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November 28, 2010

Richard Hills

George O'Grady

Keith Waters


MICHAEL GIBBONS: Good afternoon, everybody. Many thanks for joining us on the last day of the 2010 European Tour season.
I'll quickly introduce the top table. George O'Grady, European Tour Chief Executive, in the middle. On George's right, Keith Waters, Director of International Policy. And on my right, Richard Hills, Ryder Cup Director.
And hopefully you've all got a copy of the 2011 International Schedule in your hands now, but before we go into that, George, if you can maybe kick us off with a few words on this season. It's been quite a good year I think.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Firstly, welcome, everybody. Thank you for your support for not only this championship, The Dubai World Championship, but all of The Race to Dubai tournaments throughout the year. I think many of you have written very kind things about The European Tour this year; I think suggesting it's been the most successful in our history. It's for others to say about that, but in a year when we get three Majors, three World Golf Championships, and of course The Ryder Cup, you would imagine any of us up here are reasonably pleased.
I think the new schedule, which Keith has worked diligently with our team to put together, is in my own opinion, excellent. It's been quite complicated this year working it all through.
The notes we have on your press information pack explain the reasoning behind the calendar that we have submitted. I would point out, if anybody does need it when it says TBA in the right-hand column, that means the venue is to be announced, not the tournament. The tournaments are now confirmed. We can see some Irish journalists here have been testing me on questions during the week, and I think we are working diligently to secure that, and we are confident we'll get there, but it's not absolutely there yet; if anybody in Ireland wishes to step forward.
But the other ones are venues, and there is some enough in there written up with the rest of the picture. We thought we would come in, as it is traditional to have this press conference on the last day to reflect, and we'll take questions on any subject if necessary. We have our Ryder Cup Director here, Richard Hills, who presided over the work of the team and the whole operation; which many of the AGW members and foreign writers have been kind enough to say, the media centre was a privilege to work in on such a demanding week.
And I would pay tribute here, as well, to our team here in Dubai, led by our Championship Director, Ben Watson, and Colin Smith, the tournament overall organiser, Nick Tarrat from Dubai for staging this event, with their respective teams, makes my job very easy and very proud of the people who do so much committed work.
And with that, I say thank you for your support, you're very welcome. And Keith has done most of the work on this thing in a year when I had to have effectively three months away from the desk every day. And the team, the executives and the team on The European Tour, have done brilliantly. Thank you.
MICHAEL GIBBONS: Thank you, George. Open it up to questions if we have any.

Q. What's happened to the Portugal Open?
KEITH WATERS: As you know, Portugal has its financial challenges, like a few other European countries. We did agree some time ago to amalgamate the two tournaments to try and strengthen the end-of-season Portuguese Masters. So the investment has been diverted into the one event.

Q. On the Portugal theme, I notice there's a TBA besides the Portugal Masters. Is the Tour worried that if Portugal does not get the Ryder Cup next year could that event be in doubt?
KEITH WATERS: Not particularly. Portugal is obviously driven by their tourism. Golf tourism is extremely important to their business, and we are fairly confident that they will continue the Masters.

Q. Are you disappointed that you haven't been able to make any progress in England with more tournaments?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I think I answered this one last year, as well. Ideally we would bring The British Masters back or The English Open would move forward, but these things send to go in cycles; the same answer I gave last year.
We are very strong in Scotland. We kept The Scottish Open is very strong. The new venue will be announced very shortly. It's just it's a cycle at the moment.
The European Open is a title, if you like, on the shelf. And you have to say we are; The Open is in England this year at Royal St. George's. We would like to have an event in the north on a regular basis, but not just there at the moment.

Q. The success of European golfers this year, I wonder how easy or how much easier that made your job of selling golf or golf tournaments to various venues and various sponsors. Did it help or not make any difference?
KEITH WATERS: I think in a general sense, it certainly does. In the short term, it's very difficult to see a tangible benefit, but we are repositioning the Tour as a very strong tour.
It's very pleasing to see so many of our leading players committing to play more tournaments here next year, and that certain helps with any discussions. And it certainly helps with the TV discussions. We are in the middle of negotiations with the TV rights in Germany, and Martin Kaymer committing again next year was very important to that.

