The R&A Chief Executive discusses the Open ahead of the 2015 tournament at St Andrews.
Q: What are the main changes to the Old Course since the last Open at St Andrews in 2010?
PD: If I work my way round the course, the two bunkers that were some distance from the 2nd green have been filled in and two new bunkers inserted front right of the green. Some flat ground that was immediately right of the green has been broken too, and by that I mean it now undulates a bit, whereas before it was dead flat.
Missing the green right means you’re now either going to be in a bunker or on this undulating ground, so it requires a more precise second shot if the flag is on the bottom tier. On the 3rd there is a new bunker in the driving zone on the right, while a shorter bunker has been removed. On both the 4th and 6th holes, flat ground to the right of the green has been made more undulating. And the 9th now has a new bunker in the driving zone on the left.
Do you mean for those taking on the green from the left tee?
PD: Yes, it’s not far from the green for those trying to drive it, and you’ll go in there if you drag it left a bit.
On the par-3 11th, the slope on the left half of the green has been lessened slightly. That will allow us to get left-hand pin positions in, which we couldn’t do before at modern green speeds. And the final one is an area of flat ground just through the back of the 15th which now undulates slightly.
So nothing major then?
PD: No, it was never going to be major. As for the Road bunker, that gets rebuilt every year, and I wouldn’t want to say that this rebuild has been dramatically different to many in history.
Watch our brief history of St Andrews
How well received have the changes been within the town and from further afield?
PD: It’s been absolutely fine. Most people who have criticised them haven’t seen them, and are doing it on the principle that you should never do anything to change the Old Course. But the Old Course has been evolving throughout all of its life, really.
Is it maxed out now in terms of length?
PD: I suppose there are a couple of things that you could think of doing still, but nothing major,
so it’s very close to maxing out, yes.
I was in town recently and it looked to be in magnificent condition…
PD: It is, yes. We’ve had a very dry spell the last two or three months – very dry indeed – so the course is very firm at the moment although it hasn’t browned off yet. So we shall see. I don’t know if you saw our blue-coloured grandstands going up? We’ve got a new look for The Open this year – with our brand development, everything has now gone blue.
And we’ve got a big amphitheatre too. The grandstand behind 18 is going to be bigger than before with a double tier, and the one behind 17 is going to horseshoe round over the road towards the Jigger Inn.
Do you require hosts to take precautions to protect the course in the run-up?
PD: We do, and we do that by discussion. You’ll see areas out on the course that are roped off and have mats on them, and we’re just monitoring that as we go. The Old Course is on mats all winter every year anyway, but it is remarkable how much divot scarring there can be when play starts in earnest.
Watch our 2015 Open selection of favourites
What sort of experience can spectators expect this year?
PD: We’re carrying on with what we introduced last time with Wi-Fi in the grandstands plus The Open apps that let you watch what’s going on elsewhere on the course. What is also happening this year is the past champions event on the Wednesday afternoon at about 4pm, playing the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes. We’ve got pretty close to 30 acceptances.
I heard at The Masters that Arnold Palmer is coming. I’m not sure if Arnold will actually play, though – we’ll have to wait and see on that. But Peter Thomson will be here 60 years on from winning the title at St Andrews.
It got rained off in 2010, didn’t it?
PD: It did. We had great success with it in 2000 –that was wonderful. But last timethe weather was so bad that it was unthinkable. It wouldn’t have been a spectacle at all.
How much has the Open changed since your first one in charge, again at St Andrews in 2000?
PD: When you’re in amongst it, you perhaps don’t realise just how much it has changed. It’s a little bit every year, I guess. I think the courses and course conditioning have moved on hugely. The spectator experience has improved and I think the standard of play has improved too. Players are getting better all the time. And I do think it’s become a more established event in the overall sporting calendar too.
Is the handover to your successor, Martin Slumbers, progressing nicely?
PD: Yes, very well. He’s been with us since March, and I’m very happy. He’s going to be excellent for The R&A.
When you look back on the Opens you have presided over, what have been the highlights?
PD: Well, I love all The Open venues. They’re all different, but they’ve all got their own
character. I suppose if you look back, Tiger has been the dominant player in my time, although not quite so much latterly. His three wins, and especially his fi rst one at St Andrews, were highlights, as indeed was that past champions event in 2000. That was a huge highlight. Padraig winning two in a row – that was terrific. And I think Ernie sneaking one back at Lytham in 2012 was quitesomething, having won one ten years earlier.
What about the lows?
PD: The most disappointing thing was the weather in 2010, and having to cancel that champions event. And one of the most unfortunate things was the Mark Roe scorecard incident at Royal St George’s in 2003.
Will St Andrews remain on its five-year cycle, or might that be pushed to six next time to coincide with the 150th Open?
PD: We’ve announced up to 2018 and we haven’t made a final decision beyond that yet. There’s a lot going on out there.
We’ve got the rework going on at Turnberry, the rework going on at Portrush, and we’re just keeping our eye on how these things go before determining the order going forward.
Finally, what do you make of Donald Trump’s plans for Turnberry?
PD: Well, we’ve been involved and I’ve walked the course with Donald Trump and Martin
Ebert, the architect. I think the plans are very ambitious and have the potential to be really
fantastic. I think it’s very positive when you also incorporate his plans for investment in
the hotel and the clubhouse and so on.
So Turnberry won’t be dropping off the rota any time soon then?
PD: No, I think what Donald Trump is doing can only improve Turnberry’s standing.