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July 14, 2010
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND
MALCOLM BOOTH: Ladies and gentlemen, let's make a start. Welcome to the R & A press conference. To my right is Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R & A. To his right, Michael Brown, chairman of our Championship Committee, and to his right, David Hill, director of championships for the R & A. Michael is going to make a brief statement to begin and then we'll open it up to questions. Michael?
MICHAEL BROWN: Thank you, Malcolm. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our Wednesday press conference at the Open and welcome to St. Andrews. With what's going on outside, I hardly know whether to laugh or cry at the moment, but you're all well waterproofed up, I see, so you should be able to get out there and keep the news flowing.
St. Andrews Opens are always exciting. This is the 150th anniversary of the original playing of the event, and so there's a bit of added spice this year. And I think everyone, in spite of what's going on outside with the weather, is wearing a smile going into the championship. And I think that really is about all I want to say.
We are still certainly hoping to play the Champions' Challenge this afternoon. The weather forecast said that the worst of this weather should be out of here by about 2:00, and we don't get started until 3:30, 3:40, so we are intending to play that as things stand at this time. And that should be a great occasion, and certainly the past Open champions are looking forward to taking part in that. Now I think I'll hand over to Peter, who's got some remarks prepared.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Michael, and I echo Michael's welcome. A few things to say. We are absolutely delighted with the condition of the golf course this year. I personally have never seen the Old Course in better shape, and we're getting very good reports back from the players about the course and the way it's set up.
The new 17th tee, which is perhaps the most newsworthy change to the golf course, I am getting a massive majority of players' approval of that and am very pleased with that reaction. It's certainly made a big par-4 out of it.
We did this morning put in a second cut of rough on the left about three paces wide, three yards wide, which gives a little more protection before going into the heavy stuff. Very unusually, the roughs that thickened up in the last few days, which is a very unusual occurrence around here at this time of year. It's usually thinning out. So we've put that second cut in.
As Michael says, we'll all be going ahead with the Open Champions' challenge this afternoon. We had a very successful dinner with the past champions last evening. It was a great occasion, the 150th anniversary of the championship, and we were able to play a message from Seve to the past champions on screens in my office, and were very sorry that he hasn't been able to attend. We wish him well.
We continue to invest in the championship, be it on the golf course, for example, new radio booths in the media centre this year, and in particular this year with improvements to our website with iPhone apps that have been introduced, which are getting a huge amount of use in the social networking area. So we're investing off the course as well as on in the way it's presented.
One major announcement that I have before we throw it open to questions is that I'm delighted to announce that the R & A has signed a new television and radio contract with BBC for 2012 to 2016 inclusive. It's a five-year arrangement covering the Open Championship and home Walker Cup matches, and we're delighted to be able to bring the championship on free to air television to as large as possible an audience. The current contract with the BBC runs through 2011, so this is five years following on from that, and there will be a release going out on that just after this conference.
I think that's all I have to say. David, do you want to add anything before we go to questions?
DAVID HILL: No, I think the weather is disappointing today, a lot of wet people out there, but hopefully it will improve a little bit and we'll get on with a great championship starting tomorrow, and hopefully it will be good enough to allow play this afternoon for the Open Champions challenge.
PETER DAWSON: The forecast for the championship is changeable, blustery, showery conditions, pretty good for links golf. I think we're pleased with getting the winds from a number of different directions. One thing I've noticed in the last few days is that forecasts are not always right, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Okay, floor is yours.
Q. You talked about this, cutting the rough on the 17th hole. The rough on that hole was noted by Graeme McDowell as the thickest on the course. Why is that particular area so much more dense than anywhere else on the property?
PETER DAWSON: I don't think we know the answer to that. Over time it has developed into the thickest rough on the golf course. I assure you there's absolutely nothing done to it by the greens staff to make it so, and in fact, I think we would like to see it much thinner. John Huggan at the back there would like to see it mown out all together, which as rumor has it once was.
But it is a very demanding shot with the driver off the tee. It's the most demanding driver shot. It's not one where there is a bail-out to the left. And I think when you come into the close of the championship, maybe you need two pars to win, we should judge the hole at that point, because it certainly is a stiff test.
Q. The Champions Dinner is always a colourful affair. Did John Daly take it to a new level last night with the jacket he wore?
PETER DAWSON: I think it was a close call between the R & A's red coat and John Daly's jacket. They didn't swap jackets during the evening, but I'm certainly glad we got the photographer there with his colour camera. I was sitting opposite him at dinner, so I had it all night, and my eyesight survived.
Q. Do you give yourself the option to go forward on the 17th tee based on the conditions, or is it going to be back there no matter what?
PETER DAWSON: No, we've retained the option of going forward if we get a very severe and strong wind again which would make the back tee unplayable. You can always go left from the back tee, but there's every chance we come forward if the wind is such. And in fact, in the Champions' Challenge this afternoon, we'll be giving our older past champions the option of the forward tee at 17 and possibly at the 2nd, as well.
Q. Michael, this question has come up in the past about the faithful marriage between the R & A and the BBC. I'm just wondering, is there potentially any financial sacrifice the R & A makes in these deals with the BBC quite apart from wanting to reach a bigger, wider audience?
MICHAEL BROWN: No, I don't believe there is.
PETER DAWSON: Well, I mean, if you're asking me would we get more money from a satellite broadcaster, I think the general trend in sports is that would be the case, yes. We all know the financial pressures that the BBC is under, but I'm very pleased we've been able to come to a commercially satisfactory settlement while at the same time bringing the championship to its widest audience.
Q. Mr. Dawson, do you find it regrettable that your showcase star Tiger Woods chose yesterday to practise but missed out the 1st tee, missed out the 18th and, therefore, missed out the larger number of fans, et cetera, et cetera, who obviously came here to see him play?
PETER DAWSON: I didn't know he had done that. Tiger prepares for major championships in the way he sees fit. It's not for me to interfere with it. I think he started pretty early yesterday, so maybe not too many people would have missed him on the 1st anyway. But Tiger gives a lot of spectators a lot of pleasure, and I'm certainly not going to criticize his practise schedule.
Q. Just on Tiger again, how have you regarded his demeanor so far?
PETER DAWSON: Well, when I've seen him it's been very pleasant and outward going. I spent some time with him this evening and he was in great form.
Q. At Augusta this year Billy Payne had a few words to say about Tiger's sort of general behavior recently. Are those comments and those views something you would kind of back up? Do you agree with them? What would you say about them?
PETER DAWSON: Well, you'll notice we haven't made such a statement, so I'll just leave that one there.
Q. So you would agree with him but you wouldn't make a statement?
PETER DAWSON: No, I didn't say that.
Q. I'm asking you what you think of those words.
PETER DAWSON: I think Tiger regrets many of the things of the past and as he's said, he is trying to put them right, and I believe he is doing it and I believe he's succeeding actually. Let's hope this week is the week he gets his game back.
Q. I hate to drag you back to the 17th again --
PETER DAWSON: I'd be disappointed if you didn't.
Q. But just so we're clear, why is it that you've allowed the rough on the left-hand side to get as thick as it is? Because it seems a pity that you've basically eliminated the shot that Seve hit in '84 onto the green from that area. That shot is now gone it seems to me.
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think if you had been here and gone out and had a good look at that rough two months ago in the preparations for the Championship you would have thought we were going to have quite wispy rough there this year. What's happened in the last couple of months is that the growing conditions have been such that it's surged and it's thick. So the way the hole is to be played is you've got to hit the fairway. At this level, I don't think there's a whole lot wrong with that.
Q. This is tongue in cheek and probably gives away our relative skill in this room, but a compatriot of mine, we walked out to the 17th tee and noted there was on the other side of the OB stakes. If you dribbled one there, would you be lying 3 or 2?
PETER DAWSON: You obviously haven't gone out there in the last 48 hours because you'll find that the OB stakes have been removed.
Q. You mentioned perhaps being able to move up the tee on 17. Are there any other changes that you could make depending on the weather conditions over the next couple days, things you might adjust if the winds and the rains continue at such a heavy pace?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think that tee adjustments would only actually be necessary if the wind was so strong that we'd probably have to abandon play anyway, so I really don't think so.
Q. Back to the BBC thing, given the way it was so slow to broadcast the Open in high definition, is there any understanding on the new technologies that are to come into 2016?
PETER DAWSON: The Open is going out in high-def this year for the first time, which we're very pleased about, and the new contract does have clauses in it about keeping up with best modern technology. Without being able to predict exactly what those technologies will be, we have covered the point in general terms.
Q. Is that a new development in the contract because I know it was a frustration?
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, it largely is. I have commercial confidentiality to consider here, but we're satisfied that the BBC are committed to showing the Open to best effect.
Q. Going on the BBC thing again, in the past Nick Faldo and several others have said that it was by watching the Open on terrestrial television that they were inspired to start. Is that part of your thinking, that you want tomorrow's generation to be inspired by the players of today?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I mean, when you're spending a large amount of the commercial success in the Open in developing the game, it's hardly consistent, is it, to then show the Open to a restricted audience. As other convergence comes along in media, I think there will be broader platforms where we can satisfy that condition in the future, and that's what we're waiting for, to have a look at that. But it would be inconsistent with our grow-the-game philosophy not to show the Championship certainly in the UK to the widest possible audience.
Q. So you're hoping some young child out there may watch this week and see the championship?
PETER DAWSON: Oh, certainly.
Q. Peter, Tiger has promised proper etiquette during the Championship. Is that something you particularly welcome after what's happened in previous years?
PETER DAWSON: Well, Tiger is watched by so many people, and his behavior on the golf course is obviously very important. Tiger's answers to those questions, of course, have been welcomed. He recognises some of his mistakes of the past, as I've said, and I'm very happy to see he's doing what he's doing to correct them. It's very good news for the game.
Q. Just to get clear on one thing, on 17 you've taken out-of-bounds stakes out. Does that mean when you play on the 16th tee and you hit it on 17th tee, that's now inbounds?
PETER DAWSON: That's correct.
Q. So you've now changed the boundaries of the course in the last two days?
PETER DAWSON: We have. That was much heartened by seeing a photograph in the Dunvegan of James Braid in 1905 playing that hole from the railway line which was clearly inbounds at that time. So it's not true to say it's always been out of bounds.
Q. But isn't it slightly strange that two days before the Open Championship you've changed the boundaries of the course? It's kind of embarrassing, isn't it?
PETER DAWSON: I don't feel embarrassed. I'm sure you'll think it's embarrassing but I don't. I can cope with it.
Q. We know the weather can play havoc with scorecards, but when you set up the course do you have a winning total in mind? Do you want the course to beat the players or vice versa? Do you want it to be predominantly red numbers or would you like to see an over-par score win the Open?
PETER DAWSON: No, we don't have a score in mind. Playing conditions can vary the scoring here so much that it's impossible to have a score in mind. We'd just like to set the test for these great players that brings out the best in them and may the best man win.
Q. Just on the weather again, do you have a specific measure by which it gets to a certain point you have to call off play? Is that a judgment call?
PETER DAWSON: It's very measurable by whether the balls are moving about on the greens.
Q. How much do they need --
PETER DAWSON: If they're moving almost at all you stop play.
Q. So if it's not moving at all on the green but it's absolutely howling it down, you're still playing?
PETER DAWSON: Still playing.
MICHAEL BROWN: It was not possible to play last Sunday. There was about a three-hour period last Sunday where it was clearly not possible to play golf. The number was about gusting to 49 miles an hour. That was about the number we were getting at the top end of the scale at that point. But it's what the ball is doing, not what the machine is saying that matters.
PETER DAWSON: There was no way you could put a ball on the 11th green on Sunday that didn't blow off.
Q. In regards to the BBC, A, does the new deal allow you for, as you talked about, convergence, could we see between now and '16 that you'd be able to see the Open Championship on something other than television throughout? And B, in regards to high-definition, is part of the thought process that you may use 3D or B3D as part of the programme between now and 2016?
PETER DAWSON: Well, let me try to answer the question on 3D first, and all we're going to be doing there is watching developments in that market. I personally doubt that you're going to see general coverage of events in 3D in that time scale but I might be wrong. It's not a big priority for us.
As far as the watching on other media is concerned, I'll ask Malcolm to let you know what you already can do.
MALCOLM BOOTH: I've never answered a question at a press conference before. But we will be streaming the Champions' Challenge live on Opengolf.com. We're also going to be streaming that on our iPhone app. So I think it's safe to say in the last couple of years the R & A has done much more than it has done previously to move into a multimedia world.
Q. Peter, I've seen St. Andrews listed as a candidate for nomination for World Heritage status. Is that something the R & A is keen to see and perhaps promote?
PETER DAWSON: I think World Heritage status does carry a lot with it in terms of how things can be done in the town and things developed in the town. I think it's a good things for St. Andrews so long as it does not stifle progress. I would want to be very satisfied that that was the case before being a supporter of it.
Q. Can you talk about the process by which a course that has once hosted the Open Championship but has not been in the rotation for some time, how that course could get reconsidered for hosting an Open? And specifically the course I'm thinking of is Royal St. Ports.
PETER DAWSON: David, do you want to take that?
DAVID HILL: Well, it's part of my role to look at all the other alternatives. The general restrictions are not the quality of the golf course necessarily, and there's probably six, seven, eight, nine maybe courses in the United Kingdom that could host the Open Championship as far as the quality of the golf course is concerned. But it's the infrastructure you need to accommodate 50,000 people a day, which is what we get at most of our venues. And currently certainly the course you've just referred to would fall short of that.
Q. I just wanted to follow up on a question about the wind on the 17th tee: You were asked about the holes other than 17 about how the wind would blow so hard it would stop play. Do you see a realistic chance in there where there is a wind that would allow you to move up 17 without it wiping out play?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, I do, to be honest, just about, judge on the edge. We'd have to make a judgment on the day. But the forecast isn't calling for winds of anywhere near that strength.
Q. Can I ask what your thoughts are on Sergio wearing the Spanish football strip, and will he be able to do it in the Championship proper?
PETER DAWSON: Well, it would be churlish to object, wouldn't it, given their great win? I have personally no objections to it whatsoever. Do you, Michael?
MICHAEL BROWN: No, none at all, none at all. Football is over, isn't it?
Q. I just wondered because if I wore that strip on my course I'd probably get thrown off.
PETER DAWSON: I'd hate to think what you'd all be wearing if Scotland had won the World Cup.
Q. Peter, we've had players in here talk about deliberately playing right-hand rough on 12. Is that something you would have anticipated with the right so far?
PETER DAWSON: Playing to the right- or left-hand rough on 12 is a very common way of playing that hole if you don't feel you can carry the bunkers in the fairway. It's been so for all these years here, and local caddies will actually point you there right or left depending on the day. That's just a wind condition issue. It's perfectly normal.
Q. Commercially how are you expecting this Open to perform? Presumably you have an idea of sort of corporate sales and that kind of thing. Is the economic climate still taking a toll?
PETER DAWSON: Well, corporate sales, because it's St. Andrews, are up compared with the last year or two. But they're nowhere near what they were 10, 12, 15 years ago. That actually isn't a major issue for us. It is an issue, but it's relatively minor. We're expecting a successful Open commercially here in St. Andrews. We are, of course, in the middle of a pretty bad economic period, and just how many people come and pay at the pay gates as opposed to having bought their tickets in advance remains to be seen. There's a lot of paying out there at the moment.
DAVID HILL: Advanced ticket sales are ahead of 2005 with the general public. We'll have lost a few today, no doubt.
MALCOLM BOOTH: Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts