Peter Dawson is arguably the most
powerful man in golf outside the
United States. As secretary of the
R&A his domain is global and even
his harshest critics credit him for
gently nudging the body he governs
into the 21st century.
Global Golf Post editor Brian Hewitt
conducted a wide-ranging interview
with Dawson recently in Florida. It was
cool and gray and, as they sat outside,
Dawson was assured that GGP had done
its best to make him feel at home with
the weather. He smiled.
What follows is Part I of a two-part
Q&A that will conclude in next week’s
edition of GGP. The subjects covered
range from the changes at No. 17 at
the Old Course and golf’s worldwide
sustainability crisis to the advent of
golf in the Olympics and Dawson’s
shoulder-rubbing with Clint Eastwood
and Jack Nicklaus.
GGP Before we tackle more pressing issues,
there’s an elephant in the room: What do you
tell people who insist you’ve painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa at The Old Course in
St. Andrews because you have lengthened the
famed Road Hole for the Open Championship this summer?
PD We see the Old Course played a lot by the
professionals. We have the Dunhill Links
tournament there every year. We have the
Open Championship there every five years.
We have a very good handle on how they
(the pros) play the holes. This isn’t just based
on the odd observation. The hole has never
been lengthened before now. It was played in
1900 at the Open Championship at exactly
the same length as it was in 2005. So there
can be no doubt that the hole has changed
in the way it has played.
PD We’re seeing, in windless conditions, the
pros getting into position off the tee where
they want to be with considerably less than
driver. We’re also seeing hardly anyone go on
the road through the green today because
they’re hitting into the green with much
more lofted clubs. So many of the old challenges of the hole have changed. That’s not
to say it’s an easy hole, as the scoring statistics still tell you it’s a tough hole. But we are
putting in a new back tee, which incidentally
(Sir) Henry Cotton presaged back in the 60s,
thinking there should be a tee exactly where
we put this one.
GGP Will there be flexibility in the setup?
PD We may not use it (the new tee) every day.
It depends on the wind conditions. But it
will lengthen the hole by about 40 yards and
either put the driver back into their hands
or make the second shot longer. Of course,
we knew going into this there would be a lot
of comment. We knew there’d be remarks
about it. But it’s still our duty, if you like, to
maintain our links course’s challenge and
where we think it ought to be.
GGP We thought you had been done with changes
at The Old Course.
PD I did say that in the past when we lengthened
the course before with back tees. I just mentioned that that would be the end of it as far
as The Old Course was concerned. So to that
degree, on this particular hole, I’ve gone back
on that. But we did also, during the Dunhill
this year, consult with some of the top pros
before we did this and got a positive reaction.
GGP Any other reaction to the change at 17 that
might have been compelling or amusing?
PD There was a remarkable thing in the Times
(of London). John Hopkins (golf writer)
seemed to have asked four American architects what they thought of this change and
they all were wondering how it changed
the angle of the drive. Of course, the angle
hasn’t changed at all. Sometimes these
people think we’re stupid. It’s an amazing
thing to assume that we had mucked up to
that degree. It’s just staggering.
GGP Any other changes at The Road Hole other
than the tee?
PD Two players in particular strongly suggested
that we should ease the fairway back on the
left a little more if we were going to take the
tee back, and I think that’s right.
GGP To create more bailout for players hitting
PD Yes, we had, actually, over the years squeezed it
a bit right, to be honest because it was getting
easier off the tee. So we will ease it back a bit.
GGP Moving on to other issues, any chance that the
list of current Open Championship venues —
the “Rota”— could be expanded in the future?
PD In the last 10 years or so we brought back
Carnoustie and we brought back Hoylake
so we now have nine. We’re always open to
new venue ideas and we look at new courses
from time to time. We’ve found some where
the infrastructure’s been fine but the course
hasn’t been up to it or the course has been
fine but the infrastructure hasn’t been up to
it. So we have no hot prospects on the list at
the moment, that’s for sure. But we do get
a lot of questions from Ireland in particular
about Portrush and (Royal) County Down
and Portmarnock in the south but we’ve
never been outside the United Kingdom. e