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May 27, 2007
GORDON SIMPSON: Sorry we're a few minutes late. Someone said this morning, start of the week with INXS, and now we've got Wet, Wet, Wet. But it's very nice to see everyone here this morning. It's especially nice to see our partners with BMW, Jim O'Donnell at the back there, the Managing Director of BMW U.K.; Marco Kaussler and Peter Walker who you know very well and we've got Julian Small from Wentworth Club.
But I think you want to hear from George O'Grady, and afterwards we can invite you to refreshments and some canapes at the back of the room. So, George, take it away.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Thank you, Gordon and thank you everyone in the room for the invitation to come in this morning and for your time listening. I think this is traditional that we have this discussion at this tournament, at the BMW PGA Championship and again at our season-ending Masters at Valderrama. I think I have been asked to give overall views from the year.
We think it's going extremely well. Beginning of the year was tremendously successful in the Gulf States. We then have been various places in Asia by invitation. We're now back for the key part of, certainly the British season with the Irish Open last week, and running through now a very strong run of tournaments up to The Open Championship.
I think many of the issues have been aired in the papers in the last few weeks and on various interviews, and I don't really need to say much more now and happy to take any questions.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, George.
Q. We've been told that there's a possibility that next year's schedule will not start quite as soon as maybe it has in the past; that you're not too happy with an October finish followed by a November start. Can you comment?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I'm not happy or you're not happy?
Q. You're not happy.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think we look to the fact it is a long year and we perhaps need tighter definition. Next year will start exactly the same for 2008 while we are doing some very heavy examination for the 2009 season.
I think we've had a -- when people ask me about our international policy and our co-sanctioned ones, it is actually quite difficult. I think we tend to respond to the golfing wishes of the rest of the world, and it's very hard to disappoint people when we are really key to those tournaments and those countries keeping a foothold on the world stage.
Q. At the annual dinner on Tuesday night, Michael Smurfit said your No. 1 issue, a serious issue about players, the amount that they play in America, as opposed to the amount they play in Europe. How do you view that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I certainly heard that remark, which was, in fact, addressed directly to my name, coupled with, could we look after that tournament. I think we look after everybody's tournament to the best of our ability. We put the really strong tournaments in the best weeks and expect the tournaments to respond and find the way, either by golf course persuasion, encouragement, facilities, the strength in the field.
This week I've been very pleased with the quality of the field for this BMW PGA Championship. The players who haven't played, I've certainly spoken to and probably every leading member and virtually every member of the Tour has been spoken to at some time; the top players by myself or Richard Hills and working down to the rest. I think we are in the people business; I've said that before and there will be an encouragement.
The most encouraging thing is the support of some of our leading players and their desire to find the right structure to have them decide there's a very strong career with The European Tour outside of America. It's not going to happen in five minutes.
Q. Could you give us a few of the people who have responded so positively; presumably there won't be any harm to mention as they have responded positively.
GEORGE O'GRADY: We've worked for a couple of years while established himself in the Top-50 with Justin Rose; and for Justin to come back here with the back problems he's had since and around the Masters, he basically said the essential tournament, he would do his level best to come if he was consolidated in the Top-50 and consolidated within the PGA Tour rankings.
Ian Poulter was another; long conversation at the Accenture tournament. And I think he sounded a bit the same as Padraig Harrington a few years ago. He (Poulter) loves the tournament; loves what we're trying to do with it; came here as a small boy; and it's one of the things that inspired him to become a professional golfer; but his record here in the last few years is very poor by his standards, and he felt he had to find a change. He said at the Accenture that if he had a couple of good finishes, was well up there, he would come back. As much as anything, with his family and supporter base back here wanted him. You know, I sent him a text on Saturday morning thanking him for coming back and commiserating the fact it had not quite worked out.
But same with Justin. Justin has said he's overwhelmed by the support he had, which was one of the arguments we used for him to come back, because walking down the fairways he feels a great warmth from the spectators, and it's very hard for our top British players to not experience the warmth and support of the British public.
Q. When the FedEx series was first announced, there was a lot of worry how it might skew the balance. After talking to players, do you feel a little bit more assured about things for the end of the season?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I think it's no real difference to what I said last year. It's already been spoken to; they are making their minds up on it, as well. It's a very powerful force from the PGA Tour. But there's also some very powerful players not joining the PGA Tour who are going to support those tournaments.
It's fairly obvious I think how we've changed some of the tournaments around. The BMW International Open is going to the week after the U.S. Open. We put on a slightly lesser prize money event, the Aa St Omer Open. Crans, we'll be having some changes with a big new sponsor of four years with Omega continuing a new sponsorship arrangement. What I said before, sponsors look at us on a global scale, and then the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles will be the last qualifying event for The Ryder Cup through until the matches are played there at Gleneagles in 2014. So they all have a unique proposition.
You know, we had this remark at The Ryder Cup conference; The Tour Championship finishes the second week in September. We have our Mercedes Championship against that, and that will be a very strong tournament with some very strong people promoting it, as well, with the Langer brothers. So it will balance out.
Q. Padraig Harrington suggested last week that The European Tour should join forces with other tours around the world and take on the PGA Tour. How feasible is that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, if you look at what we're doing, we work with other tours, and despite a minor argument in Asia, strong now, we've kind of done that.
I think there's been -- this is a tough proposition. The movement of THE PLAYERS Championship to May, I said last year and as I read in the transcript before coming here, did us no favours; and it made it quite tough and we have to react with strong tournaments of the day moving to other parts of the year. I think the phrase that rolls off the tongue is that we respond to the golfing wishes of the rest of the world; Australian Tour, South Africa, Asian Tour and Japan coming together, as long as we identify the absolute key tournaments, I think we are down the line on that discussion with it, absolutely down the line.
Q. You keep referring to "strong tournaments" and "key tournaments." Can you tell me exactly what you mean by "strong" and "key?" Is it because the prize fund is of a handsome nature, or is it because of the prestige the tournament has built up over the years? For example, the Irish Open last week has been running since 1975, and they probably had the poorest entry of all last week with only two players in the world Top-50. So, you know, is there any way the Tour can fix that situation?
GEORGE O'GRADY: The way I define strong tournaments: Ones with history, ones with commitment, ones with quality golf courses in good condition, make the players feel very welcome and high prize money.
For many years the Irish Open had that. The Irish Open ran into trouble with uncommitted support, and the underwriter was The European Tour; that by my predecessor Ken Schofield, which I personally thought was a very far-sighted desire to keep a great championship alive. We've now got a very committed partner in an interesting part of Ireland, an excellent golf course, parkland golf course.
What everybody tells us about the links courses; we're well aware of the difference between the two. That course was in excellent condition, but perhaps with the weather conditions a bit too tough. That's been admitted. No one is trying to get it wrong. In fact, it was U.S. Open conditions; with hot sun and no wind, the course is perfect, but with driving wind and rain, fairly tough.
We would like to see the Irish Open restored to its prominence, and I think with the partners we're working with, we are looking at the tournament now, that will happen. On the present schedule, it's the same date next year, so may have the same problems. There were more world-ranked players playing in Ireland than there was the existing week in America because it was just tough on the schedule to get there.
But in 2009 THE PLAYERS Championship goes a week earlier, and there will be one break between THE PLAYERS and us. So there's no automatic right to be shoved into a good date. The Irish Open was the week after The Open, and wanted to move, and it has moved. Deutsche Bank fill that week at the moment and their record of continuing doing tournaments is long-standing. We are committed to the Irish Open and we have a financial stake.
Q. Did I hear you say that you've got players who have committed to our tournaments during the FedEx, top players?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Those haven't taken the American card, certainly Thomas Björn, Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley are playing back here, but they are not members of the PGA Tour; Lee Westwood.
Q. And would you hope that any of the others might exercise that degree of loyalty?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I can't expect them to do that if they are really pushing to get -- if they are dual members on the PGA Tour, this is a business they are playing in. The lure of the $10 million bonus whichever way it's coming. But it's not the full field in the first one, the cut to the number playing the following week, and, there's only 30 in the Tour championship. We do have a tournament as good as the Mercedes looking for top players and I think you might find there's an enjoyment factor there, as well.
The idea of amalgamating with other tours to put on a really attractive schedule by whatever name we call it is one that we are in the final stages of refining that now.
Q. What are you going to call it, George? Is it going to be "The World Tour?"
GEORGE O'GRADY: When I'm ready to announce the name, we'll announce it.
Q. But there will be a change?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Certainly it won't be a world tour. That's far too grand for me to come up with. We're The European Tour and we are working with all our partners in this country to make a -- I would say a hugely strong alternative to the PGA Tour.
Q. But do you think there will be a name change?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We will be administering it, and there might be a name change, yes.
Q. Do you still feel, George, that you can work in cooperation with the PGA Tour, or has their desire to do their own thing in recent years put you into more confrontation with them?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, what I've always said very clearly about the PGA Tour; that one of Ken Schofield's greatest successes is he got access to the PGA Tour for our leading players. Together with Severiano Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo to start with followed by the other great champions; basically then it was almost a closed shop to get in. By closed shop; meaning if you did get in, you couldn't be released to play anywhere other than your own country.
In Seve's case when he broke in, he had two releases a year to play the two events then in Spain. Bernhard Langer had releases for the three in Germany. Ken fought to have the whole Tour recognised, and Jacklin and Oosterhuis and Townsend before; and now I think the PGA Tour have 78 foreign members, exempt members on the main tour. And the Nationwide Tour is virtually -- I won't be too glib. There's an awful lot of Australians in there and a lot of Australians have come through The European Tour and gone off there, as well.
We're not in conflict with the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour opened their doors to the best golfers in the world, made them welcome. I think someone said 'actively recruited' them, as well, and certainly you need rules; that if you blink, there's new ones there making some of our players there exempt, and you want to have some of the American players look at it themselves.
The PGA Tour had to deal with the problems of the sport in their country: Football, baseball, NASCAR, that sort of stuff, I think we are not just The 'European' Tour. They make every international golfer welcome, and I suppose you've got to credit them for that.
Q. If you're considering a name change, presumably that's because there are going to be big changes in the way the Tour looks? So what is going to be changed?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I've said before, we would look at the whole world, but we're not given to immediate and fast changes just for the sake of it. The fact we're still with The European Tour name -- and everybody asks this question, is that the brand in new countries that are going to be announced shortly who they want to partner with is The European Tour. You have to ask them why they want to be us. We are not cracking the whip. In fact, we've got too much.
But you know, you look at all of these areas, why they want to be with The European Tour, what do we stand for: Is it integrity; is it our marketing skills; is it our the golfers, is it our TV policies; is it the media recognition of the sport in the home of golf and how it's reported. There are many different things that do it.
But we say to different countries, now, listen, you can partner with somebody else if you want, but the governments say no, no, we want The European Tour event.
We will be very careful before we lose that brand.
Q. Connected to that, presumably the fact that the World Golf Championships are not proving global are having a big impact on that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We certainly have had meetings in the United States at the Accenture and the World Golf Foundation that took place at Sawgrass on the Monday after the tournament. Yeah, we did debate with a lot of other interested bodies in the United States global policies for the game, and, well, it's very good in those meetings to have the R&A sitting alongside you. They actually know where we are, as well.
Q. You mentioned an announcement on this shortly, this amalgamation of tours shortly; can you be more specific?
GEORGE O'GRADY: No. When we're ready with an answer.
Q. This year or next year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: When we're ready with an answer.
Q. Last week you had the resignation of the tournament committee chairman (Jamie Spence). I gather there are discussions going on about whether you need a straightforward replacement or whether the structure of how things are organised are going to change.
GEORGE O'GRADY: We did. We announced it to the players at the Irish Open, and debated it here. It was a tournament committee meeting there, Jamie Spence did resign. It's a great shame for the Tour because he had been a really good chairman. He's put his back into it, and probably to the detriment to his own game. The reason we didn't rush to announce a new chairman or ask anybody else to do it, there's a couple of obvious contenders if you do it that way.
Why we said we'd take some time to work it out, is it right to have an active member chairing the committee. We've got to get it across to the players that the executives are there to deal with issues on a day-to-day basis, not to perpetually lean on one guy. And we've decided we won't rush into it, so we'll continue to think; they will all have access to us. It was a positive meeting this week on Wednesday, and we're going to meet again at Loch Lomond. We already examined our player liaison policies, and whether it's a past player. Jamie is taking time to decide whether he continues to play or hang his boots for the year which is a possibility which is a shame, because BMW also sponsor the Italian Ladies Open, which just finished; his close friend and Arsenal supporter Trish Johnson won it and is, in fact, flying in as we speak to join us here for the day. So I don't think that one needs to be hurried.
Q. One of the players last week that you talked about actively recruiting, one of the players went to far as to describe it as "stealing" European players, and also mentioned any time any of them go to a U.S. tournament, the promoters of other tournaments are there trying to get them to play in their events as well. Do you have any reaction to that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I said on a BBC interview earlier this week, when everybody sometimes talks in the media about certain players not being there, it's slightly a British phenomenon that we go on about losing (players). The rest of the world knows how good all European Tour players are in terms of the charismatic appeal. We are not a bunch of faceless nobodies. When they play, these American tournaments want foreign players. They want European players, South African players, Australian. And now, looking at this, I think Thursday as I was giving that BBC interview, there was a Korean virtually top of the board, an Indian; every nation under the sun including English. I'll look at the leaderboard now and cheat a bit, but England has come to the top at the moment with the rain, but it is a very, very international appeal.
I think when they wake up to how good of a player Jeev Milkha Singh and to win the season-ending Volvo Masters - to be politically correct - and tournaments back-to-back in Japan, is quite enormously talented. These Indian players are really good. Jeev Singh referenced we are now the No. 2 sport in India. And I think he might be a bit biased but -- after cricket. I think that's an enormous thing for the future.
Q. I saw in the Tour Newsletter that the attention is to have a drug testing program in place from next year. Is that across the board; are the Americans going to be part of that as well, and what is the timetable now?