Q. Is there anyplace in Asia that you found that the PGA Tour have been in that door before you, have they been anywhere, knocking up your back?
KEITH WATERS: Not particularly. They obviously had their event in Malaysia this year but so far, we have our own structure to develop events at the end of the season. We feel we have got some real opportunities to strengthen the end-of-season, particularly in China and India over the next two or three years, and we are very confident we are going to do that.

Q. You are not worried about them in Asia, are you?
KEITH WATERS: Worried is not the right word. We have competition with the PGA Tour. We have competition with other sports. There's competition today; involving the tennis tournament in London and involving the Premiership, but they are very big supporters of golf. So there's competition wherever you look.

Q. The English Open, is St. Mellion just not ready still, or has that gone backwards?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It just has not moved. We are all aware of the recession that's going around, certainly on house sales, and I think the venue had a problem with its developer, who was not prepared to commit the sums the had. They still intend to bring it back at some stage, but I think the whole housing market is on hold.

Q. Just for this event, what's the guarantees going forward for next year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We are very solid for obviously this year and next. We have condensed the five-year agreement into a guaranteed two years, which if secure powerful sponsorship in that time, we anticipate it going further.
The chairman of Nakheel, we had long meetings with yesterday; they are very, very excited by the tournament. We have been looked at by Abu Dhabi, as well, but I think the intention is to try to keep it here in Dubai for as long as possible.
We are rock solid for two years, and everybody has the drive to keep it going after that. DP World, who are the presenting sponsor, are very excited by the tournament, and we give them some packages in other events around the world, which coincides with their market. And so I would be very confident this is here to stay.

Q. A further two years or this is --
GEORGE O'GRADY: This is one, and then there's next year, 2011, is absolutely rock solid. And then we have got to make the thing work in these two years.
There's an impetus here in Dubai which has been strengthened this week by other Dubai-based sponsors. There's a will of the government ministers that we deal with going forward longer than that.

Q. That was going to be the theme of my question, but if I could just broaden it and ask all three of you for your personal assessments on how this week has gone; has it gone as successfully as you envisaged, or is there room for improvement for what is a fledgling end-of-year tournament?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I personally am delighted with this week. There were challenges last year getting the golf course finished. The golf course has been in better condition this year, a good definition; the public support; the interest in the tournament throughout Dubai; to a man, the players, we sat on the first tee on the first day and I spoke to every one of the players, who were delighted with what's gone on. You've basically got smiling faces, all of the player facilities are superb, the work the team have done.
This looks a reasonably good facility, as well. The backup in the media, in the local media and the other ones has been fine.
You can always find little bits you can improve on any championship. We are delighted with The Ryder Cup, and even with The Ryder Cup Director here, we can find little things we can improve.
But throughout, with the support we have, I don't think anybody could not be happy with this week.
KEITH WATERS: In an overall sense, I think we do have some options to look at the end-of-season in the future. There are other territories that would like to have our end-of-season event, but we feel very comfortable here. I think the last two years have shown that. We do have all 60 players who have turned up to play here this week. The climate, the location is ideal for the players at this time of the year.
So I think the proof is in the pudding. Ideally this is the right location at the end of the season.
RICHARD HILLS: I would go with George. The public atmosphere this week has been tremendous, and the players have really enjoyed being here, so very, very strong on the outside.

Q. George, you've kicked around a bit and suffered difficulties with the U.S. Tour down the years and getting players over there and getting them to accept it. Could you tell us how you felt when you heard that they were changing their rules to accommodate a member of The European Tour?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, as you know, I talk to Commissioner Finchem on a regular basis; I have the pleasure of flying back overnight, and he's the first phone call ringing me on Monday morning.
I think we go back to the Tony Jacklin days when he took on America when it was the tour to play, and might have gone the other way.
I think the latest one, I spoke on behalf of McIlroy on his understanding of the rules. I don't think they fully grasped how few you have, but they were in my opinion very bright to immediately take THE PLAYERS Championship out of the regulation so that it doesn't matter who plays. Everybody is welcome who plays in THE PLAYERS Championship. The speed with which they can adjust decisions, you'd have to compliment them on that. I think we tend to work a bit longer.
The one thing I have been asked on whether I can learn from the PGA Tour is how they do their FedEx series playoff. And certain players have spoken to me this week, that if it happened, that a player was so far ahead that The Race to Dubai was over before you played here, would we immediately change our rules.
Well, you know, Martin was a long way ahead but there were two in the race. It's usually so clear to find it that it would come otherwise, but that's the only one.
I'm not bright enough to think of how we change the rules to make certain The Race to Dubai can be won. If anybody has got any, all ideas are gratefully received, because at the moment this is clear-cut and clean and not fabricated, so we'll take it. Is that a long answer?

Q. It's not short.
GEORGE O'GRADY: It's on purpose. (Laughter).

Q. Paul Casey was saying this week that in no circumstances should players are put in the same position as they were over the selection of The Ryder Cup Team, finding out, literally as they were on the course playing, obviously in the FedExCup. Is that a view that you share? Would you envisage in 2012 a different announcement date in terms of that?
GEORGE O'GRADY: We can always do it on a Monday, but then that tournament finished on Monday in America as well, so that would be in the next day when they played.
I think I understand Paul Casey's position. It's not a nice one to be in, and certainly, we were spoken to by the PGA Tour; because we did it during their telecast.
Well, we have been doing it at that time for quite a few Ryder Cups. It is just there was so much interest in this particular announcement because you had such great players who could not all be picked.
When we changed to have the top five from the World Rankings, I know top four this time, it was done and it went first for the players playing in America where there are more World Ranking points. There still are; it just so happened that our players scooped them.
So if Westwood was not a member and Kaymer was not a member, they came into that system. And they are playing here. So some of the players playing here have played exceptionally at different times. Justin Rose, one feels for him. But Justin didn't have a great season until he won twice, and that was about June-time.
Casey was very hard done by in a sense that he was two off the lead with nine holes to play in the HSBC Champions and was carried off the golf course when his ribs locked. He was committed to play in Hong Kong and couldn't play and obviously was going to play here, and he was probably going to make at least $50,000 if he played in those tournaments. And so, it was tough.
But, I don't know, we'd have to think, on a Tuesday to make at announcement, and really, successive captains, I think we will listen to Colin Montgomerie's view at the next meeting. If Colin thinks it's too much to decide these things on the last day, we'll do it two days later or one day later at Wentworth so we don't crash. I would not want a player put in that position again. I've spoken to Paul Casey, and we'll do whatever we can to not do that. But we'll listen to the captains first.

Q. Following on it from that, is there a timetable for the next meeting where you discuss the captaincy and the qualifying procedure?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think it will all be discussed at the next Tournament Committee meeting, which we used to call our Christmas one, but it's going to be in Abu Dhabi I think. We'll discuss it there. Whether we make any announcements at that time I'll discuss with the Tournament Committee Chairman first and we'll let people if we are not going to.
But we are not going to get in that situation of delaying announcements to speak to everybody else. We are not saying we are going to announce the captain at that time. We might do. We'll see, but that's when it will be talked about.

Q. And you have decided to increase the minimum number of events that have to be played from 12 to 13, but what is the punishment if they don't?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It's listed in there; it is at the Chief Executive's discretion. If they are suspended from Membership for a year, and that will be at my discretion.

Q. Justin Rose what was the one this year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Justin resigned early enough that he didn't take up spots. I think if he played in The Ryder Cup team and then didn't play his 12 as it was, we'd have looked at that very seriously.
But with the injuries he had earlier in the year, he resigned, he's got his game back in shape and he's rejoining The European Tour as of next week, and we are gratefully accepting it.

Q. But there is no Ryder Cup next year. What's the punishment if they all decide to do what Justin did this year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, that's a hypothetical question.
KEITH WATERS: The Ryder Cup points do start in September.

Q. Talking about The Ryder Cup, are you any nearer to resolving the date for 2014?
RICHARD HILLS: That's still a work-in-progress with the PGA of America and the PGA Tour to try and secure an earlier date for the match.

Q. Give us a hint, Richard. Is there a sign of yielding from the other side of the Atlantic?
RICHARD HILLS: I think they all saw what happened and the request is being listened to, but it is still a work-in-progress as TV schedules are agreed on that side of the pond.
GEORGE O'GRADY: It won't be later in the last week of September, anyway; in September, or earlier.

Q. It will be a week earlier than it was this year?
GEORGE O'GRADY: It will finish in September.

Q. Weather permitting. Keeping that Ryder Cup theme going, Monty was saying last week in Hong Kong that the committee needs to know next January whether or not José Maria wants the captaincy. Would you accept that, as well?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think in talking to an awful lot of players, just about every player on The European Tour, when I last talked to them about this, would love to see him as the captain of The European Team. I haven't heard one person who wouldn't.
But then, you know, it's up to him. He has not been invited yet. But I think if every player you are talking to sees him as an inspirational figure, then the people in the room on a given a day have got to vote it and have all of the information. I hope so. I hope he is fit.

Q. Is that what you are saying, you're saying that he would need to have in place at the meeting who is going to be --
GEORGE O'GRADY: You know exactly what kind of man José Maria Olazábal is: He is an honourable, incredible man. If he didn't feel he could do it completely to the best of his ability, he probably would not put a committee in that position.
We would all hope he is well enough and is able to do it, and his health is there. At the moment, he's making really good progress. He played well; we talked to him at the Andalucía Masters last, and I would hope so, but I don't know.

Q. Slightly esoteric. The Rio Olympics, do you know what is happening with the golf course; are they going to build a new golf course?
GEORGE O'GRADY: There's masses of people looking at it now. They are looking at two existing golf courses and whether they can be brought up to the required standard. There's a bit of land earmarked for it right now.

Q. A new course?
GEORGE O'GRADY: A new course, and they are looking at whether that is -- there's people involved, on a weekly basis, deciding and there are meetings, they are all coming to London to decide stuff before Christmas, not specifically that. But I would anticipate a decision on the venue early in the new year.

Q. You mentioned in your opening address that there had been interest shown from Abu Dhabi in staging this end-of-season event. How strong at this stage is that interest, and is it ever likely in your opinion to come to fruition?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think that all of the countries down here have an interest in this tournament. It doesn't mean there's any wish to stage it.
I have asked our partners, both in Qatar and Abu Dhabi for advice on how we go ahead with this tournament; so they follow it with interest, what's going on. That doesn't mean to say they are going to stage it. But they advise me on whether this is the right way forward for The European Tour and for the region.
I have said in this announcement, we go on about how lucky The European Tour is with its partners, its sponsors, its promotors, and there are certain of our sponsors in the back of this room here now, are our most committed commercial partners sitting at the back of the room.
Abu Dhabi haven't talked about staging this tournament. But they are well aware of the tournament and what it does for the whole region. We are well aware there's two superb new golf courses in Abu Dhabi. One I think I can read on your shirt (Yas Links), and the other one is Saadiyat Beach. We have people playing the courses this week, and they have come back with tremendous reviews.
But no, they are not talking about staging this. They are just watching us.

Q. How much did The Ryder Cup spilling into an extra day eat into its profits?
RICHARD HILLS: There were contingencies made for it and there will be an over run on budgets, yeah. (Laughter).
It's hard to put the final figure on it because there's an element of the run-over is subject to conclusion of an insurance frame.

Q. Six figures?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I've been trying to find that out myself (chuckling).
RICHARD HILLS: The run-over was a six-figure amount.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Thank you again for your support for the year and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

End of FastScripts

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