Featured Golf News
R&A Discusses 150th Open Championship
The R&A's chief executive Peter Dawson and director of championships David Hill did their annual spring press conference Tuesday. The two discussed a variety of topics, including the 150th playing of the Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews; the influx of players from Asia; drug testing; alterations to the Old Course; and the anticipated appearances of Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods.
Here's what the two had to say during their lengthy discourse and Q&A with reporters.
MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and can I start by welcoming you to our spring press conference. Thank you all for attending. At this stage I'd just like to introduce one or two people; the gentleman to my right you all know, our chief executive Peter Dawson. We're also joined by our director of championships, David Hill, who is sitting down here and will come and make a presentation later in the proceedings. I'd also like to recognize and acknowledge the representatives of the St. Andrews Links Trust, who as you all know are responsible for organizing and managing the golf courses in St. Andrews. In particular I'll recognize their chairman of championship committee of the Links Trust, Peter Forster; and Alan McGregor, their chief executive, his third and final Open at St. Andrews as Alan retires after 13 years' tenure at the end of this year. We'd like to take the opportunity at this point to congratulate Alan on a very successful tenure as chief executive of the Links Trust and compliment him on the enhancement to the golfing experience here in St. Andrews, which he esteemed to during his term of office, both on and off the courses.
All St. Andrews Opens, of course, I think are rather special, and we look forward with great enthusiasm to the one coming up in July. This year, of course, we have a special number to recognize, as well; it's the 150th anniversary of the inaugural event at Prestwick in Ayrshire. Things have changed a bit since then. The eight original competitors at Prestwick in 1860 were issued with green and black checked lumber jackets from a nearby state to smarten up their appearance a bit. We have no plans to repeat that this summer. We've all our own memories, I suppose, of St. Andrews Opens, whether it is the graceful Tony Lema in '64, the agony of Doug Sanders in 1970, or the tremendous enthusiasm of Seve's fifth Cup in 1984 after Tom Watson's challenge had fallen by the wayside when his long iron to the 17th had just gone a bit too long. We've all got our memories.
But no one has won three Open Championships here at St. Andrews. Two of the most prolific links champions in the history of the game, Tom Watson and Harry Vardon with 11 Opens between them have not as yet won at Open at St. Andrews. Whatever the story might be in July, I'd like to take an opportunity now thanking all of you for telling it. Now I'm going to hand you over to Peter to ask him to make his presentation.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Michael, and could I just echo Michael's welcome. Thank you all for being here and taking the time to tell the story of this year's Open Championship. I'm sorry if conditions are a bit cramped this morning. We're clearly going to have to get a bigger big room at the R & A, but we'll have to make due. The 139th Open Championship and the 30th here at St. Andrews will be played from the 15th to the 18th of July, and although it's the 139th playing, it is, as Michael said, the 150th anniversary of the first playing of the Championship in 1860. I find it personally very hard to believe that 50 years have passed since Kel Nagle won the Centenary Open here in 1960. Kel will be 90 later this year in December and is our oldest living past champion. When he won in 1960, his prize was £1,250 out of a total prize fund of 7,000, just one example of the way things have changed in the intervening period.
We have some special events and other things planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary. We will be repeating what we did in 2000 in staging the Open Champions' Challenge on the eve of the championship, on the Wednesday evening, at about 3:45. That time hasn't been finalized yet. It'll be played over four holes, the 1st, the 2nd, the 17th and the 18th of the Old Course. The winner, the winning team, mainly in fourballs, possibly some three, best ball, the winning team will receive £50,000 for a charity of their choice. There are 32 living past champions, and we're confident of an extremely good turnout for this, what will be a great trip down memory lane. The event will be shown on television. BBC is actually showing it in prime on the Wednesday evening, and it will be live on ESPN in the United States. So it's getting a lot of interest. I would expect, as we had in 2000, a large number of people on Wednesday afternoon.
We're also to celebrate the 150th going to present the champion at the prize giving ceremony with a replica of the original Open trophy, the Moroccan leather belt. This belt was won three times in a row by young Tom Morris, culminating in 1870, and as he won it three times in a row, he kept the belt. There was no Open in 1871 because there was no trophy, and then the Claret Jug came in the following year. I think it was won again by young Tom Morris. But this belt was given to the R & A by the descendents of young Tom and is on display here on the table, and a replica will be presented by the captain of Prestwick Golf Club, Brian Morris, at the prize giving ceremony at the end of the Championship. We're also publishing through Rizzoli a pictorial history of The Open Championship to mark the occasion. There are 300 pages of images from Open Championships from all of the 14 venues that have been used to stage the event. Our thanks to Donald Field for supplying the text, to get the text for the images, and to Arnold Palmer for writing the foreword.
