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May 25, 2008
VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND
SCOTT CROCKETT: All right, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much once again for your attendance today in what is always a special day for us here at The European Tour, the final day of our flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. However it's also a very special day for our sponsors this week, BMW, and on that score I'm delighted to welcome Ralf Hussman, general manager of BMW sports marketing to give us details of a special announcement for BMW. Ralf, thank you.
RALF HUSSMAN: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, George, very warm welcome to you. I'm very delighted today to announce that we have agreed with The European Tour to upgrade our existing partnership with Ryder Cup to become an Official Partner of The Ryder Cup 2010, also being the Official Partner of the European Ryder Cup Team in 2008 this year.
As you know, BMW has a long-standing relationship with the game of golf and we support this game for a lot of decades already. We started in the early 80s, actually to found an amateur series which has now grown to be one of the biggest in the world having a 100,000 people playing with us every year. Also the support for the professional game of golf started rather early with BMW, so in the 80s, we started the BMW International Open which will see the 20th edition of in just a few weeks from now.
So since then, the game of golf has progressed greatly. I think you know better than I do following the sport very closely, how BMW has progressed. We were a very small but sporty car manufacturer in the 70s and 80s and have progressed to be the leading premium car brands in the world by now and also the relation of BMW with the game of golf has progressed through these more or less three decades. We are now supporting the game around the globe. We have a presence, of course in, Europe, a very strong presence with The European Tour. We went to Asia with The European Tour with a tournament in Shanghai and we have a presence now in the United States.
So it has developed very nicely and it was just a natural step to discuss with George and The European Tour to also upgrade our support for The Ryder Cup.
When we negotiated with the George and The European Tour our partnership of the BMW PGA Championship five years ago, we were interested, of course, to become the main supporter for this great event and then George asked us whether we would like to be the Official Car of the Tour and also provide a car fleet to the Ryder Cup, and we said naturally yes, of course, we would be interested to do so, so we learned a lot. We had a great experience in 2006 at The Ryder Cup; and therefore, it was just a natural step to upgrade this partnership and extend our support for this great event. It is not only to us the pinnacle of golf, The Ryder Cup, it is also a partnership with a philosophy we share a lot because it's one of the very, very few if not the only sport where you don't have nations to compete but you have nations actually to team up, at least for the European side, and that is what we very much like with The Ryder Cup; that it's not England playing against Germany or it is France playing against Italy; but it's the whole of Europe teaming up bringing the best of the golfers of the continent and England together playing against the American team.
So that's what we call it, it's a partnership with a philosophy we share and is very much the philosophy of BMW as well. So we are very happy to have come to this conclusion, and I hope to see some more great years of the partnership with The European Tour and all of the different stages and events we are doing together.
GEORGE O'GRADY: It goes without saying that we are very happy with this agreement as well. One, the BMW partnership for the PGA Championship is extended through 2010. The upgrading on The Ryder Cup is exactly what we would want. Their service last time at The K Club, the travel in and out, I think everybody knows the complexities of the modern day Ryder Cup. Getting in and out of The K Club wasn't easy with the security we now have to have in place. We put amazingly higher workload requests on the BMW fleet at The K Club, all of which they handled unblemished to get people in and out.
This upgrade now to partners cements the brand and company whose attention to quality is just what we look for, one, in the Tour; and two, in the Ryder Cup, and in that sense it sends evidence of the announcement we had earlier on Wednesday of the powerful, committed service brands joining with the tour.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Ralf, thank you very much, and thank you for your partnership on this tournament.
In fact, how do you think this tournament is going?
RALF HUSSMAN: So far I think the feedback we got, I think we see that all of the efforts we have spent to upgrade it and bring it to the level where it is now worked greatly unfortunately we are seeing some rain today but the previous days, you could just look to the tented village and the public area, people enjoyed it a lot really to sit there, to watch the game of golf, not only on the golf course, but also in the public village now.
