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R&A Holds Press Conference for Open Championship


Officials with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the host course gathered on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming Open Championship. The 140th playing of the year's third major of the year will be held at Royal St. Georges in Sandwich, Kent, England July 13-17.

Founded in 1887, the historic club has held 13 prior Open Championships (British Open). Past champions include Ben Curtis, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Bill Rogers, Bobby Locke, Reg Whitcombe, Henry Cotton, Walter Hagen (on two different occasions), Harry Vardon (twice), Jack White and John Henry Taylor.

Here's what the officials had to say during its Q&A from Royal St. Georges. They talked about changes to the course, infrastructure and logistics and other items with the press.

MODERATOR: I would like to say on behalf of the R & A that we are absolutely delighted to be back here at Royal St. Georges for the 140th playing of The Open Championship and indeed for the 14th time here in Sandwich in the southeast of England, the only venue in this part of the UK. Many of you will know that this was the first course outside of Scotland to host the Open Championship in 1894 when J.H. Taylor won the first of his five titles.

This great links of Royal St. Georges with all its natural beauty right on the edge of the English Channel places great emphasis on strategic play and not just muscle power. There is no doubt that this is a true championship test. It is also a wonderful venue from a spectator's viewpoint due to the size of the site and the layout of the course with many natural vantage points providing great views of the action.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Royal St. Georges for hosting the Open Championship again and for all the help and assistance to date, and we very much look forward to working with them as a team to present another Open Championship to remember.

Finally, can I thank all those from the media, from the various sections of the media, for attending here this morning, and despite an early start, it's great to see such a large turnout. From the R & A's perspective, it is very important for us to be able to promote the Open Championship as much as possible in order that we can continue to support the development of the game throughout the world.

But we'd also like to inform as many people as possible both about the history of the championship and also about the development of the Open Championship which we strive to achieve year on year. So thanks to all the media present for your support over the years and for ensuring that information relating to the world's oldest major gets to as many people as possible around the world using all the media channels currently available. At this point I'd like to hand over to Peter Dawson to start the presentation. Peter?

PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Jim, and good morning, everyone. Before I start, could I just echo Jim's welcome to you all - it's very good of you to be here - and his thanks to Royal St. Georges for agreeing to host this year's championship. It's an absolute delight to be back. Many of the information we're going to present this morning is in your media packs, and let me start by saying a few words about the golf course, and in particular the changes that have been made here since the last Open Championship.

The course will be 105 yards longer, largely because of new championship tees at the 3rd, 7th, 9th and 15th holes. At the last Open we were concerned that on three holes, the 1st, 17th, and 18th, the best players in the world were playing, and less than 30 per cent of them managed to hit those fairways, so we have adjusted the fairways of those three holes. There have been several bunkering adjustments around the golf course, and the course will be played as a par-70 this time as opposed to 71 last time.

As usual, at this gathering we get an update on what's happening in driving distance on Tour. You'll see from this graph that since 2002, 2003, driving distance on both the European and the U.S. and the Japanese Tours has continued to plateau. There have been no significant increases at all in driving distance since that time, and even if you look at the very longest hitters, the driving distance achieved by them is paralleling this plateau, although at a higher level, so driving distance is not increasing, and we take that very much into account in course setup and course alterations.

This data is based on a huge number of data points, and we're very happy that it helps the accurate picture. There have been more rules on equipment in golf set in the last ten years than in the whole history of the game. We do think we've got the issue surrounded, but of course players will continue to get bigger and stronger and no doubt be even better coached than they are now, so we will continue to monitor closely what's happening on driving distance.

Let's have a look at the golf course on a hole-by-hole basis, and I'm only going to deal with the holes that have changed at all. You will remember I said earlier that certain holes were very difficult for the fairways to be hit in the last championship, and the 1st is one of them, and all we've done at this hole is widen out the fairway in the drive zone to make it a fairer tee shot at the opening hole. That's a picture of the 1st, and the widening of the fairway has taken place over on this side. I think altogether it's about 12 yards. The 3rd hole is the next hole to be altered, and there is a new back tee here, adding 30 yards to the hole. It's now a big par-3. If we do get a strong headwind, we do have the facility to move up to the old tee, but it's a very stiff test as a par-3 this time.

The 4th hole was last time played as a par-5. It is under 500 yards long, and we'll be playing it as a par-4, perhaps more in keeping with modern practice this time, and the fact we're playing it as a par-4 rather than a par-5 will make the course a par-70 rather than a 71. On the 5th hole we were pretty surprised at the last championship, I have to be honest, that a number of players took on the carry over these mounds, and most often ended up about here in doing so, leaving quite a flat chip to the green. We've put in some contouring just short right of the green this time to make that a rather more challenging shot. And the only other change at this hole is that we've flipped a bunker on the left in the drive zone so that it's more visible from the tee. On hole 6, all that's happened here is that the championship tee has been enlarged to allow more room for teeing area. The result of that is that the hole is six yards longer. Not a significant change.

But on hole 7, this is really quite a significant change, there is a new back tee, adding 32 yards to the length of the hole, which is going to make driving through this neck quite a challenge. It's the best part of 280 yards to the crest, and that is going to be a very challenging and significant tee shot this time. We've also narrowed the gap here by moving this approach bunker a couple of yards to the left, and it's that bunker there that has been moved and just tightened that second shot a little bit. The 9th hole, there is a new championship tee which is much further to the left than the old one, which gives a much better line of tee shot and much better visibility of the fairway, and the effect of that is to add 24 yards to the hole, and that's a picture of the improved line.

We've also softened the approach around the green at 14, and the effect now is that between these bunkers and the out-of-bounds on the right, if you're going for the green with your second shot, it's quite a challenge. I think 14 will be a pretty critical hole again this year as it has been in past championships. The 15th has a new back tee, adding 21 yards to the hole, and it continues to be one of the strongest par-4s in championship golf. It will be challenging as always. And on hole 16, a back right bunker, this was the Bjorn bunker if I can call it that, the back right bunker which wasn't really in play, has been filled in and there's now a swale there.

17 was one of the holes that they had some difficulty hitting the fairway last time. We have eased it out to the right on the drive zone by I suppose a total of about six yards altogether, which should improve the ability of people to hit that fairway. It's a challenging tee shot as always. And 18 is the last of the three holes where we had driving problems at the last Open, and this hole has perhaps been remodeled more than any other. We've moved the fairway to the right. There are new bunkers in the drive zone. There were three cross bunkers, I think, now reduced to two and raised, and this bunker on the left has been brought in closer to the green, and we have as a result a very challenging and much fairer, if that's important, finishing hole.

As usual, we will be producing - moving on to other matters - our wildlife guide for Royal St. Georges this year. This links is a very important site ecologically, and we have to be very careful with spectator routing and with erection and dismantling of grandstands and tented village and so on. Just as an example, the grasslands here support 90 percent of the UK population of lizard orchids, and it is a site to which English nature pays a great deal of attention. Moving on to qualification entries, entries are strong, as they always are. The closing date is the 26th of May, so we've got another month or so for entries to come, and we expect the field to be as strong as ever for the Open. Three of our international final qualifying events have been played in Australia, in South Africa and in Asia, and this is a picture of the four qualifiers from the Asian international qualifying event, and we're also holding local final qualifying this year at four wonderful links courses in this area, at Rye, at Littlestone, at Deal, and at Prince's next door.

Prize money, just a quick word on that. We've not made a decision yet this year. Our general policy as you know is to keep the Open at the top end of the pecking order, but that doesn't mean it's always right at the top, and exchange rates make a big issue in determining the competitiveness of our prize money. We were at $1.53 at last year's Open, and this year I think the current rate is around $1.63, so we will be determining Open prize money in due course. I noticed at the Masters this year the prize money was the equivalent of $8 million. I say equivalent, but it's not a full-field event, so they pay out as if it were an $8 million prize fund, but of course it's less than that because they don't have as many players to pay. A word on our patrons. This is the top level of corporate support that we receive at the Open Championship, and we are delighted to have such a strong interest from such major companies. Very pleased that we've added this year HSBC and Mercedes-Benz to our list of patrons, and you'll be hearing more about HSBC presently. Now, these wonderful links here at Sandwich have produced many, many great champions. We've had Taylor, we've had Vardon, Hagen, Locke, Norman, but let's have a look at some film for a moment if we may of the great Henry Cotton. (Video shown.)

Henry's 65 in the second round in 1934 remained unequalled in Open history for 24 years, and of course it was the round that named this famous Dunlop 65 golf ball. I just love the overcoat, don't you? Perhaps we should start that as a tradition at the Open, the R & A overcoat. Might catch on. What do you think? Henry was obviously quite a celebrity. He actually used to go around doing stage performances, and we've got the bill here from the Charing Cross Coliseum on December 5, 1938, Henry clearly topping the bill, but joined, for example, by Nellie Wallace, and it says underneath, "the quintessence of quaintness," and "the three Aberdonians, too mean to tell you what they do." Henry apparently used to pick people in the audience and pitch golf balls for them to catch, and you'll be pleased to hear that health and safety regulations won't allow this Aberdonian to try that this morning. You'll be wondering what this pointer is. This was actually the driver that Henry used during his stage shows, and I suspect it's painted white to show up better to the audience, but maybe it gave TaylorMade an idea for their R11. I'm not quite sure.

I'm going to stop there now and hand over to Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, who's going to give us some details. But just before I do, I'm delighted to announce this morning that we've agreed with Southeastern that the fast line from St. Pancras to St. Georges, there will be two trains an hour coming to the Open in the mornings and two trains an hour back in the afternoons, direct to Sandwich nonstop, and including a 15-minute walk from the station here to the course, that means that spectators will be able to get to the Open from Central London in 95 minutes altogether. The Open Championship as a result has never been closer to the capital, and we are delighted to be announcing that this morning. Johnnie, can I hand over to you now to give us some more information?

JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: Good morning, everybody. As Peter has alluded to, Southeastern trains have announced this morning, there is a press release in your pack, that they will be operating two high speed trains every hour from London St. Pancras straight into Sandwich, and after lunchtime that will be in reverse, and two trains per hour will be going from Sandwich back to London St. Pancras. It will reduce the journey time from 135 minutes to 80 minutes, and as Peter says, there will be a 15-minute walk for spectators from Sandwich station. So on the high speed train you can be from the centre of London to the Open Championship in 90 minutes, 95 minutes, which is fantastic and a great boon to the Open Championship. The service will run on the four championship days, and it's important to note that Southeastern will also be putting on additional services of the standard train service, as well, so we'd be expecting around about 9,000 people on the busy days coming by train, which we will be catering for at our entrance gates.

In terms of car parking, we have room -- one of the great boons of Royal St. Georges, as well as the fantastic golf course, is the amount of acreage around, and we have a great deal of car parking at the venue for about 12,000 cars which will help us make use of the three different access routes into the course, two from the Sandwich direction and one from the Deal direction. We also have capacity for 4,000 cars at a park-and-ride site at Barville Farm off the A256, where we will be offering some reduced car parking and a free bus service into the venue. We first used park-and-ride at Royal St. Georges in 2003, and it was very successful, and we're wanting to build on that success, and it will help us massively with any traffic congestion.

We do recognize that Sandwich does cause us some challenges with traffic, and although we are using the same road infrastructure we did in 2003, in conjunction with Dover City Council and Kent Council and Starbury, we have learnt lessons from 2003, and we have made some significant improvements to the one-way systems, some of the signing schedules, and the timings on some of the restrictions we have in terms of parking. And also the announcement we've just made about the high-speed trains will help us a great deal in terms of traffic movement on the course.

In terms of ticketing and spectator numbers, in 2003 we had just over 182,000 people. Our information in terms of advance ticket sales through internet sales is that sales are very healthy and strong. We're expecting a very similar number that we had in 2003. Obviously lots of people still pay on the gate, and therefore weather is a dependent that we can't control, but we have strong, healthy sales, and we are expecting very similar numbers to 2003, which is good. We have provided around 16 and a half thousand seats on the golf course for the spectators visiting, and it's a fantastic golf course for viewing. There's lots of natural viewing areas in conjunction with those seats. We do expect the spectators to have a wonderful viewing experience at the Open Championship.

Just a quick word on no mobile phones. We will be continuing the no-mobile-phone policy in 2011. This was after a very careful review by our Championship Committee, but we do feel that at the moment a no-mobile-phone policy does produce the best possible conditions for the competitors to compete at the Open Championship, and we are still concerned about the impact of noise from telephones and particularly phone cameras, but we have noted that the U.S. PGA Tour have reintroduced phones to their events, and we will be monitoring the impact of that reintroduction and this will be a policy we carefully monitor year on year.

Just finally a quick word on something we're very pleased about. For the last 15 years we have run a policy of any accompanying spectator who is 16 or under has been permitted to the Open Championship free of charge, and we are very pleased to say that at some point this year at Royal St. Georges, the 250th free admission will be walking through our pay gates, which we're delighted about, and I think that is a nice story. That's just to provide some details on the trains, the car parks and the parking, and I'd like to hand over to my colleague Michael Wells, who will give you some more information regarding tented village.

MICHAEL WELLS: Thanks for that, Johnnie. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Michael Wells, and I'm here to talk a little bit about the tented village at the Open, hospitality, some new spectator facilities which we have, and a little bit of investment and development which is obviously ongoing at the Open Championship. But first of all, I would like to take the first slide, which is showing a nice aerial photograph of the Open Championship as it was in 2003, and for me really being involved back then it's one of my favorite venues in terms of the tented village. Obviously it's a fantastic golf course, as well, but the village presents a lot of space for us which allows us to be a bit more creative. It's obviously very close as you can see to the 1st tee and to the 18th green, as well, which helps to create an atmosphere.

The media centre is going to be in the same location as it was in 2003, very close to the 18th green, again, recorders, the key interview areas, and it'll be a bit larger this year than it was eight years ago. As Johnnie mentioned a second ago, car parking at Royal St. Georges is also very close, and the large majority of it is right next to the venue as you can see as demonstrated in the photograph here. Which brings me on to hospitality. I'm pleased to report that hospitality sales at the Open are strong. In fact, we are sold out on some days. We're optimistic about the future and the recovery here, but we also believe that this is due to the first-class product which we have and the high standards which we've been driving over the last couple of years, particularly in hospitality. It's no secret that unofficial hospitality exists, but the fact that revenues made from corporate hospitality purchased officially at the Open Championship is invested into golf development projects as we know here, at home, and all around the world.

Weekend packages are still available, and obviously you can find details of those on the usual websites at opengolf.com. As I mentioned earlier about investment in the tented village, in one particular area which I'd like to introduce is the HSBC Open Championship Golf Zone. As Peter will most likely touch on in a second, the R & A has continued developing and driving golf development, and where better to have a go at some experiences but in this new creation which we've worked hard with our new patrons, HSBC, to create. So in here you can try and get out a replica of the Road Hole bunker, which is going to be created by some local greenskeepers, obviously keep up to date with all the latest stats, player bios, live scoring in here.

Nikon, another one of our patrons, are involved with helping to create a green screen area where you can have your photo taken with the famous Claret Jug, and it'll be ready for you to take away by the time you leave the zone. See how hickory golf clubs were made and compare them to the modern-day irons and drivers in some of the driving bays we have here. You can have a little walk-through here and try and feel what it's like to walk down the 18th fairway just before being crowned the Open champion. And of course we're looking at some areas which are specifically dedicated at children. But in teaming up with HSBC, we really want to get across the ethos of this new spectator facility which is very important to the R & A. It's not all just about children, but it's going to give everybody a chance who's going to be inspired from watching the world's greatest players play out on the golf course at the Open the opportunity to engage with some of the many different golf experiences which are available within the zone.

Clearly we hope it is going to be very busy, and in order to meet with the demand we're going to expect on championship days, we hope to accommodate about 400 spectators an hour in this new zone, and this will be in addition to the R & A Swing Zone, which will continue to offer free lessons from PGA pros, which is over at the practice ground. Just continuing the theme of investing and developing the Open Championship, one area in particular which we've been looking at closely in the last couple years is the installation of a fiberoptic digital communications network, and Royal St. Georges is going to be the third venue where we've installed such a system. And really it will accommodate a broad range of users from the broadcasters themselves putting pictures all over the golf course back to television compound, right through to the spectators to the scoring system, and really now it's becoming an integral part of not just the Open Championship but I think a lot of major sporting events, and it's very important for us.