Turning to the golf course for this year's Championship, and I know that those of you who played it yesterday found the course to be in excellent condition, coming along very nicely, and we have here with us Gordon Moir who runs course maintenance for the whole links, and Gordon McKee, who does the same thing specifically on the Old Course, and our congratulations go to them. All they have to do now is keep it in the same condition over the next three months, and we'll be fine. Moving to changes to the golf course, and there aren't many, the course will be 26 yards longer this year than it was in 2005, and for those of you who think that we're lengthening the course is too much, that is one third of one per cent. Instead of hitting it 100 yards, you'll have to hit it 100 yards and one foot. I think they'll be able to manage that.
There are three significant changes. The first one is the 7th, is actually being recorded as 19 yards shorter, and this is purely a function of a detailed re-measurement of the hole. The hole is exactly the same as it was, but I think they must have measured it this year with a slightly new line of dogleg or there was a bad mistake in the past, but it's 19 yards shorter. 10th tee has been extended backwards slightly, making that hole six yards longer. That's purely to give more teeing area. And most significantly, the 17th has a new back tee which is lengthening the hole by 40 yards, and I'll be talking more about that in a moment. I just want to concentrate on a couple of holes, and the first one is the 4th. What we're trying to do this year is encourage the players to play the hole up the right as we would call it, this line from the tee up this side, rather than trying to carry the ball to safety over the plateau of rough ground onto the fairway over here.
We are encouraging that by a number of means. First of all, the gorse, which causes difficulty actually seeing the fairway, the gorse in this area has all been removed, so the sight line from the tee to the fairway has opened up. We've widened the fairway by a couple of yards on the right-hand side. That's in this area here. We've also cut down the bank down from the plateau to the fairway, so a ball striking the side of the bank will bounce down towards the fairway rather than getting stuck. And we are going to be using the back of the back tee. In 2005 we got a lot of complaints from the players that they couldn't carry over this plateau from the back of the back tee. Well, if they want to do it this time, they are going to have to try because we are going to use the back of the back tee, and that will further encourage playing up the right. Pin positions will also reflect it's going to be an easier shot to the green from the right-hand side.
One particular benefit from this will be the pace of play because it will ease congestion driving balls into this area, meeting players coming down the 15th hole. Turning to the 17th, and much has already been written about this, quite frankly nowhere near as much as we expected, because we knew this would be controversial. Why have we done it? Why have we moved the tee back 40 yards? We've basically done it because we're able here at St. Andrews to watch professionals play the 17th hole pretty regularly. We have the Open here every five years, or at least we have done in recent time, and of course we have the Dunhill Links Championship here every year, so we're very conversant with how the top pros play the 17th. And what we've seen over time is that the challenge of the hole, although still a very strong challenge, has diminished somewhat because the hitting distances they can now achieve is allowing them to hit into the green with a much shorter iron club, quite often about a 7-iron or even sometimes less. And we found that that has taken the road bunker, but more particularly the road behind the green out of play. We don't see many players on the road these days, and that's because of the distance control they can achieve and the accuracy with these shorter iron clubs.
What we're trying to do here is restore the hole to its previous challenge where the players are having to hit into the green with a much longer iron club than they have been in recent times. The hole has never been lengthened. It was played in 1900 in the Open Championship at the same length as it was in 2005. Let's not forget in 1900 they were playing with things like this, and so it's not true to say, of course, that the hole has remained unchanged for this 100 years; the way the hole has been played has developed over time. The new back tee is exactly on the same line as the existing Championship tee, so there is no change to the line of play, and we do believe that what is already a challenging hole will become even more so. I'd just like to have a word about driving distance in the pro game today.
These graphs show the three men's tours at the top, the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Japan Tour, and for the women, the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour at the bottom. Since around about 2002, 2003, driving distance on Tour has plateaued. It is not increasing despite what we often read. And the R & A and the USGA in March of 2002 issued its joint statement of principles, which said enough is enough; if hitting distance is increased, we will do something to rein back equipment. But since we have said that, we are on a plateau. Now, these statistics are drawn from the two-hole measurements that are done at every golf event, and there is a danger that they don't simply reflect shots with a driver. And there is a mixture in there because not every player plays a driver at these two holes that the data is corrupted with shorter clubs. Fortunately these days we're able to check this data against the ShotLink information from the PGA Tour, and we actually find that if you take the average of all driver shots, because we can identify driver shots, the actual average has plateaued, and it is actually slightly less than the red line up here. And I think that must be because the two holes that tend to get chosen to drive measurements are the ones we feel the pros will most likely open their shoulders.
