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July 15, 2009
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, let's make a start. Welcome to the R&A's press conference on the eve of the 2009 Open Championship. On my immediate left is Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A; Michael Brown, chairman the R&A championship's committee; and on my far left, David Hill, director of championships for the R&A. I think Michael has a statement as we start.
MICHAEL BROWN: Thank you. I'd like to start by welcoming you all to the 138th Open Championship at Turnberry. I hope you all have a successful and productive week and that you find the facilities that are made available to you satisfactory.
We're delighted to be back here at Turnberry, the first time since 1994. It's a great venue, scenic and absolutely stunning, arguably the most attractive venue in the golfing world.
The course has been altered slightly since 1994. That's pretty well documented. We think we have a good and suitable Open Championship venue here. At just about 7,002 yards, with some enhanced bunkering, we think it will be a good and fair test for the players. For the most part they all seem to have liked it in practise. And we hope that will continue.
And really with those brief comments I'm just going to hand it over to the floor. We do have a custom at our rules meeting, we go around the room introducing ourselves, but I think we'll dispense with that. I would ask you when you're asking a question, please use the mic and just announce who you are and which organization you represent.
Q. The expectation is that your attendance for the week might dip. Can you speak a little bit about how that will impact on Turnberry's standing for you and future Opens. I know that commercial reasons don't really dictate where you stage the championship, but for those -- if anyone looks at the end of the week and sees that your numbers are down, how do you feel about that?
DAVID HILL: Well, contrary to what you might be thinking, the numbers look as though they will be up on Turnberry in 1994. We've had a huge number of last-minute ticket requests through the internet, and it's looking very good. We had 114,000 people here in 1994. And sitting here today, given fair weather and a good leaderboard, I think we'll be well over 120,000 at the end of the week, which is pretty good given the current economic climate.
Obviously it's not as high as other venues, and financially the R&A doesn't -- the bottom line is never as good at Turnberry as it would be at certain other venues, but we take a sort of 10- to 15-year view. As Peter and Michael have said, it's a fabulous venue, and must be kept on The Open rotor.
Q. Are any of you concerned about the sort of Montgomerie/Sandy Lyle business overshadowing the buildup to this event?
PETER DAWSON: Well, it's not really our business. All I would say is it's a great shame when professional players like that get into those sort of arguments. I very much hope it will be sorted out as soon as possible.
I understand the European Tour, George O'Grady has made a statement about it this morning, and I think all we can do is say it is a Tour matter and we support his statement.
Q. How disappointed are you that the television coverage isn't in high definition? And speaking to the players and caddies, there seems to be a slight concern that if the wind blows the rough could be very, very damaging. I wonder if you had a chance again if you'd have maybe less rough than you have.
PETER DAWSON: On the high definition point, we have had a lot of discussion with BBC about their introduction schedule for high definition. We have an absolute guarantee that it will be introduced next year. There's a huge investment being made by the BBC on the trucks and the mixing units required for high definition which are being delivered later this year. And so it will be fully high definition in 2010.
Would we have preferred it this year? Yes. But we have to understand that these things cost a lot of money and can take time. So we're looking forward to it next year, and I'm quite sure this year's coverage is going to be very adequate.
On the point about the rough, the rough is very heavy here, as it is in all the links courses I've visited recently in Scotland and England; it's been that sort of growing season. We have got fairways that are defined by the width of the bunkers on this golf course. They're not narrow. They haven't been narrowed or widened. We have cut a little bit more semi-rough and second cut of rough totaling ten metres all together between the two sides of heavy rough. So we do think that the target area from the tee is adequate.
Obviously if we do get very strong winds, which at this time are not forecast, but if we do get very strong winds, that narrows the target. Hitting the fairways is going to be a premium this week. All the players have commented on how good they think the setup is, all the players I've spoken to, anyway. And I think we're very happy with it.
Q. Returning to the cheating issue that's been raised this week, you as the R&A, the custodians of the game, hold the values of this game very dear and make a great deal of them, how confident are you that the field this week and generally the field at Opens upholds those values and do adhere to the rules and would never knowingly breach the rules?
PETER DAWSON: Without never wanting to be complacent about that, I think the game of golf can hold its head up generally very high in terms of sense of fair play, respect for fellow competitors and adherence to the rules. I see no signs of that great tradition in this game declining, and I'm delighted to say so.
Q. Peter, since your fingerprints are on the golf course now to some degree, do you envision if the weather lays down, a 63 could be possible again? And if I could follow-up with a completely unrelated question, was it good news on your front that the V-grooves thing was not upheld by the PGA Tour, and what would you guys have done if that had been delayed by a year at this tournament?
