I expect the main improvement that will be requested in November will be something to do with air conditioning, if I'm not mistaken.
As David said, the course setup is -- has come along extremely well. We've been blessed with tremendous weather in the buildup three weeks plus of warm sunshine and seabreeze. The course has dried out. And in talking to the players I hope you've heard the same. They all think they have a real links setup. And this will be all about positioning the ball off the tee, so you can get at the flag with your second shot, if you go out of position. You might be able to hit the green, but what I would call a half shot rough rather than a one shot rough, you'll find it difficult to get close to the flags. But if you're in position, the flags should be accessible. We're looking to reward good second shots, which follow drives into the right place.
I think you'll hear about bounces this week. People who play this course, good golfers who play this course regularly I think would say that as soon as you've hit the ball you know which way it's going to bounce, because the bounces are actually predictable, if you know the course well enough. Often a bad bounce is encountered by hitting the wrong club. But if you know the course well enough or not I think there are going to be bounces that are unexpected, and it will be a patient man, no doubt, who comes through on Sunday evening.
Player impressions have been pretty positive, I must say. They've all come to the UK to play links golf, and that's what they're getting. I hope, at least, even if we do get some rain between now and 6:30 tomorrow morning, that it won't be enough to change the nature of the course as we see it now. And the forecast for the championship, itself, is pretty dry conditions. I think the course will get progressively quicker as the championship wears on.
Ticket sales this year, David, have been pretty strong, haven't they?
DAVID HILL: Yes.
PETER DAWSON: Historically, Sandwich is not one of our stronger venues for crowd sizes, but if pre-event ticket sales are anything to go by this time that's going to change. And we do expect large crowds. There will be still plenty of tickets on sale at the pay gates. And I think during the practice days we were seeing a lot of people coming, traffic plan, it's obviously a testing one here at Royal St. George's. The roads are not ideal coming to the course. But so far so good. We got it to work quite well in '93, and I think they have a plan put together that will work for the increased traffic levels we're seeing, the park and ride system, somewhat, five miles away, is critical to the operation. And we advise people to use that as much as possible.
Another thing that you have seen around the golf course is the new Open Championship logo. The old one is gone, and you're seeing the new round logo, pretty much everywhere you go, on the flags and all the grand stand facilities. We think it's a good, clean look, and are very pleased with the way that's gone in this time.
Unusually, or for the first time for some time there are press releases we've left on your chairs or some information. Some of it is new, some of it is not. There's a reminder about the reorganizations of the R & A, which was announced a couple of months back, International final qualifying, and we've got Michael Tate here, who's been working a lot on that, can answer any questions you have on final qualifying, either now or later. This is a system designed to open up the Championship to make it easier for international players to qualify, while at the same time retaining what we think is a sufficient number of slots for local players to get into the championship.
There's also a release in there which you've had earlier in the week about ecology and the wildlife around the royal St. George's Golf Course. Steve Isaac is here, who recently joined the R & A. He'll be able to answer any questions you have about that aspect, the wildlife and the -- what we're doing to ensure that the Open Championship doesn't disrupt things in the habitat too much.
It's also pleasing, and there's a press release in your packet about the fact that the Open Championship is at least 7 times out of 9 taken to areas of the UK which qualify for grants from the EU Structural Fund. It's good in objective one. And objective two, we're able to bring the Championship and impact positively the local economy, particularly pleasing that we can do that. And we're doing a study again this year to try to assess in pounds terms the exact impact that the Open has, both locally and nationally and Internationally.
We're often asked questions about where the money from the Open Championship goes. And we've put a number of reports in your pack about what's happening. Some of the latest projects we've been looking at in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and so on and to women's golf, and Duncan Weir is here, that's his area of activity in the R & A and he can answer any questions on that you may have. Again, either now or as the week progresses. There are contact details for all these people in your pack.
So the Open is just a little bit more about than playing the golf course. There's lots of side issues and benefits that accrue from the championship. I think it's good that we try and recognize those, as well.
That's all I have. We'll be willing to take any questions, unless, David, you have anything you want to add.
DAVID HILL: No, I'm very happy with everything.
PETER DAWSON: Open to you.
Q. Going back to the slow play issue, what sanctions do you intend to impose on any players who do continue to play slowly in the next four days?
DAVID PEPPER: We have a pace of play condition for the Championship which is, in fact, identical to the European Tour pace of play condition.
Q. Which is?
DAVID PEPPER: Well, we could find you a copy of it later. But effectively the players are required to remain in position, and if they become out of position, which is either not keeping up with the time expected or -- and, sorry, being more than their starting time behind, they'll then possibly subject to being timed by the rovers. They will be told that they're going to be timed. They have so many seconds in which to play the shot, 40 seconds in some cases, 50 seconds in others. And if they have a bad time they are warned they have a bad time. And if they have a second bad time then they are penalized one shot. There are further sanctions, which eventually go as far as disqualification, but I don't think I've ever come across a situation beyond one shot. And usually one bad time is sufficient to get the players moving rather more quickly.
Q. When did you last issue a one-shot penalty, David?
DAVID PEPPER: There was certainly a one-shot penalty issued at regional qualifying last year. In the Open Championship I haven't known that we've actually ever had to do that, though. I have been at the Open -- I have been at the U.S. Open and in fact with one of the referees at the time when a one-shot penalty was imposed.
Q. Tiger Woods recently expressed concern about the use of illegal golf clubs, particularly drivers. Do you have any means in place here to test for the so-called trampoline effect? Perhaps anticipating a negative, is this a matter that concerns you sufficiently to take action in the future?