So we are able to check that this data is, in fact, relevant, and it's something that the R & A and the USGA continue to monitor very closely. If I can move on to qualifying for this year's Championship, the system is the same as in prior years. We've held international final qualifying events in Australia, South Africa and Asia, and we're going to do so, of course, in Europe and the United States. We also have regional qualifying events and our local final qualifying events. I just wanted to have a word about this picture, which is of the successful qualifiers from international qualifying in Asia, and it's a very good crop of players. On the left we have Danny Chia from Malaysia, who got into the Open for the third time, quite an achievement; Noh Seung-yul from Korea is the next one from the left, and he is the youngest professional ever to win on the European Tour, having won the Maybank Malaysian Open just before this qualification event; Hiroyuki Fujita from Japan holding the Claret Jug is the highest ranked player in the field in the world rankings.
I wanted to have a word about the player on the right, Eric Shun, again from Korea. Eric was the runner-up in the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship, which the R & A and the Masters Tournament along with the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation organized in China this year. The Masters tournament were brave enough to allow the winner a place in the Masters, and Han Chang-wan from Korea, who was the winner, played at Augusta this year. As far as the Open Championship was concerned, we gave spots in international final qualifying to the winner and the runner-up in the Asian Amateur, and Eric Shun, who was the runner-up at that event, got through to the Open through the qualifier at Saujana in Malaysia. So it's a great crop of people and a great crop of players, and a very good start for the Asian Amateur Championship.
Entries are running along at their usual level. I've got nothing in particular to report as regards entries. Entries close on the 27th of May, so there's quite some time yet. The answer to the inevitable question is no, Tiger Woods has not yet entered, but in a normal year he wouldn't have done that by now anyway. So I'm absolutely certain he will be with us, but we don't have his entry as yet. On the filthy subject of money, we don't have an announcement to make today about prize money. Deliberations will take place closer to the Championship when we know more about exchange rates post the general election and so on. We're committed to keeping the Open competitive, but that's difficult to do in a volatile exchange environment. But there will be an announcement about that in due course. The cost of staging the Championship and the necessity that we invest in the events of course don't decline since the commercial success of The Open is tantamount to us.
We are going to be conducting, as we did at the last Open at St. Andrews, an economic impact study to see the effects that the Open has on the local and the national economy. We found that that was a figure of £72 million last time we did it in 2005, and it will be interesting to see how that has moved in the interim. The R & A is committed to bringing the Open to as many fans as possible by whatever medium they wish to consume the Open, and opengolf.com, the Open Championship website, is a world-class resource. We put a huge investment into it. The amount of data that you can now find at opengolf.com is enormous, as well as the film archive of The Open, which I believe contains the oldest film of Open Championship history in the world, and I recommend to you to take some time to look through it. This year we'll also be streaming the Open Championship Challenge, a three-hole channel covering holes 9, 10 and 11, and the website will be multilingual. It will be available in Spanish and Japanese.
We also have an iPhone app, which we managed to achieve 75,000 downloads last year, and we're expecting far more than that this time. So we're moving along on the new media front, if you can still call it that. I think it's better called judicial media these days. As an extension of this, we have announced in a recent press release what's called the Virtual Open Championship in conjunction with St. Andrews Links Trust and the World Golf Tour. Competition culminates at the time of The Open, and the winners will get a trip to St. Andrews and be able to play the Old Course. In its first week since we launched this 30,000 players have had a go, and it's a very good way for us to build anticipation for the Championship.
And finally from me, television, there are about 50 broadcasters covering the Open, and we anticipate this year that they'll get close to 100,000,000 viewers around the world. TV Asahi remains our major partner in Japan. We have a new arrangement starting this year with ESPN in the United States, and this is the first time I think in major golf championship history that a major championship will be shown on cable all four days in the United States. We're excited about this. ESPN is becoming the sport channel of choice for many in America, and we have no doubt that sports fans will find the Open there and find excellent coverage. This year will mark 55 years that we'll have been with the BBC, and just before I hand over to David Hill, we'd like to show a short film on how BBC's coverage of The Open has evolved over time. Thank you very much. (Film shown.)