GEORGE O'GRADY: This was quite a long question I think in one of these sessions at Valderrama, was it last year or the year before? (Laughter)
I think I said then, we will have a really well-worked-out drug policy; you go into all of this drug testing, it's a long-term business. I personally don't think we've got a drug problem in professional golf. I haven't met anybody yet who thinks we have. But we work with governments in so many different countries. They are insisting on a wider list. We can adapt it for professional golf. We've had lot of specialist doctors who seem to agree with the R&A largely on our side who have done it.
It's very interesting to see that the LPGA Tour are trying to formulate their drug policy. And when talking to their commissioner last week, they had had one tournament in France and were so concerned about this very thing. I wanted to unite or see the world of golf united on this drug policy. We will be having our drug policy and it will be coming out next January.
Q. And is the world united?
GEORGE O'GRADY: You'll have to ask them. I think you'll find all of the other tours -- the PGA Tour are moving; whether they will be able to get it ready in time, I don't know. The Open is a kind of deadline for us to have them with us or without. All of the other tours are worried about how they actually do it; do they have the technical capability to do it. But they basically have cast their lot in and are asking us to sort it out and they will follow along; whether it's Japan, Asia, South Africa, Australia, want us to take the lead.
Q. Tim Finchem is on record as saying he doesn't see the need.
GEORGE O'GRADY: He might have changed a bit, but I'd prefer you asked him that.
Q. The LPGA have come out and announced very stiff penalties for violations of a drug policy. Are you on the same page, if you like?
GEORGE O'GRADY: As I clearly said in that Valderrama interview, we will not be going into this thing in a half-baked manner. There's got to be penalties when they come. Governments who find athletes guilty of drug offense -- and this can be on all kind of drugs, whether it be performance-enhancing or recreational drugs; some can be done without people realising it, can go straight into heavy penalties. We will be into warnings, understandings; we have a legal framework set up. There will be no professional golfer -- it's basically once you're talking bans, we look at the other sports, and it's pretty obvious if you're in cycling what are the drugs that enhance your performance.
We have a list. At all of the player meetings this year, we've been briefing each player about it. We've got a recommended sheet that's been passed around any player who is interested. Golf has to come in line with every other sport. We feel we're clean. We've got to be seen to be clean. Otherwise we might as well wait on one the convenience of golf, and two, we wait for the government support we have in these other countries.
Q. Inevitably, drug testing can lead to a lot of hassle obviously for the Tour; it can lead to potential problems for players should they fall foul of it, which in some respects might deter players from coming, when they have the choice of playing in Europe or playing in America, if America don't have drug testing. I'm not saying that those players might be drug cheats, but you know what I mean, there is the hassle factor.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Just because something is difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't go ahead and do it. I think we'll try and do what we think is right for the sport if we are going to maintain the very, very healthy image of professional golf at the moment. I think the PGA Tour are very committed to that image, as well.
I think we have decided what we think is right here, and I would hope we all announce the same thing at The Open Championship.
Q. You mentioned The Open. I know a lot of players find it hard to understand why the (Open) qualifying tournament is in a different country (England) to where they are the day before. The French Open had a problem last two or three years, the delay in the French Open and some people didn't get to the qualifying.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I think they looked -- there was a year it was more problems up in Scotland doing it, so a different country, as well. If you look at which day you choose, there's no easy date. The R&A have been quite helpful as they tell us which day and we'll move it there and we'll have qualifying in France, we'll have qualifying in Madrid, we'll have qualifying Ireland just before the European Open.
In the end, it was decided that London is on the way. So if you haven't played the French Open, you might be having your week off, you might come straight in, it's close to airports. Sunningdale's got two excellent golf courses usually in very good condition. They have all got places around here they stay. You can do the tournament from Heathrow hotels. They looked at the thing. We looked at flying private planes in on Sunday night. You know, nothing is completely perfect. But we have gone to the effort to try and find the best way, but, you know, hasn't bothered anybody yet.
Q. But Sunningdale is five miles from here.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Sunningdale is five miles from here but we're not running it (The Open). This is the R&A's thing. This is the headquarters of The European Tour --
Q. It could be tomorrow (The Open Qualifier).
GEORGE O'GRADY: Tomorrow. You're quite bright. (Laughter) I think there must be some good reason. I will have to ask David Garland what it is. There might be a date factor, I don't know the answer to that, and it's one I'll consider. And he'll be on the case -- if he's listening now, he already will be.
GORDON SIMPSON: Well, thank you, George. Thank you everyone and as I said at the start, on behalf of our partners BMW and The European Tour.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I'm delighted to say you're guests of BMW for the refreshments, so for once we're all their guests, and that Jim O'Donnell in particular who is the chairman - sorry,President - of the organising committee, they are the most superb partner to have on site. We're very lucky. Thank you.
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