So far we are more than pleased in what we have achieved jointly, and I think it still continues as a learning phase and every year we experience things we will be able to make better next year. So we are very anxious to see next year's tournament and you will see a lot of new things, as well, again.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Ralf, thank you very much for your time today. You've covered everything extensively. George, before we go to questions, would you kick us off with your general view on the week.
GEORGE O'GRADY: It's the traditional time to only up on the Sunday of the tournament to answer questions on this week or the running of the Tour so far this year, very happy to do so again today. This week I think on the ground has been a case of superlatives in the staging, both by our own team and by BMW's. The golf has been varied. We've all watched the BBC coverage and the views from the various commentators and it comes at a time in the season where I suppose you call it just about halfway through, we're having so many people that cover more of the Tour and where they travel, and it's been successful so far.
The business structure of the Tour is running really well. There's lots of new first-time winners coming through and more different countries, and I think we are in rude health. And with that, I'm happy to take questions.
Q. Do you see a connection with companies like BMW and Leisurecorp -- and Mickelson talking about not ruling joining The European Tour in the future where are you at the minute on the Membership issue, and the number of events required for Membership and do you think that will have an impact if you went up in the number of tournaments you had to play regarding global players joining the Tour?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, it's an issue that was discussed at length at our last Tournament Committee meeting in Abu Dhabi and there was quite a few firm views by our Tournament Committee and we have our Chairman at the back of the room now, Thomas BjÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¶rn.
We decided we will discuss it again at our meeting at Loch Lomond, for various reasons, the meeting scheduled for the Irish Open wasn't able to take place, and the current rule is it's 11. And as and when we change, there's lots of issues both ways and we are having views; one, from a lot of different players; two, from our various sponsors and TV companies and it really is too early to say, but we know the issues. They are well ahead.
Q. Do you think for not just Mickelson but Tiger Woods, players you would hope or expect would be your members in the next five years?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We said right from the beginning, this is about rewarding people who are loyal to The European Tour, and I hope not many people feel we've got too much to apologise for the size of the Dubai deal and the other things that are going to come on board. I think we are doing everything we can to make The European Tour more and more attractive. The numbers they play, yeah, I know everybody can quote Mickelson and Woods and where they are in the standings, but you've got to be in the top 60 to play for the final 10 million, as well.
So this really will be one; I've got a very unbiased view on it. Players are split, I would say, 50/50. A lot of the players who really support The European Tour want it raised, and others who take a wider view, are happy to stick with the 11. There might be a case of just wait and see for a year to see what actually happens, and I think all sides will be consulted.
Q. You started there with the phrase "superlatives in the staging," I'm assuming you don't extend that to the greens which have been highly criticised by players throughout the week or even before the week started.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, we don't hide away from things that aren't perfect and certainly quite a few players have, on the first day, commented on the unevenness of the greens, especially in the afternoon.
I've had a couple other greenkeepers here from other clubs from around here who reckon the conditions this week were particularly difficult when it became very warm after some moisture early on in the week and the different grasses grew at different speeds. We have had other agronomists here, and I'm going for lunch with Richard Caring after this to discuss what we may or may not do to the golf course or what requires doing.
There's been a lot of work put in by the Wentworth Club so it's very disappointing for them not to deliver it, and we know how good Chris Kennedy is as a course manager; no one works harder. But if we get that reaction, we will, and we are, we already have started with Wentworth to try and find out what we can do to improve it.
Q. Is there a commitment to stay here under BMW sponsorship?
GEORGE O'GRADY: The agreement with BMW is to stay here unless we jointly agreed to go somewhere else. We have an agreement with Wentworth for the next two years, 2009 and 2010. But each one has clauses in there to mutual satisfaction and a review period after each tournament.
I think what we're facing here is something that we all put our best efforts into it for a year and really attack this problem, and certainly I don't see we need to consider moving for next year. I'd be disappointed for that when you have the commitment Wentworth put in, and the thing that they are offering to do, I would hope we would have another year to get these back to the perfection we seek.
Q. And you think the date is right, because obviously The Players Championship in America moved their date for a number of reasons.
GEORGE O'GRADY: That's a constantly moving feast. I've just learned we were three weeks before the U.S. Open, and that seems to cause problems, as well.
