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November 2, 2008

George O'Grady


MICHAEL GIBBONS: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to a press conference that has become something of a tradition at the Volvo Masters. I'd like to welcome George O'Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, and we're just going to pass over straightaway to George to open us up and then we'll take some questions. George?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me in here this morning. It's traditional. Although we have announced the schedule for next year, which we did at Turnberry earlier, I'm well aware that many journalists couldn't get there, especially our Spanish friends, and the continental writers, as well. It wasn't that easy.
So it is time to reflect on the season, great season for The European Tour with Padraig Harrington's success in the majors, and Trevor Immelman who cut his teeth as a European Tour Member winning the Masters; many different highlights all of which have been well chronicled.
I've also stated that this is a season in transition. That we have 13 months of The European Tour starting next week. We have also explained that it wasn't our ideal way to have a tournament next week straightaway. We had to move it to accommodate HSBC and Barclays to assist the Asian Tour, as well, which we tried to do. But from the end of the 2009 season when The Dubai World Championship will finish The Race to Dubai, we will then have a reasonable break from the third week in November through until the calendar year in January.
And so with that, there's sadness in the air in the sense of the condition of the great Seve Ballesteros, which everybody is well aware of his operation and the serious fight he has had which we hope and sincerely, as everybody does in the world, that he comes through with great success.
Really, that's it, and I'm here to answer any questions to assist.

Q. Can you indicate what effect the current world crisis, financial crisis is having on tournament golf, and is likely to have? I gather next year is going to be even worse than the current situation.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I don't think anybody fully knows the impact. There obviously is one. We seem to be -- I'd like to feel we put some very strong building blocks in place, which in a way, help protect us from the ravages of this economic crisis. We still feel that The European Tour gives great visibility, credibility and value for money for those who invest with us, and we've got some very strong announcements coming in the next few weeks on our continental tournaments, and negotiations are well advanced on other ones.
So, yes, we can see it. But at the moment, we're looking very strong. You never know how that can change in this market. You can't get complacent. But we have got some strong television contracts, strong long-term contracts with sponsors, none of whom are threatening to pull, and we have identified the one or two areas of concern, which we're working on very hard.

Q. How much consideration did you give to rebranding The European Tour, because geographically, it's not The European Tour; it's the international tour, and I know there were some discussions. How much consideration did you give to that, and why did you not take that leap into the international arena?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We've answered this question before. Before you give away a brand like The European Tour, you look at what it stands for, and wherever you go in the world, people respect that thing that's called The European Tour. We have changed, if you like, the Order of Merit, to a commercial name; The Race to Dubai, so that does send one difference. We see Dubai as a centre of a lot of the other parts of the world we bring together.
I paid tribute to Valderrama enough times last year and I paid tribute again today on what Valderrama has done for The European Tour, and the standards that Jimmy Patiño brought in presenting golf courses.
And to call ourselves an international tour, a global tour, any other kind of tour, we examined them all, did a whole lot of market research and talked to people in the game who have serious views. And in the end we thought, you know, we'll demonstrate by, if you like, our skyline in the new logos. We are using the Harry Vardon tribute, which is what every player tries to win, as one of our strengths. There just was not enough compelling enough reasons to change our name at this stage.

Q. Any updates you can give us at this stage for tournaments over what you announced at Turnberry, and any updates on people joining the Tour in 2009?
GEORGE O'GRADY: On the one, on our schedule to be put out when it has TBA, I think there was a misunderstanding what TBA meant. It under the venue to be announced.
We did state that the Irish Open was not a done deal at that stage, work-in-progress. I think we have one other tournament in Asia that was still under negotiation.
All of the other ones were people deciding which venue to play. For example, the Italian Open had TBA. They were deciding whether to play in Milan or Turin. An announcement is coming with a new sponsor in about ten days time.
The Spanish Open, again, deciding between two golf courses. Madeira is a TBA; well, that's just which golf course in Madeira are they going to play, and same thing in Portugal.
So a lot of those TBAs were not a tournament in jeopardy. It was a fact of where you're going to play, that's all. It's a venue.
We gave a specific announcement on Ireland that it was not done, and we say we committed and we are committed to Ireland. We are talking to quite a few different people. The Irish journalists are well aware of this now, because I gave a long interview on their radio station yesterday, which is really of interest to them more than any other people. One would be very hopeful that we succeed, but they are never done until they are done.
So it's a heck of a positive schedule for next year in my view.

Q. What about players joining the Tour?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think the only ones that have signed -- well not the only ones, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas have signed.
We are still in discussion with Phil Mickelson, but I don't think Phil Mickelson will join for the coming season. We've agreed to meet in Shanghai on Wednesday, but I think two of the tournaments that we were thinking he might have played may not fit his schedule. He is now, I'll give a clue, he's a Barclays-sponsored player now, and it's the HSBC next week, which he is playing in and defending. But when you look at the 12, the great thing about Phil, his exact words were, if he's not certain he can play 12, he won't join. He would not join and play 11 and walk away or ten and walk away.
But he's watching it. It's in progress. He might change his mind by Wednesday or Thursday when he tees up in Shanghai. But I will be very surprised.
We have pulled others back that are generally European Tour players: Adam Scott; gotten confirmations from Luke Donald; Robert Allenby; Trevor Immelman is definitely doing his 12. Sergio who has been very helpful will up his numbers in Europe; not by huge amounts, but he told me at least two and he is looking at others, but then he can speak for himself on that. But he's right on side.

Q. Is Kim the only American?
GEORGE O'GRADY: To date, yes.

Q. Just to follow up on that, are you actually talking to players trying to get them to join?

Q. Merely you are presenting the schedule?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Presenting the schedule. They talk to their managers, as well. Talked to all of the American Ryder Cup Team who asked, they came and actually asked me about it.
There's a natural, people want to see the first year and see how it goes, and I'm not into really going daft on this stuff. We know what we sold. We said before, we will make it as attractive as we can. I don't think there's too much we have to apologise for. I think my job is to look after the Members of The European Tour, and yet make everybody welcome if they come.
There's other things down the line which are going to make us even more attractive in the coming months. Contrary to paper over cracks, we don't know how to fit people in. The danger of trying to come to a season of 11 months is you hurt people who can't have their weeks.
I keep reading the economic papers, and this week, for example, you can't stop every meeting for people would try to, can we have a date. I think we are in a situation here, Valderrama do not like the fact that they are losing a tournament, and they see themselves as a tournament venue. People respect what a great golf course it is and the great conditioning that it has. And if we take the amount of rain that came this week, and you imagine any other course up and down this coast that can play like Valderrama played, almost perfect fairways, after that amount of rain, you'd think tournament golf will find a way back here, sometime.

Q. The European Open, Seve Trophy, British Masters, those are all TBA.
GEORGE O'GRADY: The British Masters TBA, European Open, I think you'll find there's an announcement coming very shortly. The ISM company are concentrating on the British Masters. I'm seeing Andrew Chandler at one o'clock after this meeting to go through his things there.
Seve Trophy, we've now got, if you like, the management control of the Seve Trophy. They have asked us to take it over. We have certainly talked to our players on whether we would do it.
Just this week, Sergio García has come to me; I have read other stuff in the papers. I personally have used Seve as an unofficial ambassador of The European Tour in the last few years. It's well known he came to The Ryder Cup at The K Club, and we went there together and spent the whole first day. And Sergio has actually suggested in his view that he would like to see Spain host the Seve Trophy. He's very keen on the idea and he feels every player, as a tribute to what Seve has achieved and his impact on the game, anybody who is eligible for the team should play in it. That's his view, and his view carries a lot of weight down here.
So the idea may come to fruition. There's a lot of people who listen to what he says, and the very fact that he wants to, and respects what Seve has done, you know, I'd be mad not to listen.

Q. The two captains, are they in place?
GEORGE O'GRADY: For the Seve Trophy? Well, we haven't got a Seve Trophy in place yet. We'll worry about the captains when we have the finance done.

Q. What's your view of it? Do you feel similarly to Sergio that it should now become the event it is?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think initially, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo thought the match was good for The European Tour and good for the game. I'm certainly not going to argue with guys of that importance.
I think in the race to the final tournament, whether it is the Volvo Masters or Dubai, players will look at which tournaments they play and which time they don't. The right time, ideally, I think the Seve Trophy after The Dubai World Championship would be an ideal date. But at the moment, it's got a date. It has got a date in October, and it is in the calendar. Certainly when Sergio talked to me, that suits his schedule, funny enough. May not suit everybody else's.
The others we talked to, on our entire committee, and they unanimously said, keep the thing going. I think down the line you might change it from being continent against Britain. It would be all of The European Tour against, the rest of the world against Asia, against Japan, against our developing markets, India. Within The European Tour, you look at the numbers of Indian players and foreign players, South African players, Australian players, it could be a different kind of match.
We could certainly take it and have the thing sponsored in Thailand or China, tomorrow. So the World Trophy, which Seve also launched, which was more of a friendly but made-for-television match, that could grow.
So, yeah, we want to keep it going, but you know, we have got some -- the very fact that Sergio comes to you gives you heart going forward. And so it's made us think quite hard.

