It’s obviously a very big year for The Open with the 150th anniversary celebrations. What will you be doing to mark such a special occasion?
As well as the traditional champions’ dinner that we have every time The Open is here at St Andrews, we’re going to be staging the four-hole ‘Open Champions’ Challenge‘ again on the Wednesday before, with past champions playing the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th on the Old Course just as in 2000. The BBC is actually showing it prime time on the Wednesday evening, and it will be live on ESPN in the States. Beyond that we’re also going to present the champion golfer with a replica of the original Open trophy, the Moroccan leather belt (pictured above). The Belt was won three times in a row by Young Tom Morris culminating in 1870 and as he’d done this unprecedented hat-trick, he got to keep it. But it was gifted to The R&A by the grandchildren of Old Tom Morris and a replica will be presented by Brian Morrison, the captain of Prestwick Golf Club – where the first Opens were staged – at the prize-giving ceremony at the end of the Championship.
What kind of turnout are you expecting for the four-hole challenge?
We had 22 out of 27 living champions last time round. There are now 32 living champions, and we’re confident of a good turnout for what will be a great trip down memory lane. In fact, I’m sure of 27 acceptances at the moment – 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 time now. Those are the three that have been sorry to say no, but have said no. Seve has got his hotel room booked and is very keen.
How did Seve’s honorary membership of The R&A come about?
It was time for him to be considered, as a multiple Open champion of distinction and great figure in the game who has now stopped playing – though there are some exceptions to this, such as Tom Watson. So through it went. We are delighted and he was very pleased.
Talking of Tom Watson, after last year did you come under any pressure to rethink the past champions’ upper age-limit exemption?
I didn’t feel pressured about it. I just felt that it needed to be addressed and I think we found a way of addressing it so that past champions can play beyond the age of 60 if they have finished in the top ten in The Open in the previous five years.