DAVID HILL: Part of the role of making it interesting and enjoyable for spectators to come to the Championship is to create not just a great experience for them to watch on the golf course but to ensure that the tented village is first class in every respect. This is a layout in 2005, and here's our planned layout for this year. It hasn't changed a lot. But we are very conscious, again, that the spectator in the village has the best of everything. And to that extent, we have increased the catering facilities, a much wider variety of catering for all the spectators this year than you would find at any other major championship. Large screens in the tented village, and also, just so they're here, we have the corporate hospitality, moving up to the merchandise tent into the junior golf tent, relaxing time in the volunteer tent if you can afford it. Patrons coming down to the areas down here where we give space to the PGA, et cetera, and then moving over to the Bruce Embankment, where we have the trophy room, the competitors' facilities and of course the media center.
Adjacent to the tented village this year, aligned with the new tee at the 17th, we have the new railway stands. Many of you will remember the railway used to run along there, so we call these the railway stands. They have 2,000 seats. Moving into the Road Hole, one of the most popular areas for spectators, grandstands of almost 4,000 seats, completely new stands outside the Jigger Inn, holding about 600 or 700. In total we'll have a capacity of 21,500 seats, which is the highest number of seats ever to be erected at an Open Championship. The media centre: This year we'll be accrediting between television and press and photographers almost 2,000 working badges. Such is the demand for people to come and see the Open Championship even in these times.
Just as we're investing in the tented village for our spectators to make sure they have the best, hopefully the media centre will be commensurate with any other media centre at any other sporting event in the world. Since the BBC are bringing in high definition, soon we will have high definition projectors. We're investing almost £100,000 in a brand new radio booth for all the radio teams that have come. We'll have an upgraded media guide giving full year by year scores of recent Opens at St. Andrews and over the last 150 years. Finally, I'm pleased to say we've caved in and are very pleased to have done so, and all catering in the Open Championship media tent this year will be completely free of charge. I'll tell you what, after looking after this aspect of 32 years, they were hammering me. But sincerely we hope that you will appreciate that.
You may wonder what this spade is doing here, but the R & A are moving forward in new technology. In time for this year's Open Championship, we are installing, the first at any golf course throughout the world, it started at Turnberry last year partially, a fiberoptic network around the Old Course and the tented village area. The work is almost completed. It stretches for about five miles in length, and it cost us almost £1 million. This leading technology will provide a platform for telephones, internet, broadcasters, closed-circuit television, and other digital media users during the Championship. There are many benefits of this system; a long-term investment; less disturbance of the golf course in the long-term; fewer broadcaster cables lying above ground; quicker equipment deployment times; synchronization of all on-course catering outlets, which is very important to the patron; more efficient management of digital content, including broadcasts and image distribution; and also for the photographers the ability to download from out on the golf course, which I don't think you have at any other major championship.
Those are just some examples of how we are now embracing new technology at the Open and at the same time investing in the venue for future Open Championships. As this is a permanent installation, this technology will be available for other golf championships that come to St. Andrews and wish to use the facility. Our team have worked very closely with the St. Andrews Links Trust in order to implement this project, so I'd like to thank them for letting us install it and to ensure that St. Andrews continues to provide first-class facilities for hosting major golf tournaments. Back to our spectators, these were the scenes from last year's dramatic final day when we had a crowd of 123,000. We all know that at Turnberry that's our lowest attendance. I was certainly unsure at the start of this year as to what the crowd size might be here at St. Andrews, what would be the effects of the recession for the Americans to come.
I'm pleased to say that ticket sales are ahead of 2005, and we are anticipating a crowd well in excess of over 200,000 people. The 17th, as I've referred to earlier, is probably the most popular area, and we've now got capacity between seating and standing room there of well over 6,500 to 7,000 people. What an arena that will be for the Champions' Challenge on Wednesday, when we anticipate over 30,000 spectators coming to watch past champions play holes 1, 2, 17 and 18, and to the Championship itself when we have over 50,000 people, certainly on one or two of the Championship days. We are very keen of having being the implementer in 1997 of juveniles under the age of 16 to come to the Championship. We will promote this heavily again. Over 250,000 juniors have come to the Championship since the implement of this policy, and we're hoping through the golf clubs to encourage families and youngsters to come and watch the greatest here at St. Andrews in the 150th anniversary. This will coincide with the running of the Junior Open down at Lundin Links earlier in the week, which the R & A host and run, with entries from 30 to 40 different countries.
Hospitality: Is the recession over? What is the St. Andrews factor? Well, again, at the start of the year we were pretty concerned about that. But it's pleasing to report that corporate sales have picked up and are running well ahead of Turnberry last year. I don't know whether it's the St. Andrews factor or if the recession is over. It's hard to say. But certainly corporate sales have picked up again, which is encouraging. For spectators, we have to make sure we get them to the course efficiently. The tried-and-tested routes of 2005 will be used again. This photograph doesn't quite demonstrate the coast road, but most of you know it. Most people coming up from the coast road from Edinburgh, eventually finish up in the West Sands, and again, with the Links Trust and Fife Council we've invested over £1 million in upgrading the whole of the West Sands. This is also where the television compound will be.
For those coming from the Cooper direction, they will go to the park and ride, and that is found just short of Guardbridge. Finally, those coming from Dundee direction will park in these areas here with reserved car parking in this area just here. The traffic will basically come from three different directions, and hopefully there will be very few delays. Edinburgh airports, with flights having been grounded for some time, we're now informed that most flights are already full coming up here in Championship days, and we've entered into a full arrangement with City Jet flying into Dundee Airport from London city. Those coming by air will be fine, and of course, the old golf links, the Open Championship's favorite way of coming to the Championship for a good day out, over 50,000 people will come into Leuchars Station, and we will coach them into the tented village from Leuchars, right to the pay gates down on Old Station Road by the tented village. I would recommend that as being an excellent way to come to the Open Championship from north, south, east or west. The train service is very good.
Finally on accommodation, as usual at a St. Andrews Open, every single bed in the town of St. Andrews seems to have gone, but I notice the Dundee couriers are saying that the hotels and bed and breakfasts are pretty full, as well, so accommodation is extending now right out into sort of the park area and back down towards Edinburgh and into Fife. As Peter referred to earlier, we are confident that knowing the crowds are coming that the economic benefit to the area and Scotland as a whole will exceed the £75 million that we achieved in 2005. Thank you very much indeed.
MODERATOR: That's the end of the presentations, ladies and gentlemen. We're now open to questions. We have two roving mics. If you could wait until one of them reaches you and if I might ask you to be good enough if before you pose your question say who you represent and the organization, that would be appreciated. Thank you.
Q. The weekend of the London Marathon, organizers made costly efforts to get its stars to the London despite the air chaos. If there was a similar situation, would you try to make arrangements?
PETER DAWSON: I think the answer to that is it's an impossible question to know. If the airports were closed in Europe, it would be hard to imagine how one would get people here from the United States, for example. If there are airports open not too far from the UK, one would imagine we might be able to do something. So I think it's an impossible question, but we'd certainly do everything we can to ensure a full field. Let's hope it's a hypothetical question.
Q. Has Jack Nicklaus said any more after the Masters when you asked him if he was coming over for the four holes? He said he wasn't, and I wanted to be sure he hasn't changed his mind.
PETER DAWSON: We have not yet had a reply from Jack to this particular invitation to the Open Champions' Challenge. As I said earlier, of the 32 living champions we have, I'm sure of 27 acceptances at the moment, and we have three nos for various reasons, and we're waiting for two more replies. Kel Nagle is unable to make the trip from Australia at his age; Johnny Miller has other commitments; and Nick Price has been in the habit of holidaying with his family at this time of year for quite some years now. And those are the three that have been sorry to say no, but they have said no.
Q. How hurt were you to hear Nicklaus saying that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I didn't hear it but I read about it later. I remember in 2000 we had some difficulty getting Jack's acceptance. Eventually we did, and he enjoyed himself. So I think we'll just have to wait and see on this one.
Q. RBS have been great sponsors of The Open in the past. Judging by what Jack was saying, would there be any effort in perhaps approaching RBS to encourage Jack Nicklaus to come and join you?
PETER DAWSON: Well, RBS is a patron of The Open, and it's up to RBS in the circumstances they find themselves to decide how they're going to behave this year and what events they're going to hold. All of the past champions that have been invited to the challenge, if they're not playing in the Open, have their transport and accommodation paid for by the R & A. And those players who are coming to play in the Championship, it would be unfair we feel to the rest of the field if we paid for them to come, so they have to pay their own way just like every other professional. Past champions coming to the challenge not playing in the Championship itself are paid for by the R & A in terms of travel and accommodation. I don't think there's any disincentive to it.
Q. Can you just talk us through what you plan to do on 17 in regards to the left-hand rough? Do you have plans to level that rough?
PETER DAWSON: Sorry, I did miss out that particular point about the left-hand rough on the 17th. As part of the hole setup and moving the tee back, we are easing the rough back to the left by about, what do we say, three yards, four yards, four or five yards, to create a little bit more room down that left-hand side. It's really returning it to where it was perhaps 10 years ago, because we had eased it to the right in the intervening period. So it's going back to where it was. And the right-hand side will still be the optimum place to hit your drive, but there will be a little more room on the left for you; it will just be a more difficult second shot.
Q. I'm just wondering if you echo what Billy Payne said about Tiger Woods on the eve of the Masters, and what do you expect of Tiger on the assumption that he does play in July?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think we obviously hope Tiger will come and play and enjoy the experience. I don't think it's for us to make any -- certainly not any further comment I would wish to make about that. I think by the time the Open comes around, Tiger's return to the game will be well established. From what I read, he's got quite a playing schedule now in front of him. And so perhaps the novelty factor of Tiger being back will have worn off to some degree, although it'll be his first appearance in Britain. Billy Payne chose to make his comments, and I don't expect you'll be doing the same, will you, Michael?
MODERATOR: I think you can take that as right, yes.
Q. Will greater security measures be in place?
PETER DAWSON: We'll obviously be watching what happens with Tiger and other players between now and July, and we'll be discussing the whole security position as we always do with the police. So it's much too early to say. We always act on police advice in these matters, and we'll be doing that again this time.
Q. Can I ask about pace of play, Peter? You mentioned the 4th and the measures taken there to attempt to speed up play, but it's always been a problem at major championships, five hours or so a round. Are there other measures being implemented by the R & A about pace of play?
PETER DAWSON: Well, as you say, this course is difficult for pace of play because the pros won't putt when there might be a cheer on the other half of a double green, and there's some interference on the double-hole fairways. All we can do is make our walking rules officials aware of what we expect and have them talk to the players as we go, and also I think we'll perhaps be a bit quicker to use call-up procedures if we do get bottlenecks on various tees. I remember last time I think it was we had about four or five groups on the 5th tee at one point, and by putting a call-out procedure -- and by that I mean the group behind plays their second shots before the group ahead have putted, and they call them forward, then they putt while the group behind is walking up. We found that that cleared the bottleneck extremely effectively, and I'm sure we'll be looking to put those in a little bit earlier this time than waiting for a four-group buildup on a tee.
Q. Are you able to give the overall cost of staging the Open at St. Andrews this year, including the fiber-optic installation?
PETER DAWSON: Well, David, these are figures we haven't given out in the past.
Q. Even a rough estimate?
PETER DAWSON: To be quite honest, today the cost of running the Open on the ground is not covered by the revenue from ticketing, corporate hospitality and the like, and in fact Open Championships, as I think many other events, does make a bit of a loss on the ground and it's broadcast revenue where the majority of the profits come from.
DAVID HILL: I think it's always been the objective to try and break even on the operating costs, and then the monies from television are put back into the game at large. Quite a lot.
Q. Have there been any updates from Seve in the recent time as to how likely we are to see him at St. Andrews this summer?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we're very much hoping to see him. I know he's as determined as he can be to get here. He was, I think, the earliest past champion to come forward with his hotel reservation requirements for the Champions' Challenge. But I don't, I'm afraid, have a recent update on the state of his health. I don't know if anyone else in the room does, but regrettably I don't. Yes, Seve has accepted.
DAVID HILL: Certainly through his charity foundation they've commented that he's absolutely keen to be here.
Q. A couple of things: Am I right in thinking there's one name missing on the Champions' Challenge? You have 27 acceptances, three nos and Jack Nicklaus. Is there somebody else?
PETER DAWSON: We haven't heard from Greg Norman yet.
Q. And on prize money, we've seen Wimbledon recently announce the first £1 million winner. Do you envisage that coming soon to the Open?
PETER DAWSON: I think the winner check last year was, correct me if I'm wrong, 750,000, David?
DAVID HILL: Yes.
PETER DAWSON: So I suppose the million is in sight, but we will not be getting there this year, I'm sure. But I don't suppose it will be too many years away if inflation goes on and competition and prize money goes on as it has in the past. The Wimbledon figures are -- well, they're very generous, aren't they? But I guess they have to play for two weeks to get it there and just four days here. But no, I think the million is in sight, but it's a few years away get. Of course I say that in ignorance of what will happen to exchange rates in the coming years. If the pound weakens very considerably, we have a challenge in front of us. On the one hand, we do get more revenue from our dollar-denominated television contracts, so that balances out the situation, so absent a major exchange rate swing, I think we're a few years away.