Q. It's matched against the Madrid Masters at the moment, will you do your best not to have the two together?
GEORGE O'GRADY: You couldn't play both of those in the same country at the same time. If we went ahead with Spain, we would have to work it out with Madrid, as well. You can't solve everything on one conversation, but you can move along.
And the World Match Play, the Volvo World Match Play is in there. I think we traditionally have another event against that, which that has come out, as well. So there's things that can be flipped around in different countries.

Q. Padraig Harrington made an interesting observation earlier in the week that perhaps Seve Ballesteros's image could be used to promote The Race to Dubai or used as an image for the Tour. Would you consider that or would you imagine the Seve Trophy to be the lasting monument to him?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, you can do so much. We looked exactly at that, at having just a figurine of somebody. But Seve, yes, we accept exactly what Seve has done to inspire the Tour. But Nick Faldo has done a lot as well and so has Bernhard Langer and Olazábal and all of them. It's hard to pick one.
Fine, Harry Vardon is going back to our roots, as we said. They play for the Vardon Trophy. Somebody is winning that this afternoon. And in the growth years of the Order of Merit, when we had bonus pools, a great golf course at the end of the year. It wasn't a question of trying to identify an individual current player. Seve would be an obvious contender. I think you see who our partners in Dubai used for their golf course building, Greg Norman, and his ideas; people presented these ideas, as well. Could have done anything.
In the end, it was felt that playing for the Vardon Trophy, so we'll use Vardon.

Q. Would you then, therefore, think of establishing or could you at this stage establish Seve as an iconic figure going ahead?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Oh, I think the players want that, and we are about to have a Player's Player of the Year award, and we might use the model of Seve's hands on the golf club on the trophy that goes with it. We'll certainly do our best to keep the Seve Trophy by name going. It's within reasons; what we do with Seve will be with his family and with himself, and then with him.
Pulling him back into the fold, well aware that at certain times Seve had good and bad sides, and we've got that, if you like, and we emphasize the good. We will find a way of working with Seve to what is a great monument, if you like, for him. Seve Trophy, in taking it over and saying we have to move it forward, maybe adapt it is doing our bit to preserve the memory of Seve Ballesteros.

Q. To return to the current economic climate, which I think is very much on everybody's mind, how are the Tour fixed financially in terms of reserves to ride out further turbulence?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, we've got sufficient tournaments that we are not going to rush and invest masses of the Tour's money. The Tour does not have -- the Tour carries an overdraft all the time. We have clear structures with our television policies. We have a huge reliance on The Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup makes profits. We use the television funds to go into a lot of other tournaments and split the pot up whatever.
At the moment we have what we call a tournament investment policy, but we have stopped investing in any kind of tournament unless it's got sustainable growth. If it has got something that others will work to help themselves. We are not on an ego trip now, and we've got enough big partners around the world that we will identify those who are strong and work with them. But we certainly are not writing blank cheques for anybody.

Q. Do you see there are some courses in Finland, at least one that plans, or they are hoping to host a European Tour competition in a couple of years, something like that. Do you see any prospects of that being a reality, Finland?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Finland have the money and a good venue, which they do have, which we know, and when we can find the date, we have no problem going to Finland.
I think certainly it's existed on the Challenge Tour so far, but the negotiations are not well advanced enough to come on to the main tour, but the phone lines are open.

Q. Going back to the Seve Trophy, over the last ten years or so, we've seen Tim Finchem establish The Presidents Cup to a point where everybody who is eligible turns up. Couldn't we do the same with the Seve Trophy?
GEORGE O'GRADY: You can do, but ultimately, the players will decide. It's quite true, the Tour has not got hugely into talking everybody into playing the Seve Trophy, because Seve is running the tournament. If we spend our time on everybody's thing, I think our record of running a Ryder Cup is pretty strong and that's our big match. Now, the PGA Tour do not run The Ryder Cup. PGA of America does, and there comes a limit on how much you persuade everybody to go everywhere.
Seve's company ran the Seve Trophy in their own way. When we run the Seve Trophy, we will run it in our way and then it might be different. You've seen how we run tournaments. You've seen how we run the BMW PGA Championship and the ones we do and you get right behind, but it's very hard for us to run somebody else's tournament when they are doing it themselves. That's about as polite a way as I can put it.

Q. You now run it, don't you?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Yes, well, we'll run it and I told you, first thing is: We've got to get somebody to pay for it and we've got to go somewhere.
I suppose on the credit crunch, if I told you the number of hours I personally have put into the Irish Open, you might say because my name is O'Grady, I would do; but it requires an enormous amount of talking to people. Throughout this year's Ryder Cup, we had governments of Ireland, Wales and Scotland, the venues as well, people behind it, and it takes a lot of time when you deal with governments, you have to go through certain sorts of channels.
Now, you've got to feel a driving need for the Seve Trophy, and now, the impact or input of Spain's leading player of the day, does give you a lot of heart and a great supporter and you know you can always count on Olazábal to do anything for the Seve Trophy.
So I just think it would be a lovely recognition of his talent and his goodwill that it was played in Spain in this particular year, and particularly because he has had these operations that we know are very, very severe.
And everybody telling you what you should do for him, but they can do it by pitching up to play, if they respect him.

Q. You mentioned something about a Player's Player of the Year award; are you able to tell us any more about that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I think we are going to bring it in for next year. It's sort of their idea, a Harrington/Darren Clarke idea. They want one award that the players vote for rather than the golf writers or a panel or viewers. So they just want one vote, name your Player of the Year.
I don't think you have to be Einstein to work out, the entire world would work out who the Player of the Year this year is. If you win two Majors in the same year, there wouldn't be one person who would not pick Padraig Harrington; and that's not just because I'm Irish. So if this were the year to start it, you wouldn't even have to canvas them. They would all go.
There have been years where it was a very close call. There was a year when Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington were on the sort of same lists, and you've had guys balancing the Order of Merit with the Major Championships, and so they want to have one which is theirs. We will bring that in at the beginning of this coming season; tomorrow.

Q. Are the players happy that drug testing is here and here to stay? Has it highlighted any problems?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We haven't had any problems on our Tour. Everybody has been drug tested, professionally. I wouldn't say they are happy about being pulled off the 18th and going into it. But we have big-name players that have gone. Unless anybody has tested positive last week and I have not heard about it, they have all come negative, which is what we thought. They are delighted with the fact that -- and we are going to call that one the Lawrence Donegan Award, by the way, after a couple of years on this thing.
But it is about, I guess we are cleaner. Everybody thought we were and I am sure someone will test positive one day, but it has not happened yet, and it's part of the Olympic push, as well, so there we go.
I would say I'm not surprised they are negative but it's open to wider scrutiny, and a load have been done in America. They will be done at the Bridgestone tournament. Colin Montgomerie, I think he's been chosen twice; once in America and once back here. So it's big-name players, as well as lesser names. So certainly no one has complained to me.

Q. How many tests all together? Any idea what the figure is?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I haven't, no, but I think we have done about 40. It's a drain on our finances, as well. Every time you test it's £500 and we've had a team of doctors and we've had to write off about £300,000 this year.
Now you might think we are made of money, but ultimately you have to keep finding that money somewhere.

Q. A lot of that is start-up costs, isn't it?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, and you've got to have testing of what you do and you have to have a doctor supervising it and all the rest of the stuff. It has got to be done absolutely strict. But before we get to it, that's where the investment comes in, and you need proper medical advice; you just don't go to a street corner man.
And David Garland has sat on top of it and it has taken masses time of this drug testing, and so many different issues at the same time, and part of that is having, if you like, the problems of a 51-week circuit doesn't give anybody downtime. And quite frankly, we need it, because we can see it in some of our staff. We've had too many illnesses in the European Tour staff this year. We need to slow it down and really widen it, and that costs money, as well.

Q. How many official bids for The Ryder Cup 2018 do you have right now, and how many do you expect?
GEORGE O'GRADY: What we call the bid document, or the briefing document, is now ready and it is being circulated. We've had, I won't say official yet, but we've had formal approaches from Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, Holland and Portugal. But it's not written down. There's been chat with those people who have said yes. When they get a document, they will be submitting it.

Q. Specific courses?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Some have a course and most of them, have got a country at the moment and they work back to the course after that.

Q. Definitely continental Europe in 2018?
GEORGE O'GRADY: As long as the conditions are correct and are right for the development of The Ryder Cup and The European Tour; if those conditions are not met, we won't.

Q. Would you go to Dubai?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Not in the foreseeable future.
MICHAEL GIBBONS: George, thank you very much.

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