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January 25, 2011
KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN
ANNA KOVĂÂTS: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, everyone. Mahaba, as you say here. Fantastic to see you here for the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions. I'm Anna KovĂÂĄts, communications manager at Volvo Events Management Golf, and I'd like to just start straightaway and introduce you to the people we have here at the top table.
So first, Susan Stevenson, general manager of this fantastic venue, The Royal Golf Club. And then a man who I don't think needs that much of an introduction really, Colin Montgomerie, OBE and Europe's most successful golfer of his generation, and also the designer of this course that will challenge our players this week. Per Ericsson, President of Volvo Event Management Golf, whose vision really has come to reality here and now. And Guy Kinnings, Managing Director, Golf, Europe Middle East, Africa. He is really the man who shared Per's vision and help this come true, as well.
So I would like to hand it over to Per for the word, please.
PER ERICSSON: Thank you, Anna, welcome. I'm very happy to be back here in Bahrain. Seems not long ago I was here actually. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a press conference. Volvo as you know is the longest running sponsor on the golf circuit. This is our 122nd professional golf tournament we run. We really experience that it's very important for us to have this kind of environment with the media. It's important for us and we'll try to be there for you.
This is a new event. It's a new event for The European Tour. It's a new event for Bahrain. It's a new event for Royal Golf Club, and it's a new event for Volvo. In fact, this is an entirely new event, the first entirely new event on The European Tour event since 2009 in Korea, and in these special times, it's kind of a statement I would say.
As you know, Volvo, we do what I would call "special" golf events. I think we run the Volvo World Match Play in Spain, and we also run the Volvo China Open in China. And this is now the Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain. And for us, it's all about three things. It's about quality and it's about quality and it's about quality.
Just to give you some numbers and facts that actually ensures that for this tournament. And I will have to read this because I don't know all those facts by heart. It's actually 28 of last year's European Tour winners here at the site. We have five major winners here, and in total, they have won eight Majors. We have seven ex-Volvo China Open winners and we have eight ex-Volvo Masters winners. And we have actually -- this is important, Monty -- we have 18 players who have won 18 Volvo-sponsored titles between them, and you have won nine.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Thank you. Thank you. Can I go now? (Laughing).
PER ERICSSON: Out of those players here this week, they have earned 329 European Tour titles. That's quite massive. And they also have, which is not as important, but they have 27 PGA Tour wins, something that's important. And we have 24 countries involved here in Bahrain. That's figures. You will have the figures afterwards but that's the quality of this event.
But this year's event is just the beginning. It's a high-profile start, but as of 2012, Volvo Golf Champions will be the season-starting event. The Race to Dubai and The European Tour will start here in Bahrain and we will just let winners from last year participate. So it's another type of event next year.
Finally, if I may say some other facts about Volvo. We have had actually for 25 years, we have run a prospect/client golf. It has had different names. It's now branded as Volvo World Golf Challenge. And this year, we have 52 players who have qualified for the World Final here in Bahrain and there were approximately 55,000 starting this tournament.
Another unique aspect of this is actually at this tournament, the Volvo Golf Champions, our customers and clients and prospects have the opportunity to play together with the pros on Saturday, which is of course a thrilling experience for the customers and prospects.
However, I think this is also a thrilling thing for golf as a whole. I can't actually imagine any other elite world-class sport where you actually can compete through the handicap system together or against amateurs in this way.
And I think this is a huge thing for golf as a whole. So I'm looking really forward for this week and especially I'm looking forward for the Saturday, and the special Saturday with the Amateurs, and I thank you for coming. That's the end of my speech. (Laughter).
ANNA KOVĂÂTS: Thank you, Per. And then we would like to hand the word over to Susan, please.
SUSAN STEVENSON: Welcome. Nice to see all of you here today. Thank you for coming. On behalf of our chairman, Shaikh Rashid Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, our board members and all of the employees at Bahrain International Golf Course Company, I want to say that we are so delighted to have all of these world-class players here at The Royal Golf Club in Bahrain for the maiden Volvo Golf Champions 2011 Tournament.
Our board and management team and everyone in Bahrain, and there are many, that I could not begin to list, that are very passionate about golf, and golf in Bahrain, and this is such an accomplishment and a goal that we have been aiming to achieve for many years.
I can also say that our team has been working tirelessly since last July when we found out that we were going to be the host venue for such a prestigious event, and from our director of agronomy, Mark Hooker; our director of golf, Phil Jones, they have truly wanted to make every Bahraini proud of this facility this week, and they have done that.