PETER DAWSON: On the first one, I never have any doubts about how good these players are, and they're entirely capable of shooting 63 anywhere in the world on any day and under any conditions. This golf course, as I say, is very demanding tee to green. I think on the greens here it is actually quite hard to, as it were, hide the pins and have them in crazy putting positions, I'm pleased to say. So I think low scoring is on actually, I really do. And we have no fear of that.
On the grooves question, this has been a long process, and I think we can be very pleased, and in fact we've been complimented more than once about the process that we've been through in terms of notice and comment and collaboration with manufacturers and others and other interested parties.
Having set the timing of this in terms of the condition of competition for Tour play and the timing for new product coming into the general marketplace, it was pretty important to us that the Tours upheld the timing of the condition of competition for January 1, '10, and we're very pleased that they have done so.
I'm sorry, I missed, perhaps the rest of the question.
Q. Did you speak with Finchem and communicate those thoughts and concerns as he was weighing the concerns?
PETER DAWSON: Tim Finchem, when his board began to have some doubts about it, consulted very widely, including ourselves and the USGA.
Q. David, that was obviously positive news about the expected rise in attendance. Can you bring us up-to-date on the situation with your corporates this year? And also, how successful was your scheme to bus club members in?
DAVID HILL: First of all, on the corporate -- like almost every sport and organisation, the corporate sales are down. And that's just a fact of life. What is interesting is that the public sales are up, which maybe reflects the fact that people are not travelling overseas for holidays and staying at home.
In response to the second question, the takeup from the golf clubs was a little disappointing. But in all the e-mails that we received, it does seem that it's almost too new a concept for golf clubs to take on board to get on a coach and get 30 people on it. And the response was that most people like to have -- to come in their own car or to come by train.
So we have had -- I can't remember the exact number, about 20 clubs or so have come aboard, but most of them have just said, hey, we're coming to The Open, but we'll make our own way there.
PETER DAWSON: I think just to add to that, it's worth noting that we did embark on a television and web-based advertising campaign in the weeks running up to The Open, and that maybe having some impact now.
Q. What would your emotions be if somebody shot 60, 61, somebody beat the major championship record of 63? Would you be embarrassed?
PETER DAWSON: I think I'd be genuinely surprised. But these fellows seem to get better and better. And if that's the competitive scene that we're working under, that's fine.
The winner at the end of this week will be the person who's done the lowest score, simple as that. We try to set up the golf course to test the players and to produce a genuine champion. The actual scoring level has actually never been quite that important.
Q. I was going to ask if what happens if Watson shoots his age, but we'll get beyond that. Peter, on the draws, just curious how much of it is blind, how much of a hand do you all have in that, and what consideration went through the Ishikawa/Tiger pairing in that the inordinate amount of cameras that seem to follow both of them, actually, and if anyone's talked to Lee Westwood about this.
PETER DAWSON: Well, first of all, I've made no secret of it over the years that the draw is not blind, certainly not entirely. We try to take a number of factors into account. As far as we can, we try to pair or group, rather, a North American player with a European player with a rest-of-the-world player. You'll find that most of the groups are like that.
We take into account the requirements or the desires, if you like, of television. We try to take into account what it means for crowd movement in terms of big groups and how they're positioned relative to each other. We try to take some account of whether players are quick or slow. All of those things are factored in as well as crowds, crowd movement off the course, when we want people to arrive and leave and avoid crushes and rushes and so forth.
As far as the Ishikawa/Woods pairing is concerned, I was obviously cognizant of the amount of media interest there is in that group. I have since spoken -- I didn't speak prior, but I have since spoken to Tiger and to Lee Westwood. They're entirely happy about the grouping. And we're happy that we have good controls in place on the media following that group. There will be a lot of interest in it, that's for sure.
Q. How long are you expecting them to take to go around?
MICHAEL BROWN: We've set a time par for the threeballs of 4 hours, 25 minutes, which we think is a reasonable objective.
Q. What do the players think of that?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, it's much the same as last year and the year before and the year before that.
Q. How closely do they ever adhere to it?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, that varies quite a lot, obviously. It's slightly weather dependent, and allowances are made for that within the system we operate under.
Q. And what sanctions will be introduced if they're too slow?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, it's just the normal regime. The pace-of-play condition is the same one that applies in the European Tour week in and week out. And there is a well-structured system of warnings, bad times, and eventually penalties. But thankfully they're fairly rarely applied.
