July 19, 2006
STEWART McDOUGALL: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to this R&A press conference. On the extreme right-hand side, Martin Kippax, Chairman of the Championship Committee; Peter Dawson, Chief Executive, The R&A, center; and on left, David Hill, director of all Championships. We'll ask Peter Dawson to start off by saying a few words on the Championship conditions.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you everyone for coming. I think you've heard quite often from The R&A that we like hard, fast links conditions. Well, I think this year we've got it in spades. The course is pretty fiery out there, just as we would want it from a ball running point of view.
And the task of the green keepers over the past few days is to maintain those conditions, whilst not letting the extreme heat that we are experiencing do any kind of permanent damage to the course. And we are managing to achieve that equally, quite nicely at the moment.
We'll be looking at the golf course again later on and deciding what treatments will be required overnight, but we're very confident that we will have a good links condition golf course tomorrow morning. And from what I read and what I hear from the players, they're very much looking forward to the challenge.
The weather forecast says that there is a chance of some showers, some thunder, maybe, overnight, but it's quite a small chance, as we understand at the moment. And that's a situation that's of course developing all the time and we're keeping our eye on. But there's certainly not going to be enough rain to fundamentally change the condition of the golf course.
It's very nice to see so many spectators here for practice days. The crowds and the general anticipation of the event here in the northwest has been, I think -- I don't know what you think, David, but quite unprecedented. And the Championship, as we all know, hasn't been here for a very long time.
I think the combination of that and the anticipation and the weather, of course, is causing some very large attendance for practice days. And we do expect attendance this week to be high.
We have, on just a health and safety note, put up notices around the golf course asking smokers to be particularly vigilant. The grass is pretty dry out there. We are taking advice from a local fire chief that we do have fire engines actually on the premises, and at the moment we're going no further than that. We've asked people to be especially careful.
I haven't got anymore at the moment. Martin, do you want to say anything at all before we go to questions?
MARTIN KIPPAX: No, only just to endorse, Peter, everything you said with regard to the golf course. I think the golf course is as we want it. It is very linksy and I think it's going to present a real challenge. As Peter has said, all the player comments that we've had so far have been very positive.
PETER DAWSON: I suggest before we close, and before we open to questions, just say a word about the field, which is extremely strong. We have, as you know, if you've kept up-to-date with it, had a few withdrawals for various circumstances, which, of course, we regret. But the reserves are filling in those positions. And we have reserves in place should there be any other last minute withdrawals. We're very happy with the strength of the field as always for the Championship.
Q. You mentioned the fire engines. Were they going to be on the premises anyway, or have they been brought on because of the situation?
DAVID HILL: The fire station here is about two minutes from the course, and if we had normal weather conditions they would have stayed there because the chief fire officer was quite happy about that. But given the weather, it's prudent for them to come to the golf course, just in case anything should happen.
Q. Number of engines?
DAVID HILL: Two fire engines, which is more than adequate should anything occur. The chief fire officer is very happy with the current situation.
Q. I presume you heard what happened at Hillside yesterday?
DAVID HILL: Yes, we are absolutely aware of that and we've taken the advice of the chief fire officer.
Q. Have the players actually been warned about smoking?
DAVID HILL: Again, we've simply issued the same instructions as we have to the spectators to take due diligence as far as smoking.
PETER DAWSON: Just to be clear, this is not a smoking ban, just asking people to be especially careful.
Q. But they've been given it on a piece of paper, this due diligence, or just made aware of it?
PETER DAWSON: There are notices going on all the scoreboards. We're in the process of actually implementing it at the moment; that's why we're slightly deterring as to whether the players have gotten the paper, but they will be informed.
Q. Are you happy with the arrangements for the alternates? You've changed it. It used to go from final qualifying, now seems to be from the World Rankings. It seems to be a little bit unfortunate, some of the club players who might have just finished in fourth place say in the final qualifying missed out and it's going off the World Ranking. People may not be available.
PETER DAWSON: Well, you can say that. Alternatively you might say taking them from the World Rankings gives the strongest field. The world-ranked players, by and large, have been willing to travel. Jesper Parnevik has just arrived; Brad Faxon even came over on the off chance. I don't think we can say they're not willing to appear.
And it was very clear on the entry form this year that this was the condition. It also means that the process at local and final qualifying is simplified by not having to have playoffs for the reserve places.
Q. Two questions about the reserves. First, the qualifying in the U.S. has been difficult, at least two of the three years; I think the first year a lot of people didn't show; and then obviously this year with the rain. Was that a policy decision that had been implemented before if you couldn't have the qualification, that's how you were going to do it, first of all? And then second of all, have you ever thought because there are so many people that are willing to play this event where maybe 20, 30 years ago people were not willing, have you ever thought about maybe extending the field size?
PETER DAWSON: Just to answer the first part, the entry form for this year's Championship lays out clearly what would happen if no play was possible in the United States or no qualifying event. And the places were filled in World Ranking order for the places on that event. That was very clearly laid out on the entry form.
As far as increasing the field size is concerned, we haven't felt the need to do that in the United States because we haven't yet quite filled the field in any one of the years. So if we ever get to the point where people are clamoring to play and it's falling over the edge of the numbers, we would consider it, but it's premature at this point.
Q. The point was more to the size of the amount of players coming out of the U.S., it was questionable how many were coming out, and some were given back to the UK. When I talk about field size, I'm talking about the field in the Championship itself.
MARTIN KIPPAX: Can you explain your first point? I'm not quite picking it up.
Q. A lot of the players thought there were going to be more spots available out of the U.S. than there actually ended up being.
MARTIN KIPPAX: The situation is as Peter says; it's clearly set out on the entry form as to what the situation was going to be with regard to what should happen in the event of a doomsday scenario, otherwise a complete washout. And the position was that it's 12 places, and there we were, and that's what actually was set. So I hope that -- okay?
Q. That's fine. Field size?
PETER DAWSON: The field size on the Championship itself? We couldn't increase that just because of the daylight hours. 156 is quite a scramble to get around in one day.
Q. Given the craze of the courses from everybody, do you regret leaving it so long to come back here? And the decision to come back here, you must feel very vindicated. The second part is that have you got any interest in what the winning score might be?
PETER DAWSON: It's too early to be vindicated by anything. We would have been here much sooner, from a golf course standpoint; we've never had an issue with the golf course. But we did have an issue with the amount of land available for the modern championship infrastructure, and the land acquired made it possible to return.
The score, it would depend on how windy conditions are. We don't particularly mind about the score, as long as we find the best champion. If the conditions stay as they are, I'm sure we're going to see a lot of birdies. And many of the most exciting and memorable Opens we've had have been low-scoring ones. And we don't have a particular problem with that.
Q. Peter, were you aware of the animosity that exists between Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo when you made the draw?
PETER DAWSON: It wasn't a factor in making the draw, let me say that. And I was only aware that there had been some criticism of Nick of Tiger's swing at one point in one of his TV commentaries. I think the thing's been rather, as often happens action built up, a little out of proportion. And I'm sure both players will concentrate on doing their best in the Championship rather than their own relationship.
PETER DAWSON: No, I never particularly considered that at all. And I'm sure with 156 players in the field playing on three-balls, there's going to be that people are not good chaps. I'm not particularly familiar with Tiger's personal relationship with Nick Faldo.
Q. Have you got any thoughts on the reconfiguring of the course because of the way it's played in the Championship? The events -- the grandstand finish, if you like, at the clubhouse, do you have any thoughts about that? Do you think the change, particularly with 17 and 18, will work out?
PETER DAWSON: There's no doubt that if I call it the member's first hole here, which is the third hole as we're playing it, is a very tough first tee shot. In certain winds it would make you shake a bit.
But getting a strong finishing hole with enough space for grandstands was our priority, the 18th and the 72nd hole. The first hole is a very strong hole. And I think on balance we've done exactly the right thing. I found the paperwork after we made the decision, that it was considered in 1967, but they decided not to do it then; I'm not sure why. So it's not a new idea. And I know the members are going to review the situation for the future as to the order they play the holes themselves after the Championship. But, no, we are very happy with the order of the holes this way.
Q. You say you have no problem with the course, so have you seen enough yet in the warmup days with the flow of traffic, the movement of the spectators once they're here to say Hoylake is back on the road to look forward to regular Opens?
DAVID HILL: Well, first of all, we're very pleased to hear this morning that the national rail strike has been called off. We carried 6,000 people by train this morning to the golf course, approximately. So there's good news that the national rail strike has been called off. Otherwise that would have caused some inevitable further delays perhaps to the traffic.
Around the course, my judgment is, as any links golf course, there were be certain pinch points with the large games for spectators to move about in comfort. But on the home stretch, from 12 down through 18, it would seem to be pretty good. Obviously with the big games, spectators aren't going to see every single shot, but that applies in almost every Open Championship. I would indicate that they have a record number of grandstand seats at this venue, 23,000 seats, which is the highest ever.