Q. Just to go back to the Tiger question, at Augusta we had the sight of security people with mug shots of the various women he's been associated with. Is that something that is likely to be repeated, or will there be special spotters following Tiger?
PETER DAWSON: As I said, we're going to be taking advice from the police, having watched the situation in the interim period. I would very much doubt that there will be mug shots in people's hands. Don't forget that the Masters, I think, had a major problem in really having no idea what to expect. We will have the benefit of having several Tiger events behind us prior to the Open. And I'm quite sure if the Open Championship had been Tiger's first event back, we'd have been scratching our heads as to what to do for the best. I'm very pleased that we're not the guinea pigs in this one.
Q. Could you give an indication of how the merchandise pavilion operated last year? Was it successful? What were the revenues? And how will it change for St. Andrews this year?
DAVID HILL: Well, first of all, we wouldn't -- the revenues are reasonable. They're nothing like -- for those of you who have been to America and seen the U.S. Open or the U.S. Masters, the money that is spent there in the merchandising tents is just colossal. Ours is certainly a lower key operation and rather similar to Wimbledon because their merchandising does pretty well but wouldn't compare with certain events in America, either. We wouldn't think that the turnover here would increase, simply because we'll have almost 70 to 80 per cent more people than we had at Turnberry, so we're looking forward to a pretty good year now, I think. I think what's quite encouraging is that the Americans are coming to the Open Championship again in talking to spectators. All the Tour operators have got full plane loads coming in, and of course I'm pleased to say they do spend a lot more than people from the UK and elsewhere.
PETER DAWSON: Just to add to that, if the merchandising performance is largely proportional to crowd size, although last year the average spend figure was up a fair amount, so we did better at Turnberry than we expected, but it doesn't counteract the difference in crowd size.
Q. Can you tell me what the average spend was, and will you be increasing the size of the merchandise pavilion by 50 or 60 percent?
DAVID HILL: We're not planning to increase it. It might be five meters larger if I remember, five or ten meters larger than last year. The average spend I can't really quote just off the top of my head, but I would have thought for the average transaction of those who purchased something is in the region of about 50 to 60 pounds.
Q. On the merchandise pavilion, it's very different to what most people in this room have been used to in years gone by. Do you envisage a day when it merely comes to what it was once, and if not, why not?
PETER DAWSON: Well, very simply, when you say years gone by, the current merchandising type operation come in in 2001 at Royal Lytham nine years ago, so the years gone by have receded a bid. And to be quite honest, the Open Championship has competition. It has competition from the other major golf events and from the Ryder Cup. And the Open Championship therefore has a need to be commercially successful, not just because we give money away to golf development round the world but because we need to reinvest at the Championship and make sure it stays at the forefront of golfing events. And you don't do that commercially the way the Open used to be; you do it the way we're doing it now. And I understand that certain things have been lost in that process. But we can't give our competition a head start like we're not going to do merchandising in a commercial way, because eventually that will reflect on the amount of money available to invest in the Championship, and it will go into decline. So it's a matter of, funnily enough, stewarding the Open. But I do know what you're asking.
DAVID HILL: I think also we would be keen if all the manufacturers could come in and display all their wares like they used to so that the general public can see what is available, but one of my colleagues has spoken extensively with the manufacturers, and it's just cost prohibitive for them to do that. In this climate it's a minimum of £50,000 to £60,000 for the time they add in staff hours and accommodations. It's a big exercise. One or two might be prepared to do it, but ideally we'd want say the top eight to do it. I would say there is a window of opportunity there if times got better.
Q. Last year there was a lot of emphasis on local fare, whatever fish and stuff they were serving in the hospitality suites, and I think to a certain extent were you not selling -
PETER DAWSON: Smokies.
Q. Excuse my ignorance. There hasn't been any mention of anything like that today.
DAVID HILL: Well, it's not news, I suppose. It's absolutely fair to say we use Prestige Scotland for a lot of our catering on the Bruce Embankment, which is the press catering side, and their parent company, Sodexo, from London, and they have a policy to use as much Scottish produce as they possibly can in the same way when the Open is in the northwest of England they would use fares from the northwest of England as much as possible. And they also use sustainable products so that they are mindful. We have about 100,000 portions of fish and chips throughout the week, and they do use sustainable fish in some cases. I'm not exactly sure what they mean by that. But it is knot necessarily haddock.
PETER DAWSON: Actually, talking about sustainability, we did forget to mention that there is an Open Championship wildlife and habitat booklet being published this year demonstrating measures being taken by the Links Trust out on the links to cure its sustainability on the one hand and ensure that habitats for wildlife out there exist as undisturbed as possible in the playing of the game. So that was an omission that we made for the presentation, and I apologize.