I'm sure I speak on behalf of all of our members, as well, when I say that we are all extremely proud, and over 100 of our members have volunteered for this event. That is over 50 per cent of our membership base who are very supportive of this event.
As you know, Volvo is a hugely respected premium brand and Bahrain is a world-class destination and it makes us fitting partners for this world stage.
I would like to thank everyone from Volvo, IMG, the Bahrain Economic Development Board, and of course, all of the players who are here this week to make this possible.
So we look forward to seeing everyone here, and that includes the players, the officials, our members, our sponsors, the public, to enjoy our world-class facility and I'm very proud to say it is a world-class facility. We have a state-of-the-art clubhouse. We have five-star food and beverage operations. We have a superb golf course designed by one of the best golfers ever to play the game, and that being the gentleman sitting to my left, who you all know, Mr. Colin Montgomerie. So thank you.
ANNA KOVĂÂTS: And now, please, Guy Kinnings for a word, as well.
GUY KINNINGS: I'm sure you'll be tremendously disappointed but I will be very brief. I don't think there's a great deal to add to what has been said before except to say that this is the 50th year of IMG. We started in golf and golf is still at the centre of everything we do. I'm sure even in our closeted world of golf, people have noticed that it has not been as easy as it might be out in the financial world, and at this time, to be able to put on a new tournament takes some doing.
So I would like to pay credit to Volvo, who have been long-standing supporters of the Tour, but saw the opportunity to add another event to the schedule, which is an important thing to do.
We have almost an embarrassment of riches now in terms of good tournaments in the region. It also needs a fantastic venue, and we have to thank everyone at Royal Golf Club who have moved so fast, along with Volvo, to make sure that everything has got ready and the Bahrain Economic Development Board to have a vision to bring a tournament like this to the area.
It does also of course require all of you, so media support, and then the little matter of the players; to have the players to come and support the event in its first year; to have at for mentioned designer be prepared to let loose a hundred vicious critics on his creation, is, of course, an act of extreme bravery and confidence that I know he'll rise to.
But above all, thanks to all of them and just to say, thank you and hopefully we can look forward to a fantastic week. Thank you.
ANNA KOVĂÂTS: And now I think you are all looking forward to finally get to go listen to Colin Montgomerie. So, please go ahead.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, thank you, and welcome everyone. It's an honour for me as it was at Carton House when we hosted two Irish Opens at a course that I designed, and it's a great honour again to return to a venue that's been designed by myself, and has Guy so rightly said, I've got 125 critics out there that are ready.
But at the same time, I'm very easily prepared. This is a fine, fine venue, and as Susan was saying, a fine club, as well, to be part of. And it's nice to feel -- to come home to somewhere that you have spent a lot of time at and a lot of good times here in Bahrain and I look forward, as I have done, to coming back here.
This is an event that we have to also thank Volvo. As we mentioned, it only came on the schedule, what, in July last year. So this has been very, very fast to get things moving in this direction to make this tournament happen in the first place. And when Per so rightly said, it's the 122nd event that Volvo have sponsored. I mean, that's amazing, amazing, 122 and I have only won nine of them, which is a real shame. (Laughter).
But at the same time, fantastic achievement and thank you so much on behalf of all of the players here. When you mention the amount that the players have won and the events that they have won and the number of major winners that we have here, five major winners here assembled, I think it's a marvellous field.
And as I was saying, it's a great addition to our Middle East swing. I think that it's a real benefit for our members to be able to play these four marvellous venues that we have in the Middle East now. We are very, very fortunate. The weather in Europe, especially northern Europe, is totally unsuitable for golf at this time of year. We are very, very lucky to be able to come to these parts and play golf in fine weather.
So at the same time, it's just an honour for me more than anything to be able to -- for my fellow players, to enable them to play on a course that I have designed and I'm looking forward to speaking to every one of them, their caddies, as well, to having their feedback and to take that feedback on board, and as we say, in 2012, this will be the very first tournament of that Race to Dubai, and it will only be champions from this particular year to play.
I think it's only right that that happens. And the Tournament of Champions will be the champions from that previous year and I think it's right that that starts off the season, 2012.
So we look forward to that, being here in Bahrain.
Q. How do you see the format next year with a field that may only have 30 people in it?
PER ERICSSON: Well, as you know, I think it's 45 tournaments or 42-something this year, so it might be more than 30, but between 30 and 40. I think the format will be no cut, of course, and we are discussing actually to perhaps add on the players that have won more than ten tournaments still active, not so many of them, so that might be the case that we do that as well.
So it's not really truly the same format as in Hawaii, which is more or less the same.
Q. Just from the nuts and bolts perspective, the days in the calendar, will it be the same as Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions over there, or is there a possibility of cross-over for guys who would have won on both tours?
PER ERICSSON: Of course you know the schedule is not set. The only thing we know is that we are going to be the first tournament and most likely it's going to be the same date. I don't know the exact date for the U.S. either, again, because it's not set. But it's not going to be this date. It's going to be an earlier date.
Q. My point is, you'll probably be vying for the same major champions?
GUY KINNINGS: I think it's unlikely it will be the same week. If you look at what's the traditional three-week Middle Eastern run that we've had before, and we are going to be working our way back from that so my guess is it will be maybe a week or two after, but we'll work with the Tour on that.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: As a Major winner this year, I won't be able to play at both; so that will be difficult. It will clash (smiling).
PER ERICSSON: You'll have an easy choice.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I'll have an easy choice if they did clash. (Laughter).
Q. You're probably unique on The European Tour in that there's not that many players competing on the Tour that play on a course they have designed. How does that add to your week; you find yourself dealing more with organisers this week of course.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: It was funny arriving at the airport today, I was interested no how the Volvo courtesy car service was done. I felt almost concerned about that, as well. And you you're concerned about, is the hotel okay, of course it is, and the courtesy car service is great, and everything around, and you feel responsible almost for everything that goes on, because your name's on the golf course as such, and I should just try my best and just focus on that, as opposed to all the other stuff that other people better than me deal with.
But it is that way. You do feel that way somehow. It's a great honour, a fantastic honour, to be a current player and have this honour, as well, of playing on a course that has been designed by myself.
So it is a strange feeling in many ways. I was asked if there's any extra pressure on me to do well here; no, there isn't any pressure on me that way. I'm beginning now to enjoy what I do on the golf course more than I ever have before. And I think the results will there for benefit that. I think that if you enjoy something, you're usually quite good at it.
Hopefully I have nothing to prove on the golfing side of things, and I just want to try and enjoy it and feel very honoured as I walk around this fabulous golf course.
Q. How do you deal with those guys that feel as though the greens and the course doesn't suit their game?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: You're never going to please anybody, okay. There's only going to be one winner here, right, and the Top-10 are going to leave here feeling that, yes, they had a chance of winning, so the course was okay.
Everyone that's going to miss the cut here, unfortunately, is going to have -- and we all do; oh, yeah, the greens weren't great or the tees or, Christ, it was all my bloody fall, whatever, the way the cart paths -- the walking; Christ, it's all my fault. You're not going to please everybody all the time, you're not. And I've been to places myself, new courses, that you miss the cut and you feel, okay, that wasn't right, that wasn't right, of course you do. All I can say is that I hopefully pleased the majority and that's all one can do.
Q. I gather that in the past year, they have double-seeded the fairways, slightly less linksy, and the greens will be fairly slow at 9.6. How does that reflect what your original design of the course was playing and how it's going to play, and what do you feel about it?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: That's fine. I think the overseeding; as you have the same in Abu Dhabi, you have the same in Dubai. The overseeding out here is, I wouldn't say vital, but at the same time, because of the weather, because of the lack of water usually, that the fairways get quite fast-running, and I think it's better to soften it slightly. So that's what's happened that way. The greens at 9.6 will speed up to the -- the green keeper is telling me about 10 1/2, which is ideal for the slopes on the particular greens.
What's happened, you might have heard some criticism of the severity of the greens. What's happened is that green keeper has put the pins on top of certain slopes on the particular greens in practise, and of course, players are going, hang on a minute. When the pins are put in tournament positions, there will be no criticism at all, and when card and pens are in people's hands, it will be amazing how things change. So I'm not worried about any aspect of the course in that way.
It is breezy here. There's no question. We're on an island here so it is breezy and the fact that the greens will only be 10 1/2 maximum is a very safe, safe way to play.
Q. It's nice to have a tournament with a twist in it, and to bring in the amateurs on Saturday. But what handicaps? Is there a limit, or could they be 24 handicap? And if so, Monty, how are you going to cope?
PER ERICSSON: I'll tell the rules first and then you'll tell how you cope.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yeah, I'll think about the answer. (Laughter).
PER ERICSSON: Well, to get to the Volvo World Golf Challenge, you have to have a maximum 24 handicap but they will play on two thirds handicap on Saturday, and as low as you can get on level of course.
The average handicap of those 52 players that are competing is just below 11, so I'm not really worried about that. So you're happy?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yes, I'm very happy with that answer, because I wasn't aware of that. And I'm sure a number of the pros are not aware of that, either, and I think that's a very, very good answer that Per has given, a very fair one.
I think we manage very, very well to play with amateurs, a lot worse standard than that, at our Alfred Dunhill Championship and that's proven a great success. So there's no issue here at all.
PER ERICSSON: Out of those 52, it will just be 30 that are playing and we actually have a qualification tournament on Friday, and it's a little bit problematic in Bahrain, because it's just one course. So we have actually been allowed to use His Majesty the King's own course, nine holes, which is a special feeling for the amateurs that will actually qualify on Friday there.
So we will have these players that are on best form and best handicap to play on Saturday. And we will also ensure, so actually the players with the lowest handicap will be the ones playing with the top flags.
Q. I don't expect you to speak for the entire kingdom of Bahrain, but you live here, and Bahrain is late to come into The European Tour party, but it's fast-tracked its way to a very prestigious event and the opening event next year. What's the vibe in Bahrain at the moment, and what is the prospects for Bahrain going forward in golf?
SUSAN STEVENSON: I'm comfortable speaking on behalf of Bahrain, actually, when you ask me that question. The buzz here, as I'm sure many of you in the room know, is very high right now, and it's very exciting for all of us who are in the it industry, because this type of event is going to profile golf in Bahrain to its highest standard.
And we have been looking for such an opportunity. We believe that our product is brilliant. We can compare ourselves to that of other places in the region. We can also now say that we are an attractive location to come to when you want to come for a golf destination. Our tourism department is highly excited about this, because it putts another reason for people to come to Bahrain. F1 has always been the top profile, and now we can say that golf is right up there, as well, and will attract many people to the country.
So high buzz, high excitement, and we have full support from everyone in the country to continue to grow this industry and the country.
Q. You were the first guy out of the traps to putt your name down for me vent before Christmas, long before Christmas. Realistically, what are the prospects of you being first guy to get your name down for Tournament of Champions next year?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, I'm just glad that as Per said, there might be an opportunity for those who won more than ten events on Tour. So, I'm in. (Laughter).
It would be a thrill to not necessarily win, but to do well. I'm trying to concentrate on my own game right now through this year and threw the next two years, actually. I wasn't concentrating on my own game the last two years, there's no question; I had another job to do.
And this, now, I can concentrate on my own golf game. I was on the range there today practising, actually, which is very rare. And I was actually practising for the last hour and a half here, and I'll go off after this and practise more, and I really feel that if I can put the practise in that's necessary, and the commitment that some of the younger guys are showing, and there's though reason why I can't do that, that I can still compete. And that's what I want to do. I'm not showing up here in a ceremonial way. I wouldn't play otherwise.
I know that if I can play my best, and hole out properly, I can still win out here. I have to play my best and have to hole out properly. I wouldn't have to say that 15 years ago. There was a couple of occasions where I wouldn't have played my best and happen to win and I was lucky enough to do that.
But now, everything has to fall in place for me to win. But as long as that's the case and as long as I feel that way, I'll still be competing. So long may that continue.
Q. Are you based in Perth?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yes.
Q. Who looks at your swing when you're wanting to be checked?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, that's a good question. I've never really had -- I mean, I've had coaches of course, Denis, Pete Cowen, and I've had Paul Marchand in Houston, but no one has really coached me ever within the golf swing as such.
I come out here and practise to try and practise muscle memory, really, to try and repeat what feels good. And I'm less flexible than I used to be, of course. That's what stops any player is flexibility. As long as I can keep flexible, which I am currently okay, we'll be able to compete. But there's no one that really looks at my swing right now, no. No, there's no one that looks at my swing, bar myself.
Q. So you're not looking at videos of yourself?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: No, because the flexibility is different than it was 15 years ago. I think that's very difficult and dangerous to do, to go back, to go, okay, go back to the way we were playing in '95, which I feel was my best play. I mean, you're talking 16 years ago, for one, and flexibility is different than then. You know, you can't get the club back quite as far as it was going then.
I think that's a very dangerous thing to do. So you take what you're given at this stage, and as I said earlier, I feel that if I can play well, and stand at the 72nd green and say, right, I've holed out well, I've played well, my name will be somewhere on the leaderboard. Where that is, I'm not sure.
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