Moving on to the media centre now, clearly as one of the main users of this new cutting edge technology, the media centre really is one of the main users of this, and by providing this it enables the media obviously to report on the championship with all of the up-to-date information, high-speed communications at your fingertips, internet connections, and in fact, just while we're here, there will be an ordering website going live at the end of this month for all accredited media which will be emailed to you, details of that which you can fill out all of the services you need at the championship. But much more importantly than that, I'd like to just confirm that once again, the R & A will be providing free catering within the media centre, which I think went down fairly well last year. And on that happy note I'd like to pass back to Peter Dawson, who will touch on some final points.

PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Johnnie. Thank you, Michael. Just to close on the legacy of the Open Championship, every few years we do conduct an economic impact study to measure the benefit that the championship brings to the local area and to the country as a whole, and we conducted such a study last year at St. Andrews through Sheffield Hallam University. The findings were that the benefit to the host region totaled 100 million, pretty much 50/50 between local economic impact and destination marketing, and by that it's the effect of worldwide television largely broadcasting the benefits of an area to the wider world and thus generating tourism and other traffic. This is a picture of Scotland's fearless leader, Alex Salmond, clearly looking pleased about the whole thing.

Open revenues allow the R & A to work for golf, and we're delighted to continue to do so. You have a copy of our latest annual review in your packs, which has only just come out in the last day or two. Last year we were able to put 10.1 million back into golf through administering the rules of play and equipment at no cost to the sport through development grants, through our advocacy of sustainable golf, and the chronicling, safeguarding and sharing of golf's heritage. And the continued success of the Open Championship is key to our ability to continue to carry on with this, I hope, good work.

Thank you all for listening. We'll now move on to questions, and could I ask that if you have a question, you call for one of the microphones which will be handed to you. Thank you all.

Q. Just two things on the course, please, Peter. Why the need to lengthen 15, which was an already tough hole, and why the filling in of the bunker on 16?

PETER DAWSON: Well, if I can deal with the bunker on 16, I think that's probably almost irrelevant from an Open Championship standpoint. There was a bunker that was never really in play, and it was filled in largely for maintenance purposes here at Sandwich, and the swale that's left behind is just as challenging as the bunker ever would have been. As far as lengthening the 15th is concerned, there was a corner of the golf course there that was a natural spot for a new tee, and it's just to do with the keeping up, if you like, with the distance these guys are hitting it today. Sandwich, as we've seen, distances haven't increased since the Open was last year, but equally they had increased up to that point, and they've now been adjusted. The overall increase in the golf course is only 11/2 per cent. Instead of hitting the ball 100 yards, you've now got to hit it 101 yards, one foot, six inches, so it's hardly hugely significant, but it is concentrated on four of the holes.

Q. Peter, there was very little rough out there at the moment. Are you worried about that if we continue to get dry weather?

PETER DAWSON: Well, by this time of year, most years the rough hasn't really started to come through. Some years you get a dry spring period which results usually in the course being hard and fast but the rough a bit thin. Other years you get wet weather, which results in thicker rough and perhaps a softer golf course. What we don't want is a cold, dry spring because if we do get the heat which we are getting, that does keep the soil temperature up to a level where growth will come, although not as much as if there were rain. But we don't fiddle with this; we take what nature gives us. That's one of the beauties of links golf, that you can play it so many different ways, and it'll be interesting to see what this July brings. We're very pleased with the condition and state of the golf course at this point, but I think we'd all like to see a bit of rain sometime soon.

Q. How much influence did Tiger's lost ball down the 1st have on widening the 1st fairway, and I'm wondering how many balls were lost during the last Open Championship here? Do we know?

PETER DAWSON: I can't answer the lost balls one. I'm looking at the rules people to see if they've been reading their rules incident cards, but obviously they haven't. The answer to the question was Tiger's lost ball was not an influence. It was the overall statistics of 27, 28 per cent of people hitting the fairways. If there's no more questions, which there clearly aren't, thank you all very much for attending, and let's look forward to seeing you in July. Thank you for being here.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.