The date we look at all the time. The FedEx series put reasonable challenges on us; all of the World Golf Championships the same thing. So we have a date that's quite good at the moment. But this is The Players Championship. It is their own Championship, and it is owned by The European Tour; that means the players themselves and we all come together to keep this as our flagship event.
So we look at every possible alternative. This suits the television market in the British market, but we are actually talking about a world event here.
Q. I hear talk of two of the greens being treated each year, dug up, whatever. Is that your understanding; would you like it to be done a little bit more quickly or, indeed, how much say do you have over that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We have as much say as we want to have. Richard Caring is very committed to have this as the finest facility that, if you like, his investment can afford.
He has been faced with the fact that we have two tournaments a year on the West Course, and The World Match Play comes up at the end of the year; so if he goes with a big programme of work, it's very hard to keep those commitments.
Well, we are not going to let this tournament go backwards, so I think if anything, he was talking about doing two greens a year; that was to do two greens to see what the improvement was, and I think that is being analysed this week, as well. I think he's sitting on quite a lot of agronomists reports and we're about to go for lunch, so I'll know more later.
Q. Just so I've got that clear, the first two greens will be done, they will assess what needs to be done, and then if necessary, you would expect them to do the remaining --
GEORGE O'GRADY: They would assess if the work they have done on those two greens was the right work, and that is something that needs to be assessed.
I think there's views on it right here and now. The most important thing to realise is that when you've got a committed partner like Wentworth and Richard Caring, I don't think he likes hearing anybody being unhappy with his greens. I certainly don't like it at all. It carries a bit of a -- well, it's a shock, because I could see when we played a match here about a month ago, the greens had some thatch in them on the top and they needed some attention.
I think the different opinions that have come in, the different agronomists now working with Chris Kennedy, who is probably one of the best greenkeepers in the business, and many people's brains are on it now. It's not a particular expertise of mine; but I, like Richard Caring, and like BMW, we want results.
Q. You mentioned, obviously the fact that there are two tournaments here a year which does make it particularly difficult to implement the kind of programme that perhaps is required here. As far as we know, there's no sponsor in place for The World Match Play at this moment, so what is the future of that in the light of what you've just been talking about?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I understand from the promoter of that tournament, the International Management Group, they are about to make an announcement on the future of that tournament in the very near future.
I think if you go back to our announcement on Wednesday in conjunction with Leisurecorp, you see where we're playing the European Open this year at The London Club, which we think has great potential as a tournament venue. It was voted the best-prepared course on The Seniors Tour for the last three years. We think and we hope it will be favourably received by our players. We've had a number of our absolute top Members play there already, and tell us they are delighted with the golf course; a lot can happen in a few weeks in that time and they might be delighted on the day, but as we sit here now.
And so together with Leisurecorp and our new property strategy which I've explained before; we've got our name back, European Tour Courses, which had been sold in a previous administration. We have it back and we're ready to go with a new development in the property world. We have quite a strong partner in Leisurecorp, as well, and, you know, we are looking for what this whole championship is looking for; we are looking for perfection.
Q. Sorry, and the relevance, I don't mean to be cheeky but the relevance of that to The World Match Play and the staging here at Wentworth, does that suggest that it could go elsewhere?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, there's to God-given right for a tournament to be in one course forever. I mean, IMG is the promoter of that tournament, and I think you'd better ask IMG or Wentworth that question. That's not for me to answer.
Q. A lot of the players feel that there's a lacking in the current schedule in that you really don't have your own links event, and I know you touched on Turnberry earlier in the week and that it might come on board in the future, but do you see that as something you would like to correct, to have a tournament regularly on a links course like the Ailsa Course at Turnberry?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I was of the opinion that Dunhill Links was played on a links course; three of them, in actual fact, but they might have become parkland since I last looked. Outside that -- and in Scotland, too. (Laughter).
I know, most of the tournaments are -- serious answer to your question. The Dunhill Links is on links courses. And persuading sponsors to go there isn't so easy, because we have played great links courses in Holland, the Kennemer we played last year, one of the best links courses we have, didn't seem to get a line in the paper how good that golf course was, a shot-maker's course.
I think the point we would like to make is we listen to our players and a lot of them want to play the great links courses, but that doesn't mean to say we have got the money to immediately run-off to Royal St. George's or Royal Birkdale or Hoylake. The Open Championship does do that.
We have looked to some other links courses as yet unplayed on the Tour, but we have to find the money for these tournaments, and although we have some very, very strong partnerships, none stronger than the one this week with BMW, this is quite a tough economic market we are looking at. In fact, someone said it's a very tough economic market, and the reason that we have confidence so that we may be able to take these things to links courses is the building blocks for the future are in place; and by that I mean extensive TV contract the here in Britain with SKY Television and the BBC working in partnership; extensive contracts in America with the GOLF CHANNEL, and just about every station in Europe renewed and lengthened and developing contracts in other parts of the world.
That might make us very attractive for areas of the country, areas of Europe to take tournaments back to links courses, but it's not something I can just click my fingers and do just like that.
Q. In general will there be more links courses being played --
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think purchasing Turnberry sends a bit -- we don't have the money to purchase it, but we certainly have the influence.
Q. I don't know about you, but I was surprised and disappointed and ultimately irritated that the defending Open Champion chose not to play here this week. Harrington is not alone, of course, Sergia Garcia is not here; Ian Poulter is not here, amongst others. How do you feel about it?
GEORGE O'GRADY: No administrator could ever say he's pleased when players of that level aren't playing in what we term our flagship tournament.
I've had to take quite a few questions this week from people in this room and elsewhere on whether our leading players are behaving in a cavalier fashion. Not something I agree with myself but I've had to defend that word two times.
Now, Padraig Harrington specifically has had his problems at Wentworth at this time of the year. He's had a problem with putting on the greens. He hasn't done that well here. He does okay at the end of the year, which they all -- the greens because of the temperatures and the nature, they go at a different speed.
Ian Poulter played the last two years because I really asked him, persuaded him to play personally, because he said one of the reasons he turned professional is he used to come to this tournament with the previous sponsor and he loved following Nick Faldo and Severiano Ballesteros and all of the great players. But his record here was terrible and having really persuaded him to come last year, he then missed the cut.
There's one or two others I've worked on, and I didn't perhaps fully understand the nature. I think the climatic conditions on the first day were awful for almost any course around here when the wind grew and the sun came out and baked them.
Poulter is a very, very loyal Member of the Tour. I mean, I think it is certainly a British situation that you find as much discussion on who isn't playing as who is. The work Wentworth has done to put in with Ernie Els, which is largely redesign, taking the course into the new bunkering or lengthening tees or narrowing fairways was, again, an acknowledged Wentworth expert doing the redesign and I think he's better at that than I am.
But the condition, I think is really I think this year has really brought it home to Wentworth. If that has helped or caused players not to come, it's worrying. I think Harrington is a different case. We know exactly how serious he is, and he's got it into his head that's how he won The Open Championship is playing two weeks before and one of those on a links course; that's what he's going to do. But you know, it swings in roundabouts.
Q. Can you give us a progress report on drugs testing, the R&A has deferred it to next year as you know. Wonder if you can give us a progress report.
GEORGE O'GRADY: We're on song as we said for the beginning of July. So we're almost certain starting the week of the European Open or maybe it will be the Scottish. Those are the two weeks. We'll be assisted at the same time with the PGA Tour. Anybody who was here at the Tour's dinner knows the level of official guests we had at the dinner with Commissioner Finchem, David Fay, Peter Dawson speaking, and Carolyn Bivens who is the commissioner for the ladies tour, and in fact, Alex Armas was here, commissioner for the Ladies European Tour, all are on side and we all have effectively the same policy. We are charged with pulling the rest of the world into shape.
I think the R&A have a different reason, because they start the qualifying much earlier in January, the international qualifying. So they feel the same conditions should apply on the first qualifying shot of a tournament to the end.
The PGA of America have announced and I see that they are going to do it at the PGA Championship; first major to do testing using the PGA Tour's policy. And they also will have the anti-doping unit, it will be on site for The Ryder Cup; whether we use it or not will depend on things on the week, but it will be there, so if someone chose to, it could happen.
Q. The television coverage of this event finished very abruptly last night, about half past five, the final group still had not finished. What's your view on that and what can be done to make sure that doesn't happen in the future?
GEORGE O'GRADY: What can be done? I think when that happens, discussions take place with our broadcasters as to exactly why that has happened and what is the reason for to come around. It is not something we would be happy with unless there's something very specific that we haven't finished in the relevant time, there had been a weather delay or some other reason which is very difficult for a terrestrial broadcaster to change.
We have put many challenges on SKY over the years, and they have met every single one; even to coping with Monday finishes, coping with rain delays; and finishing the French Open I remember one year, 9:30 at night and with lots of crowds out there.
So we are generally well served. As it happened once, I thought the case you talk about, and once it's happened in America, too, on the GOLF CHANNEL and there were specific reasons, but we deal with it on a case-by-case basis.
Q. The presence of Tim Finchem and Ed Moorhouse in this room Wednesday after the dinner makes me being naturally of a suspicious mind --
GEORGE O'GRADY: Perish the thought.
Q. Wonder if there's anything in their presence at the Leisurecorp announcement. Do you think that they may be trying to make a presence in the Middle East, and if so, do you feel that the foothold, if not further, that you have established in their already might be slightly under threat?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think their presence at the Leisurecorp announcement; they were only told that at the end of the meeting I had with Commissioner Finchem in the morning. I said, we have to finish so that we could be here at half past 11:00. So it was, if you like, a nice surprise. Turnberry happens to be his favourite venue in Europe where he normally stays at The Open. He brings all the big partners from the PGA Tour, they come and they stay there and he takes them on a golfing break.
Their presence here was to do with the anti-doping. At the time of the Masters, Commissioner Finchem stated that the PGA Tour was now going to back the inclusion of golf in the Olympics, and so on the Thursday, all of us went to Lausanne to meet with President Rogge, the head of the Olympic Commission, to discuss the prospect of golf becoming an Olympic sport.
Q. Sorry, I can't let that one finish. And having come back from Lausanne, what's your summary and what can you tell about the meeting?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We now know all of the obstacles we have to overcome. We now know all of the ground rules we have to satisfy. We know the time scale when we have to present our case. We know the support we have to have from around the world.
The statement I use in this conference is that we, The European Tour, feel that we have to respond to all of the other golfing bodies and the rest of the world who we represent and who give us so much support: The various governments, the Portuguese government with three tournaments a year now with The Seniors Tour; the French; the Italians; the Germans. They all have government funds through their sporting bodies, sporting councils.
If they are an Olympic sport, the funding goes up not just to ourselves but to the development of the game in each country for junior academies, training things and all that sort of stuff. So we've had every amateur federation onto us for years. Emma Villacieros is the one who started pushing it, the president of the Spanish Golf Federation.
What we are seeing now in all of the different new areas we go to -- I don't think as a specific golf competition, the Tours need it. The tours have to now arrange the scheduling so this happens, but it's to enable the developing world to have the recognition, so that's why we've been convinced that we're going to support it.
Q. And it is 2016, not 2012?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It will be 2016. It can't be 2012.
Q. You said nice words about Ian Poulter's loyalty for The European Tour. Would you echo those sentiments with regard to Padraig Harrington?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Of course. Padraig very clearly when he says the last couple of years he hasn't played; and his reasoning when he won The Open, he said it's going to be difficult to come here. Harrington, I mean, we had a few player issues I think at the time of the Volvo Masters with Barclays Singapore Open, and I think you'll find Harrington was in there supporting that. He's done far more than the number tournaments than, if you like, he has to do.
