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November 1, 2007
SAN ROQUE, SPAIN
GORDON SIMPSON: Everyone, well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your attendance today. We have broken a little bit with tradition. We normally do this on a Sunday but it's happening on a Thursday today, so we won't take up too much of your time as the tournament is going on roundabout us.
I'll introduce the gentlemen beside me here. George O'Grady, the Chief Executive of The European Tour, and next to me Keith Waters the, Director of International Policy, and Maria Acacia, you all know, and she'll be happy to translate everything as we go. And George, I'll open the field to you to start us off today.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Thank you, Gordon. And thank you, everyone, here for the invitation to come in and see you today. It is a break from tradition because normally the Tour responds to this invitation on the Sunday. I'm well aware, I can read the papers, as well, on issues in the world of golf.
But I think I initially would say thank you, firstly for the invitation, and secondly, for your support of the Volvo Masters. It is 20 years of one sponsor at this level, and a sponsor committed to delivery of excellence; and to keep a sponsor for 20 years at this level with what they have done around the world I think speaks volumes for the strength of The European Tour and all of those people associated with the family of golf.
It has been, in fact, a tremendous year for The European Tour. We've had many successes in lots of different directions. I can't remember which year it was, whether it was last year or two years ago, I answered many questions on the Tour's drug policy and what we were doing. I think if Lawrence is here, he might remember keeping going.
Q. Didn't get an answer.
GEORGE O'GRADY: You certainly did get an answer. And I think I pronounced the word "yes" in four different languages, and most people understood it. (Laughter).
We are now inches away from a unified drug policy, and I think you can take a lot of credit for that. It's not just us doing something and just somebody else doing something but it's the European Tour, the PGA Tour strongly on side, the support from other people in the world who are not as advanced. The man driving it on our side is David Garland, and he will be in here today to answer special questions -- but this whole thing, we realise there is a very strong wind outside, and he's quite busy. But this drug policy will come in during 2008 with the world united. We hope it will start in about June, maybe July. The last bits of the document are being iced by the lawyers now, and I think it's a very strong commitment by the two leading tours, the PGA Tour and ourselves, to get this thing in place.
You probably don't need me to detail the player achievements when two of the members win the British Open, The Open and the U.S. Open, and all of the other players, as well, whether it's Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson.
But I think might just choose one player to show just what we talk about in terms of achievement on the Tour. Choose Zane Scotland, who got his start this year on the Tour with no card to play anywhere, by going to France and playing in the qualifying you're allowed to do if you don't come through the roots. He led the qualifying, the regional qualifying for The Open de France, and at the end of the week played in the final game, marked the winner's card and finished 11th. He went through a lowly nine tournaments securing his card, and finally having a good finish in the British Masters. And it shows what can be done with a young talent when they get the opportunity, and I think that is what we are about.
I think there are other issues; when we note the players who have supported this tournament, and I know those journalists who have been here for all 20 Volvo Masters. But when we have Jeev Milkha Singh coming back here to defend his title; we have Yong-eun Yang and we have Joyti Randhawa, such leading Asian players choosing to come here against Singapore, I think we are very pleased with that situation.
I think in a business sense, the Tour is a really strong, we've signed a very powerful new television contracts in Britain with Sky and BBC, we secured a long-term deal with the GOLF CHANNEL in the United States; we are in the middle of a long-term contract with Canal Plus in Spain, and we signed a tremendous deal in Scandinavia.
We are quite well aware that at this end of the year we have got scheduling issues. I might deal with that under question, and I anticipate there being one or two as relates to this tournament and Barclays Singapore Open.
With that as my overview, and thank you for your support so far.
MARIA ACACIA: Do you want me to translate that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: If you can.
(Translation in Spanish. )
Q. Can you state the facts how the scheduling conflict came about? I mean, you stand accused by one of your players of mismanagement. I'm sure you want to respond to that.
GEORGE O'GRADY: We do. For two players, it's how you see the situation, the Barclays Singapore Open was announced in May 2006 and we were given just under a day's notice of that announcement. There had been discussions that had taken place before, certainly through Augusta. We had signed contracts at that stage with the Portuguese Masters and with all of the other tournaments to change a schedule around, which meant we had to lengthen the season by a week. Those contracts were already in place at that time; the fact that the Tour schedule was announced in its traditional date in, whatever it was, at the end of the season.
In the meantime from that announcement in May, discussions took place with the Barclays executive. I became involved in it myself. I had meetings at their headquarters and meetings at The Ryder Cup to try and resolve it. We offered to schedule the Singapore Open one week earlier where the Asian Tour did not have a tournament at that stage. The discussions were directly with Barclays.
I want to make one point if I can about Ernie Els. In no way do I agree with the complaints or anything against Ernie Els. His remark to the TV cameras in my opinion was a total joke, meant that way. Ernie has been, one, a big supporter of the Tour this year, played 18 tournaments. He was enormously useful, enormously influential and together with Darren Clarke in gaining the sponsorship of Barclays Scottish Open, six-year deal going forward. He was phenomenally helpful in getting the new sponsor for the PGA Championship at Wentworth and all of the other events we work closely with with him. We agree this is an unfortunate clash. You must only do what you think is right for The European Tour at that time, and you must respond.
You have seen, there is a clean week where we will not be clashing next year. Now, who can say what will happen in the meantime, other people might put other tournaments in there, and part of what we are talking about is a world order of dates; and we can come to things, it's a two-way street and they can ask us and we can ask them. So administrators are not great about this but our contracts were in place at that time and we cannot go back on ours either.
Q. How are relations with the Asian Tour? They seem to have broken down, and can you accept any of the blame for playing in India?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I read masses from the Asian Tour in newspapers. I read people -- this tactic of perpetually going to the newspapers and conducting negotiations through the press is not one I follow myself. I don't see the point and I think we should deal with our business in a businesslike manner, which means in boardrooms. I think our record stands pretty close comparison, examination; in fact, it stands the closest possible scrutiny for the length of time we've been doing this job.
I think the thing with the Asian Tour, we've certainly had the Asian Tour to Wentworth. We've had them for a whole day's worth of meetings. We've had the rest of the staff and every time we say anything we read about what we've done in the media. I think you'll find The European Tour has hardly spoken about this issue in the media. We don't feel we have any need to. I think as regards to the Indian event in particular, it would still be my fervent hope that we reach agreement.
We have basically pushed the organiser, the promoter, Golf in DUBAI, to co-sanction with Asia. You know, they are the people who have raised the money in India. They are working very hard with the Indian Golf Union. They have offered 20 spots to the PGTI, that's the Professional Golf Tour of India, plus the three leading Indian players who play on The European Tour and the other spots there. It's a negotiation which I'm very much hopeful we'll get sorted out. And I'm delighted to see if I read the papers this week that Kyi Hla Han, the chairman, is intent, or says he's intent, on trying to get things together and sort out these dates before.
But for Barclays, Singapore as well, Barclays, negotiations for Singapore have taken place at Wentworth and at their headquarters in London.
Q. Can you clarify for us, please, the situation with the European Open in 2008, the venue, possible sponsor? And also, can you clarify a recent statement from the Tour to the effect that the Tour saw the future of professional golf in Ireland as amalgamation of the Tourist Board and the Tour coming together to protect the Irish Open as the event in Ireland.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think we're in a continuing dialogue with the Irish government, the Tourist board, who wish to strongly support the Irish Open. In fact, Tom Kane was due here tomorrow, may not be coming and now we're going to see him at Wentworth next week; he might still come.
I think the European Open is on an edge. We've still been made very well come by Dr. Michael Smurfit at The K Club, but it doesn't suit the company since they have refloated. We have a lot of interest in Britain. We have a very strong venue interest. We have a lot of potential partners and we have a sponsor ready to go, as well. It's a question of choosing what we think is the right alternative. The European Open is just a wonderful title and it's going to help us with our next stage, really. It's possibly a few minutes to early; we're looking to really shift it in 2009. But we can handle it.
We have other changes which are about to come as well which will be a really good opportunity in central Europe. But Ireland, we are still debating, in fact, I've just taken a call on the way in here now on that situation. But I can't say when we'll announce it's future but it's a work-in-progress.
Q. There has been a suggestion that the tour would be the sponsor in 2008.
GEORGE O'GRADY: As I say the Smurfit Kappa Group have severed their links with the tournament now, but Dr. Michael Smurfit, if we want to go there, he has made us welcome on the Smurfit golf course he's been a very solid host to us. But I think the long-term future is probably outside Ireland. Not definitely but probably.
Q. And the Irish Open?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It's definitely in Ireland. (Laughter)
Q. But I think it has fallen on lean times.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think it's got some good partners behind it now. One, it's got us. We have never deserted Irish Open, as you know. When it lost its sponsors, as one of Ken Schofield's, it was another one of his very good and forthright decisions to keep the Irish Open going.
Ireland has been asked to do too much in the golfing sense, and I think probably the Seve Trophy has showed that with a bridge too far. Anything coming after The Ryder Cup is a tough one. People forget that the Ireland has that and there is a limit to how much you can go there. I think it's served us very, very well. The game is in a very healthy state, and I might have mentioned Zane Scotland, and but I assume you've all read enough on Rory, who of course is such a brilliant talent that comes through.
I think Ireland does -- the wish of the Irish, or the Irish government, certainly, is a really strong Irish Open that moves around the country. Tom Kane from Adare has really got behind it. Said at the time, scheduling, I think I mentioned before, we have taken a long, hard look at the scheduling of The European Tour. It is not straightforward in this year. We've made masses of progress which we're hoping to announce re 2009; 2008, we've said this before. There is now a lot of commercial interest in the Irish Open.
Q. Can you just explain to me, going back to May 2006, the announcement of the Singapore event. Can you just rehearse that again? Was it announced with only one day -- sorry, were you only given one day's notice of its announcement, is that what you were saying?
GEORGE O'GRADY: No. The Singapore Open is run not with The European Tour, but it happens to be a sponsor who is sponsoring the Scottish Open. So out of good manners they gave us notice that they were going to change its date. It was against the European Masters in Crans. You remember the year that Michelle Wie played in Crans? That was against the Barclays Singapore Open, and then that was its traditional date.
So they changed to what would have looked like a blank week in the schedule right next door to the HSBC Champions event, and I can understand their thinking. It would take players to Asia, a lot of big names players, and the world's No. 1 player was contracted to play in the HSBC. It's a logical step to move them halfway.
But while they are doing their deliberations to move, without telling us, they don't have to; we are doing ours, too, the contract we have with the Portuguese government for the Portuguese Masters. The alternative is we walk away from a contract we signed in Portugal, and which I think anybody who went there thinks it was a very good tournament; and a lot of the players criticising were us played in Portugal; in fact, they are contracted to Portugal.
So it comes down -- I can understand Lee Westwood, his views. -- -- I naturally enough do not accept them as though mismanagement by the Tour. It's unfortunate the date clashes. We don't have to tell anybody when we sign contracts before we announce our schedule. We are principally about The European Tour. And at that time we are thinking Singapore is against the European Masters. Once we realised we had the clash, a lot of negotiations took place, and it is not easy to get it clear for next year. But it is clear as we sit here now, isn't it?
KEITH WATERS: Yes.
Q. What is it for next year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: As we see it now, we would finish here, then you'd be Singapore, and then you'd be HSBC.
KEITH WATERS: The European Tour will have a week off after the Volvo Masters in the 2008 season before the 2009 seasons starts with HSBC Champions. We suggested to Barclays and Singapore we play their event in that week which they are obviously very happy with. It keeps it back-to-back with HSBC.
Unfortunately, it does create problems for other people because there are scheduling clashes with other tournaments around the world. And so, you know, there will be issues with other tours and other tournaments unfortunately.
Q. You don't want to co-sanction the Singapore Open?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think it's not really for us to say in that sense. I mean, Barclays have said certain things to us and this is the Asian Tour's flagship tournament. They have got quite a few of our flagship players, as well in their flagship tournament, so it goes on on that basis.
I think a lot of players on the Tour have asked me what we are doing about players: Have we released players to play there, did we replace players last week to play in Morocco. And I suppose we should state what we've done on Morocco, again, a difficult scheduling issue. A big future coming possibly in Morocco, and there's a slight misunderstanding on the numbers of players or the type of player they go for.
All of the players who needed release, there were seven in the end, were released. Padraig Harrington unconditionally in view of his achievements; the other six on the condition they support Mallorca in the future. We have a long contract with the Mallorcan government. Padraig you may remember played in Mallorca last year.
Players this week playing in Singapore, it has been a very busy, business period in the development of the Tour and that will become apparent very shortly. These are top players on the Tour. I'm sure you can ask Volvo what their impressions of the week is and what they think they have brought. We have had to deal with that, as well. All of these players are going to be dealt with and spoken to individually. Doesn't mean anybody's taking any big sticks or anything. We will be talking to them about the future direction of The European Tour, how they see it, and if in any way we are guilty of this scheduling issue, which naturally enough we don't think we are, we are addressing it.
I read Padraig Harrington's press conference script yesterday, and quite frankly, I tend to agree with that. They are all players who have a history of phenomenal commitment to the tour. Spoken about Ernie Els, Lee Westwood I think has played 25 tournaments this year. Virtually all of the others have played numerous tournaments, and we have found ourselves in a difficult situation. We are not finishing the year with what we are about to go into. I think we are taking The Ryder Cup to Valhalla. I think it's only 45 minutes from the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, just to get a bit sort of philosophical; and I think he came in with "a house divided against itself cannot stand," and I have no intention of having The European Tour having be divided against itself, whatever remarks. These are temporary remarks one day in a paper.
Q. Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie slagging each other, it's been fun for us. Wonder if you had a word with either of them to say, hang on a minute, this is not how to conduct a Ryder Cup Team.
GEORGE O'GRADY: When you read the actual words that were used Nick Faldo says, and Colin Montgomerie said, these are such odd, chuck-away lines blown up into issues. I think, you know, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, one Coca-Cola or a beer and the issue is sorted in my humble opinion.
Q. Have you asked them?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Certainly not. They are far too grown up men for that. Don't need me telling them how to behave. Colin Montgomerie is one of the best supporters of the Tour and Nick Faldo so far has been an excellent Ryder Cup Captain, in my opinion.
Q. You may need Ernie and Monty to sit down with a coke or a glass of water, too.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think this shows the passion The European Tour engages. The dinner for Valderrama's 20 years the other night, I spoke about what the emotion of having The European Tour, the commitment, the confidence given by getting business principals right with companies like Volvo. These are top players. They are allowed to say something, and then, I mean, anybody who has dealt with Ernie Els, I mean, he's one of the top men in the world. You can say these things. These are grown men. This is a polite spat and nothing more to it. One is totally committed to the Volvo. He's played every -- I remember when Colin Montgomerie came to the first Volvo Masters. There was a reception for players. He was the only player to arrive in his blazer and tie, straight from the amateur ranks, and nobody else came. And then he went on to have unprecedented success around this golf course.
Ernie has done it in other places. Ernie loves Wentworth and he loves all the other ones he plays. You'd have to ask him whether he thinks Valderrama is right for his kind of game. He can play any golf course, but he still has ones he likes. That's why I say, Harrington's remarks were on the nail.
I really don't think my life is about these two getting on. These are top professionals.
Q. You announced an event in Korea; is that a policy to try and drive into other countries?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I've said before on these tournaments, we are responding to the market as much as anything else. Our partner in India is very strong. Certainly originally we were in partnership with the key bodies in India.
Korea, we are not driving into any other country. We go there because people keep on us to come to some of these areas and you'll see our schedule is full in terms of number of weeks. We are trying to rationalize it more than look for new areas.
Q. Beyond next season, where are we with the Volvo Masters? I know there are big changes planned. Does the Volvo Masters move with that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: The Volvo Masters is a key component. I think they are examining this week as we speak.
Q. But no commitment to be here for another three years?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think they wish to be here three years. I think Valderrama are making them very welcome and I think they have actually published a press statement stating that they intends to stay here for three years at the Volvo Masters, yeah. These things are always under evaluation, but I think we are okay.
Q. But they want it to be the season-ending event still.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think they are on board with us. They have known for a long time that we don't have a Order of Merit sponsor, Volvo used to have that and it was always a condition that we had to find one. The difficulty of getting an Order of Merit sponsor is they want to have the season-ending date, and so we're working that out. We have worked with the Junta de Andalucía; they have been very supportive and come into the Volvo Masters as a partner, and that's another one that is a work-in-progress and we'll formally announce that very shortly.
Q. Are you able to tell us anything about this proposed end of year tournament in Dubai that some of us are hearing things about --
GEORGE O'GRADY: No.
Q. -- which we understand will start next year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We're not in position to say anything about it at the moment at all. I mean, I've read rumours in the Spanish papers, but I think we are expecting another major press announcement by The European Tour before the end of the year.
Q. Do you see any value in the Order of Merit anymore? Do you think there will always be an Order of Merit?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think the World Rankings are certainly as a barometer of the game -- very few people complain how the World Rankings are put together now. They are always being tweaked with everybody's opinions taken into account. But I think they do, yes. I think when we see the Volvo Tour 20 years ago, the Volvo Tour was strictly European, may have had Tunisia in there at the time and we may have been just about to embark on our first visit to Dubai, which I might say we have stuck with there and Qatar through thick and thin, through war and whatever, and they have welcomed us back.
I think principal Europe didn't have televised tournaments from the south of Europe. If you think of where we've come in 20 years, as I said at the Volvo dinner, I don't know look back; I don't know where we're going to the next 20 years. But to reflect on when we first came to Valderrama, we relied on a local television station, largely committed to Spanish players winning, and you couldn't transport the game and sell it around the world unless you made quality television pictures. We now have our own television company and we sell it, but we now go around the world. With the possible exception of India, we're in the league with all local tours. My hope would be, I've said before, we will be with Asia, and it is very much the world. We've welcomed, you look at The European Tour and how it is made up of nationalities in all of these developing countries; I think there will be a way of perfecting it.
And we have worked, we said two years ago, that we work really hard at putting a good schedule into place, uniting it, pulling it together with a central theme, so that -- not everybody can play in America, you know, every week. There's loads of good players outside it. I mean, the FedEx series, I've been asked by loads of journalists my reaction to that. It's very clear. Full of admiration for the PGA Tour to conceive the idea, find a sponsor and deliver it. There's hardly a man of the world that doesn't know what FedEx is now when the No. 1 player in the world wins the whole thing anyway. I'm sure they will tweak it. But our tournaments against the FedEx series, had record crowds, really good local winners, lots of interest and helped to grow the game and give an alternative to a lot of really good players who either aren't able or don't choose to play in the United States at that time.
Yes, direct answer.
Q. In May you mentioned the possibility of changing the Tour's name.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I said we were looking at a lot of different alternatives. But before we gave the name European Tour away, we have to know losing the value of that brand. We've taken our market research, if you like, we've talked with a lot of different people, one in Europe, two in all the other parts of the world. There seem to be a great deal of value in the brand of European Tour and they want to be associated with it.
I think we've had to approach it differently. Assuming everything goes to plan, when we have a final press conference before the end of the year, you'll see what our thinking was.
GORDON SIMPSON: I'm sure you appreciate there's a tournament going on right at this minute and a very exciting first round it is. Just like to say thank you to George and Keith today, and a very specialist to our translator, par excellence, Maria Acacia. Thank you for your time today.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I would say although we have broken tradition, today, and this is not the day, we will have our traditional invite to all the working media to join us for a celebrating glass at the end of the season on Sunday lunchtime if you'd like to come, you'd be very welcome to come.
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