Q. With golf now in the Olympics, are you mildly relieved that the introduction of drug testing got exposed as a problem in the sport?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we've had one or two cases, haven't we, but they are very, very small and pretty minor, so I think it's very good that drug trusting has come into golf, one, to establish our credentials as -- I'm not going to say drug free, but close to drug free sport on the one hand, but also to ensure that we stay that way. And I think the Olympic thing has acted as a major catalyst for that, and I think that's a force for good. It's a very expensive and time-consuming exercise, this drug testing, but keeping drugs out of sport is very important, and so it's money worth spending. I think Mark alluded to the fact that I took the test last year at Turnberry. I claimed to be the first person ever drug tested at an Open Championship, and yes, nothing found. These masking agents work every time. (Laughter.) Nothing found.
Q. With the new tee at 17 do you have any sense or anticipation as to whether the players will agree with your efforts to restore the hole to what it used to be or should be, or will damn your eyes to making a tough hole considerably tougher?
PETER DAWSON: We'll have to see. All I'll say is that we did consult with some players at the Dunhill last year about it and received support. I'm not going to name them because I don't think that's fair, but we weren't quite daft enough just to go and do it without asking some opinions. And there will be a variety of views I'm quite sure. At the Open Championship once all the crowds are there and the ropes are there and the course furniture are there, it will not look nearly as out of place off the golf course as it does now. It will look like an integral part of the course, just like the other new tees do. Player reaction will no doubt be mixed. We'll have to wait and see.
PETER DAWSON: There are one or two, not that are very attractive, however, and as I said earlier, if the ball starts to go further, we're committed to reining it back. I think we are where we are.
Q. I'm curious, you had mentioned during your presentation that you had the opportunity to study players when they come here because of the number of tournaments that come here. And I'm wondering if you have done anything in the last few years to track specifically how the amateurs versus the professionals in the pro-am play the course, club selection, yardages hit, anything of that nature, and take that into account as you're making some of the decisions on the changes to the course?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we don't in a scientific way in that particular sense, although the R & A, its equipment standards committee does track amateur driving distance at various events around the country. We go back to the same golf clubs in the same month year in and year out and check driving distance. As an aside, the increase in hitting distance amongst amateurs is not as marked as amongst pros. What is marked over the years is they're hitting driver more often than they used to as the drivers have become more for giving I suspect, but that's an aside. No, we haven't put in these new tees for amateur play. We expect amateur play to continue from the existing tees unless the Links Trust or ourselves would decide to use the very back tees for the Links Trophy or the next time the Amateur Championship comes to St. Andrews. But no, we haven't done any scientific comparisons.
Q. As far as drug testing goes, it's still just a urine test; is that correct?
PETER DAWSON: That's correct, yes.
Q. So I'm not quite clear how you can make any sort of meaningful statement about drugs in golf if you don't have a proper test for human growth hormone and other things that would only show up in a blood test.
PETER DAWSON: Yes, that's certainly an issue that's coming at us. At the moment the testing that golf does meets WADA's requirements, and the International Golf Federation anti-doping policy is WADA compliant without the need to take blood, and it's something we'll keep an eye on.
Q. It sounds like you anticipate you may have to bring it in in the near future.
PETER DAWSON: I haven't said that, and I think it's a way away in golf. But we bow to the experts on this, and if WADA say it's necessary, then it's necessary.
Q. What's the R & A's carbon footprint, and how do you offset it?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think in truth, all big sports events because of the amount of travel involved to them have difficulty in the carbon footprint area. There's no two ways about that. What our golf course committee are doing are working -- our staff in that area through a website, bestcourseforgolf.org are issuing best practice guidelines for golf clubs to reduce their carbon footprint, to manage their courses in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. And I think that is something that's gathering momentum both in Europe and in the United States, and indeed starting, too, in parts of Asia at the moment. I think that can be our greatest contribution. I don't know, frankly, how to counteract the amount of air travel, road travel, rail travel or whatever, involved in getting hundreds of thousands of people to a venue, and if anyone can tell me that without smoke and mirrors, I'd be very interested. But that's just a fact; people travel.
Q. Back to the 17th tee, I think in October when the change was announced, it was going to be 490 yards. I now see it's 495.
PETER DAWSON: I think we said about 490. I think that was based on a pacing out at the time, but we've measured it more accurately. Nothing more sinister than that; just can't count.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and we look forward to seeing you in July.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.