On the structuring of dates for the future of The European Tour, he's been a major advisor to me. He's very intelligent. He's very thoughtful. He's worked it all out. This is a situation where he's never been comfortable at Wentworth, but now coupled with the idea that he wants to win and focus on the majors, I don't think there's any mystique in his reasoning for that. No, his loyalty is unquestioned, as well.
Q. I just wondered what prompted another comment early on about we all witness the views of the various commentators, I heard a player this morning saying that some of those views were disgusting.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I said we all listen to television and we do listen and we watch. There was a very difficult day, which there was that Friday -- the windy day, or was that yesterday? Thursday I was in Lausanne. I didn't see any of Thursday's coverage. I saw Friday's coverage. It was a windy day but there was some fairly critical remarks of players about their ability to play the game, which I think there are televisions in the players lounge and when they finish, they sometimes watch and they sometimes speak to us.
Q. Getting back to Harrington, is his situation exacerbated by the reports we hear that he's being paid appearance money to play next week in Wales?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Not from my point of view. Because Padraig has spoken directly to me. He does understand this is our flagship event. He's played in it when he's come through. The agreement researched with the leading players of the day, when a company called European Tour Enterprises took it over from the previous promoter and we had the superstars of the day, Ballesteros, Faldo, then Langer, then Woosnam, then OlazÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¡bal. If we kept this tournament consistently staged and promoted in the top-notch way, and with high prize money and we did the same for the season-ending Volvo Masters, they would play without any negotiation having to take place, and so that has largely gone to build it.
And I think getting that message across in the world we now live in when there's so much choice, in those days there weren't that many players who could play in the United States. There were so many times that Ken Schofield, one of his greatest achievements was to break down the doors and get access, firstly to the PGA Tour, secondly to the majors. When I went to the Masters for the first time in 1986, I think we only had two players in the field. Now how many do we have; and how many do we have in the U.S. Open and in the US PGA. We take reflective glory when one of our players goes to America and wins and does well, so we have that. But we are in a global age. I don't think we are in the world of forcing professional golfers to play anywhere. I want to improve what we do and do it by persuasion, and that's not always easy.
Q. Just briefly to go back to the television thing as it's been rained, you said you neither saw nor heard Thursday's television. Unfortunately I did and it was like a requiem for a manic depressive. It was simply awful and it seemed to represent a team that somebody wrote over the weekend, that this BBC commentary team needs something doing to it. I don't know if there's an opinion that you have that you can make public. I'm sure you're against, as I am, television commentators and not accurately reflecting what we are seeing, but it really was the worst television commentary by a group of guys on any sport I have ever heard in my life.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, it won't surprise you that I'm not going to agree with that statement. If I had any feelings on any part of one of our business partners with our broadcasters I'll take it up with their head of sport directly.
I haven't seen any of Thursday's coverage. There just hasn't been time but it's all on tape. I make it my business to look at it. But if I in any way had a problem, I discuss it with the head of the BBC first.
Q. Have you ever discussed a problem with the head of the BBC of roughly this kind of nature, George?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I haven't seen Thursday's coverage, so I don't know what this nature is. But on a regular basis, I have discussions with the head of all sponsoring companies and television companies. Whether it's done over a lunch or a business meeting, we go through the ins and the outs. One of the delights are going to America is you meet the presidents of the stations, the network stations, who all have fierce views on how their sports should be covered, and they witness it all. They all play golf all the time. And so that is not the fortunate situation we have back here.
Q. Could I just clarify the question about the reports of an appearance fee to Padraig Harrington to play next week in Wales; has the Tour looked into that, are those reports true in your estimation?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We haven't inquired. We haven't been complained to. He just told me he's playing in Wales. I haven't seen the reports that he's being paid. He is an Open champion, so in a way, I wouldn't be surprised because he's usually asked to do quite a lot of activities when he goes there. But no one's complained. No one's asked and it has not come to my ears and I deal directly with him and not with anybody else. So there's absolutely -- he's told me his reasons why he's not playing here and that's that. The same as when he was coming to the tour dinner and had an ear infection and couldn't fly; well, he's got an ear infection, doesn't he.
SCOTT CROCKETT: George, thank you very much, as always.
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