Q. Future Opens?
PETER DAWSON: We'll review this, obviously, after the Championship. We've seen absolutely nothing yet which would indicate other than that we'll be back.
Q. One of the newspapers this week said that The R&A are coming under increased pressure to introduce drug testing. Do you particularly feel under pressure?
PETER DAWSON: I don't particularly feel under pressure, let me be clear. I did read some of the reports about this. Our position is that we don't think at the moment that there is much use of performance enhancing drugs in golf. There have been quite a number of drug tests, mainly in France, and the majority of the positive tests were for social drugs, which under The R&A code are just as important as performance enhancing ones.
But that said, we do support the introduction of drug testing in golf, just as we would do in any other sport; we would be anxious to keep the sport free of it. The issue is how do you do that effectively.
And these elite players are playing golf all around the world 52 weeks a year, so it's extremely important that the game, the administration of the game as a whole, professional and elite amateur, introduces drug policies, if not totally together, then close together. The thought that one event in one weekend in 52 can effectively do this I think is not practical, not least because The R&A Code calls for every competition tested at times of the year when players may not be tested. The R&A, while not feeling particularly under pressure in drug testing at the moment, you need anti-doping policies and drug testing to ensure that's the case.
Q. Wouldn't you be the pioneers and everybody would have to follow?
PETER DAWSON: We are pioneering it this year at the World Amateur Team Championships in South Africa. There is going to be drug testing there. The country and the players are aware of it. And we are, if you like, cutting our teeth on making sure that we can administer that properly, as our first step.
Q. Do you call that a dress rehearsal, then?
PETER DAWSON: It's a rehearsal. I don't know when you're going to see drug testing in professional golf around the world, but we would support it.
Q. You mentioned some quite unprecedented level of interest in the practice rounds here this week. Does that encourage you to be more experimental or adventurous in your choice of Open venues, so The Open appeals to a non-Open Championship audience?
PETER DAWSON: Our policy is to take The Open Championship to links golf courses, which are strong enough to take the Championship both from a playing point of view and from an infrastructure point of view. And really we think at the moment we have the nine courses that fit that bill. We do, from time to time, look at other venues, but there's nothing at the moment under consideration. And I don't think that we need to change the style of the golf course, to follow the question, the moment we see this course is populated with spectators, and so are all the other courses, frankly.
Q. What is it that's so difficult about implementing an anti-doping policy, which all sports seem to be able to do so?
PETER DAWSON: There's nothing particularly difficult about it; it is administratively complex. Every sport you read about has disputes about drug tests, don't they? So there are a lot of administrative problems and also costs. But that aside, the difficulty in golf is that not all governing -- not all bodies, rather, in the game, seem to be quite ready to think it's a good idea.
Q. Taking that further, though, Peter, as the law making body for half the world, couldn't you get together these people and get talking about it, or are you already doing that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we're certainly doing that in our area of what you might call jurisdiction, which is with all the national golf unions around the world who send teams down to the World Amateur Team Championships. There's 60 or 70 countries participating there, and all of those have agreed that there will be an anti-doping policy and drug testing in application there. We are not the governing body, if you like, for discipline on the professional Tours, in Europe, Asia, Australasia, South Africa, America, Canada or South America. That is not an area we could dictate or influence, because it will be influenced by discussion and participation.
Q. Are you planning on doing that?
PETER DAWSON: The conversations about this subject have been going on for quite some time.
Q. Given the changes to the PGA TOUR schedule next year, have you sorted out how that's going to affect the scheme for qualifying, and would it possibly affect the venues or dates for the international qualifier?
PETER DAWSON: I'm not aware of why it should, are you?
Q. The Western moving. Wasn't Western part of the --
PETER DAWSON: The Western now is in the schedule purely because it's a tournament leading up to The Open. So we're looking for people who are currently on form, if you like, at the arrival of the Championship. If different events are in those weeks, then I'm sure those different events will be considered to be used instead of existing names.
Q. Going back to the weather and the precautions that you've taken on the risk of fire, I'm thinking of the spectators now, and possibly some of them might be overcome with the conditions, are you happy with the first aid facilities and the ability of the first aid people to get to wherever they may be needed in the case of an emergency?
DAVID HILL: Yes, in one word. We have a very capable team here, paramedics on bicycles. We're as confident as we reasonably can be that we can attend to any spectator that may be injured or suffers from heat stroke or anything like that. We would encourage the press in the articles they're writing to ask spectators coming to the course to make sure they have sun cream with them and to make sure they have the proper footwear and hats. So if you can help us in that way we'd much appreciate it.
Q. You've made changes to the qualifying process over the last few years. Do you still believe that a romance can work in the process?
MARTIN KIPPAX: If you're talking about living the dream, then I'm quite sure absolutely -- it's a tough game to qualify for The Open. We know how many people are involved in it. But certainly from the comments I had when I was going around regional qualifying and local final qualifying, it's still very positive. People travel a long way to come to local final qualifying, even though we still have instituted international final qualifying.
So the reality is that it's everybody's dream to enter The Open Championship and hopefully it's justified by certain amateur qualifications and people who indeed get to, particularly LFQ who feel like they are really part of The Open Championship. So I think it is real, yes, I do.
Q. No women tried to qualify, even though they had a chance for the first time. Is that going to be looked at more?
MARTIN KIPPAX: Well, you can't make people enter, can you, I suppose is the answer. The reality is we've had all this before. You know our position on it, I think. And we would welcome it. But the reality is that people either will or will not enter.
Q. Do you think that is the right way of introducing the possibility?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, I do. I think, as you know, at the time our difficulty in opening up the Championship to women golfers on a level playing field basis was that there was no absolutely accurate way of assessing equivalence of ability. And as I said at the time, we've opened the Championship up to a measure of the top women players in the world.
There are indeed women's world rankings around which we will be looking at closely, but at the moment it's performance in women's majors. And they can enter regional qualifying. And none of them have done that. So we're still a little in dark as to equivalence. And until we do see women entering regional qualifying, seeing how they perform, it would be very difficult to modify the system.
One of the difficulties with the system, of course, is the issue of dates. And we all know that the U.S. Women's Open and then the Match Play have made it pretty difficult this year for women to be available.
Q. Do you think if the hot weather continues like this that there's a danger the tournament may become a lottery?
MARTIN KIPPAX: Well, I'm not sure quite what you mean by that. I mean, the ball is going to bounce on the golf course, if that's what you're saying. But it's going to be the same for everybody. And they are true links conditions, as you all know. The situation is we've had a very hot period. The course is in good condition, and the fairways are, as we said they would be, perfectly fair. And the rough is the rough. We've had a very strong rough, which is now fading back, if you will, with the heat.
But the reality is that I'm quite sure there would be lottery; as such, it will be the person with the most skill that prevails.
PETER DAWSON: When the ball bounces this much, it's more skillful in some ways, not less skillful. When the greens are like they are, which is they will take a good shot from the fairway, then it's more skillful, not less skillful. This idea that it's a lottery is just the reverse of the truth.
Q. You mentioned earlier one reason the Championship hasn't been back for so long is the lack of the infrastructure in the land on the golf course. Was part of the reason as well to do with any infrastructure in the region or the woes in the '70s or '80s that kept it from coming back so long?
PETER DAWSON: Not really. There clearly have been huge improvements to the road networks and so on since we were last here. But that's throughout the country, frankly. So none of that was a relevant factor.
We've kept very closely in touch with Hoylake over the years with all the Amateur events that have been held here in that intervening time.
Q. Briefly, are you happy about the state of the rough here? Going back to the drugs issue, if a player withdraws from the World Amateur Team Championship, anyone on drugs knowing they were going to be tested would be slightly stupid to compete. Do you have facility or an agreement with the unions involved to go and test that player who withdraws out of competition anyway?
PETER DAWSON: Martin is is going to take the question on the rough.
MARTIN KIPPAX: Easy one first. I mean, as far as the rough is concerned, yes, absolutely. The situation is that it's an inevitable consequence of the weather we're having at this moment that this type of rough will die back. There's nothing we can do about it. And what you see is inevitably what you're going to get.
When the rough starts growing at the end of May and if you get the sort of heat that we've had now, it's inevitable that it's going to die back. But it is still a challenge. And the rough is, when I say particularly persistent, you will see what the semi-rough is like here. And more importantly, the rough after the first two cuts is something which is -- when I say penal, is something which is quite likely to make the players lose control of the ball. That's where we are, and I think we are satisfied with the state of the rough for that reason.
PETER DAWSON: On the drugs issue, this is very much a first-time anti-doping policy, voluntarily, in golf has been applied at an international level. And, no, we're not out to chase people back to their home countries on this first occasion. We're going to learn from this process. The players are going to learn from the process. Obviously we will be aware of withdrawals, but we're not going to chase them back to their home countries, no.
Q. Will you test for the full range of ones on the list?
PETER DAWSON: Full range wide.
End of FastScripts.