PETER DAWSON: There is a weakness in the current system in that the test for coefficient of restitution is a destructive test of drivers, and therefore no individual is going to put his favorite driver forward to be smashed to bits. And the test that's currently used is what you might call a type test, so that if a particular batch of a model of driver is tested and found to conform, it is assumed that all drivers of that type conform. Clearly there are manufacturing tolerances which can make drivers in manufactured batches vary in terms of their performance. So we have been working on a revised and simpler test called the pendulum test, colloquial, which is at an advanced stage at the moment. We're just evaluating final manufacture and other interested parties' comment. And we would intend that that test be available and become the standard test at the turn of the year, if everything goes as planned. So we're going to have to wait until January for the new test to come in.
On the second part of your question, I have no personal knowledge or reason to believe that golfers in this Championship have drivers that are nonconforming. It is possible that they do, inadvertently, have these, without any way of finding out themselves. I don't think that anybody is giving anything untoward here, but come January we will have the means available for players to assure themselves that their clubs do conform.
Q. Any concerns this week about the course slightly getting away from you? It is hard and fast, and that's wonderful, but you have strong winds coming, and have you been -- has that been a concern?
PETER DAWSON: It's something we've been watching carefully. We've been putting the minimal amount of water on every night, three to six minute bursts, just to avoid the course getting away from us. We haven't got the green speed up to a level that would concern us as yet. The forecast would indicate that tomorrow is likely to be the windiest day of the Championship. And I think the green speeds that we have or will have by tomorrow morning will be fine in that regard. So it's a matter of judgment, something that we look at and we've got a very experienced green keeping staff here under Neal McFarland, and we're taking their advice and so far that's proved to be the right thing to do.
Q. At Loch Lomond last week some players were saying they'd like to see the Scottish Open moved to a links course to prepare for the Open. Is that something the R & A would like to see?
PETER DAWSON: Here at the R & A we are great supporters of links golf. And it is true that the European Tour doesn't play as many links courses as it once did. So we would certainly, while not in any way wishing to detract from the Loch Lomond venue, we would certainly welcome an increased number of links courses used on a more frequent basis, yes.
Q. On the change in the qualifying, did you take time this Sunday and Monday to talk to the players who were coming through this current qualifying to find out their opinions of the changes, how it will affect them?
PETER DAWSON: I think what we have to do now that we've seen the results of this year's qualifying is take the time to analyze them. And what we believe fundamentally, and I'll hand it over to Michael in a second perhaps, while international final qualifying will allow players more ready access to the Championship from a wide range of countries, we also believe that the majority of Tour players who are not exempt into the Championship proper, will avail themselves of international qualifying, because it's more convenient to their schedules to try to get in. That means that local final qualifying, as it will in the future be called, the fields there will have less Tour players in them. And so while there is a lower number of spots available for these events, I personally believe that we will actually get more club pros and amateurs coming through than perhaps we're getting now.
Q. Do players have to mind their language this week? We had the incident at Wimbledon with Rusedski and his outburst and he was fined the next day. What happens if something similar happens?
PETER DAWSON: As you know, golf is a game that one of the bedrocks of it is good etiquette. We haven't had too many incidents in golf of foul language. There have been some famous ones. We would expect players to know how to behave. If they don't we've got walking officials who at the time could perhaps have a quiet word with them. I like to see these things dealt with by a quiet word rather than elevating the thing into a major incident.
Q. What is the procedure, first of all a quiet word?
PETER DAWSON: Yes.
Q. And you don't -- if it's deemed necessary to go beyond that, you don't have to refer it to the European Tour or the U.S. tour, you can act?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we can, but we do recognize that the Tours, week-in and week-out, are where these golfers are playing. And we do consult with our colleagues on the Tours as to how to deal with disciplinary cases, to insure it's consistent with their week-to-week policy.
DAVID PEPPER: It's also true that the Tours, if you got to a situation where somebody did behave themselves badly, if they were a member of those Tours, I presume they would discipline them in the way they would do at any of their events, because they would expect them to behave. They have a code of etiquette, which I'm sure you're well aware of.
PETER DAWSON: The ultimate sanction that we would have for a gross breach of etiquette is not to accept entries in the future.
Q. With that spoken about, and going back to the speed of play, are these issues that you are concerned with at the moment or just things that we are highlighting? Are they things the R & A --
PETER DAWSON: Pace of play is a serious concern to us, and we believe having analyzed this subject a great deal that getting starting intervals and starter gaps and the flow of play on the course right is the key to success here. Trying to pilary individuals for taking a little longer from time to time I don't think is the answer to getting 156 players around the course in a sensible time, although it's certainly one of the factors.
Q. Have you issued some sort of general rulings for players about pace of play, or are you doing it through us, as such?
DAVID PEPPER: We certainly don't issue anything through you. Every week they have -- or at every Open Championship they have instructions about pace of play and you'll probably note for the first time that we're actually starting at half past six, rather than 7:00. That's really because the light down here is not -- we haven't got as much light as we have in Scotland. But it also enables us to have starting intervals of 11 minutes rather than 10 minutes. We've also got three five-minute gaps. I think you will find on the average Tour event you have a ten-minute interval, and that one extra minute certainly helps.
Q. So you're giving it to them in that respect, but in return saying, we've given you a bit more space, but keep up with it?
DAVID PEPPER: Well, that's what is implied. But I think you'll realize that when you play golf, if there's nobody in front of you you get into a rhythm and you play at a pace which is probably quicker than you certainly would do if you come to a grinding halt and have to stop, start, stop, start. It's just like motor way traffic.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you very much. I would urge you, if you would, to read the information releases we've given you, and if you do have any questions, do please feel free to contact Steve and Michael.
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