Q. David, just a little curious about the fact you say sales are down with the corporate. Do you have a percentage figure? Some people were saying 60 percent.
DAVID HILL: No, it's not as much as that. It depends on what you compare it with, because in England corporate sales are always stronger, just because it's a much bigger area. The best comparison would probably be with Carnoustie in Scotland, and on that basis they're about 20 percent down.
Q. Will scoring have any bearing at all on the future of Opens at Turnberry?
PETER DAWSON: No, I don't think so. If you look at the history here, there has been some low scoring here in some pretty good weather conditions. We also had the great Greg Norman round in not-so-good weather.
This course, certainly as it's set up this week, I think, is a very strong test. I won't say it's the strongest, but it's certainly not the weakest test that we've set for the players. The players I've spoken to all think it's pretty tough out there.
I find it very difficult to predict scoring; you just can't do it. We don't set the course up with a score in mind. We have not pre-decided the winning score, put it that way.
Q. It won't have any bearing on coming back here?
PETER DAWSON: No.
DAVID HILL: The Duel Under the Sun was pretty good.
Q. I think this is the first time that you'll be doing drug testing here. Could you talk about the process that you've worked with with the PGA Tour and then also what you expect in regards to reporting back to you and if there is going to be any reporting?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I'll be able to tell you a lot more about it after I've undergone a drug test myself tomorrow morning, which I plan to do, because I do want to see the process firsthand.
We are using the European Tour procedure, policy and procedure, which involves a selection of players. The drug testing is going to take place during the championship, not out of competition prior to the championship. And this is another week on Tour, essentially. There is not a special policy for The Open Championship. We're just using the European Tour policy and procedure as happens on Tour most weeks of the year.
Q. At least on the U.S. Tour, I can't speak for the European Tour, there's testing for performance enhancing and recreational drugs. Will you want to know the results of both tests?
PETER DAWSON: Yes.
Q. A decision about inclusion of golf in the Olympics is due to be made in the autumn, I understand. Is it likely that the scandal which happened yesterday will impact all that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we're going to hear about golf in the Olympics and the decision on it, first of all, mid-August, when we'll know if golf is one of the recommended short lists, and then finally in October when it's voted on.
I don't think what Sandy Lyle has said this week will have any bearing on it whatsoever. The IOC are a pretty professional operation.
Q. Peter, the list of past winners here and the three other iterations of this tournament are some of the Mount Rushmore faces of the game. Why do you suppose this track has produced such a star-filled list of winners, and what do you suppose that -- since we can't get you to predict score, but what do you suppose that means to Tiger Woods this week?
PETER DAWSON: Well, the three winners we've had in the past were arguably the No. 1 player in the world each time. Whether that will be repeated this week remains to be seen. But he is the man to beat. Why some venues produce winners like that and others don't, I have no idea, because the setup of the courses and the type of player required is pretty similar in all The Open venues. I think it's happenstance myself.
Q. The fact that there's not been a positive test on the European Tour, would you take it as a sign that there needs to be more testing? Could you be a bit naÃ¯ve to think that there are no infractions out there?
PETER DAWSON: Well, all that golf can do, having embarked on anti-doping programmes at Tour level, all golf can do is keep testing. And there will come a point in time, I'm sure, that if there haven't been any positive tests, people will wonder if it's all been a waste of time and worth continuing. I would vote for continuing it at all times, because you can never be complacent about these things.
I think the number of tests being done are pretty robust, to be honest with you, especially in the United States where the number is very high. And we'll just have to take a view progressively, or the game will have to take a view, it's not our direct responsibility, but the game will have to take a view going forward as to the frequency of testing and so on. But there's a lot more evidence to get under our belts yet.
Q. Just to follow up on that point, were golf not to be successful in the IOC votes, given that the candidacy for the games is such an important driver in the drug testing regime, would you consider it a worthwhile programme to have entered into, even if you don't get into the Olympics?
PETER DAWSON: I can't deny that the Olympic bid was certainly a factor in getting drug testing underway, or at least in persuading the Tours that it should be done.
Now that we're doing it, I would absolutely be an advocate for continuing it, because I think the game will do itself most good by continuing to demonstrate that it's a clean sport, and there can be no case in my view for stopping testing.
Q. Just sort of an interest going back to the pairings, how tempted were you to put Monty out with the Woods group and all those cameras?
PETER DAWSON: As I say, there are many factors you take into account when you do a group.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts