The Local Knowlege

News & Tours

Since you can't clone Ivor Robson, the R&A had to find another announcer for the 10th tee

By E. Michael Johnson

HOYLAKE, England -- One of the side stories of the R&A deciding to go to a weather-induced two-tee start for Saturday's third round of the British Open at Royal Liverpool is the fact that omnipresent tee announcer Ivor Robson can't be in two places at the same time. That begged the question as to whom would assume the duties on the 10th tee while Robson was holding down the fort on No. 1?

Now on the tee ... Mike Stewart.

loop-mike-stewart-official-2-518.jpgStewart is the senior tournament director of the European Tour who among other assignments oversees the tour's Qualifying School tournament. Catching up with him after the final group of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rhein Gibson teed off, Stewart said he was having dinner with his family in Yorkshire -- some 100 miles away -- when he received a call last night around 9 p.m. informing him that his services would be needed. 

Unlike Robson, whose sing-song lilt has made him a favorite with players and fans alike, Stewart played it straight, announcing the names in a monotone, professional manner.

"I've done this a few times before," Stewart noted with a smile. 

Stewart did have one thing in common with Robson, however. He didn't leave his post for the duration of his duties. 

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News & Tours

These guys are the caddies' best friends on Saturday at Hoylake

By Ryan Herrington

HOYLAKE, England -- There is only one group of people more curious about Saturday’s forecast at Royal Liverpool than the players who made the cut at the British Open.

Their caddies.

The men carrying the golfers’ bags have no more challenging a scenario than doing it in rainy and windy conditions, much less with major championship pressure on the line.

Thankfully at the British Open they have one less responsibility than usual. With each group on the course, the R&A assigns a volunteer to accompany the players, rake in hand, with the job of tending to the bunkers as well as helping replaced player divots.

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The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) is charged with organizing the volunteer pool, soliciting its members from around the U.K. to apply for the 52 posts each year. Those selected are housed in the area for the week.

“It’s a pretty prestigious thing to be chosen,” said Robert Welford, a member of the BIGGA board of directors, who was making assignments for the Saturday games. "People ask through out the year about getting the chance to do this."  

There’s some work being done -- the volunteers are also on call to help with Royal Liverpool’s course greenkeeper in the event the bad weather causes issues on the course -- but the appeal of being so close to the action makes the job particularly attractive.

"It's fun to chat up the players and caddies. They're very friendly to us," said Harvey Brooke, who went off with the threesome of George Coetzee, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen Saturday.

BIGGA has some fun with the bunker responsibility, even tracking how many bunkers their members rake; Thursday’s total was 335, down from 352 in the first round at Hoylake in 2006, and Friday's was 344 compared to 353.

When the R&A decided to change to a two-tee start on Saturday, it meant that almost two dozen of Welford’s charges would actually have the day off. Welford says those volunteers will be guaranteed a group on Sunday.

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News & Tours

R&A says bring your cell phones on the course, please

By Geoff Shackelford

HOYLAKE, England -- Cutting edge and the R&A? Don't be daft!

Only a couple of years removed from banning phones at the British Open, the R&A has embraced a more comprehensive strategy to encourage fan use of smartphones. For the first time at a professional golf tournament, free (and working) Wifi is available throughout the course to power The Open's artfully designed app. Even with huge galleries at Hoylake, the combination of a sensible design and a working Wifi system has raised the bar in offering fan interactivity for all of professional sport.

loop-open-app-screen-leader-518.jpgFuture Workshops of London's app design offers a customizable leader board, options to watch or listen to BBC coverage and a bulletin stream emphasizing replays of key shots, great photos or breaking news. The ad-free video feed loads quickly and, so far, has worked remarkably well. And if there are Wifi dead spots not covered by the 350 access points? Youthful ambassadors are walking the course, helping spectators who have questions while also documenting any areas where access is poor. Technicians immediately make modifications to get the areas internet access.

The slightly Orwellian use of "iBeacons" is quietly becoming of the on-site experience, though never to sell anything. Users are asked if they are coming to the event, and those who say no have the beacon detection deactivated. The beacons detect a spectator's locale, offering a welcome entry into a drawing for free tickets to the 2015 Open. Those in the third-hole grandstands get notifications on the next group coming to their hole.

The iPhone and iPad designs differ, with the ingenious iPad layout the ideal user experience since there is almost no need to leave the homepage. Both versions include an interactive course map, where a user can click a red dot appearing on the holes to reveal which grouping is on said hole. It's a pretty handy feature for finding your favorite players.

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While the Open fans have shown worse manners than their American counterparts by taking too many photos as players hit shots, a glance at the grandstands reveals many using their phone to watch or listen to action. As someone who watched golf on a Sony Watchman at the 1986 Masters, seeing fans able to pass the time between groups by keeping up with BBC's coverage, getting their fill of Peter Alliss commentary or checking out the latest updates mercifully brings golf spectating into the 21st century. And just think, it's the Royal & Ancient leading the march to technological progress.

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News & Tours

Where did the British Open's yellow leader boards go?

By Ryan Herrington

HOYLAKE, England -- When it comes to charm, the British Open is hardly in short supply. Perhaps then the loss of manual leader boards around the course in favor of electronic models is a smart way for the R&A to spend some of its surplus.

loop-electronic-scoreboard-2-518.jpgCertainly the new LED screens planted next to the green on Royal Liverpool's first 17 holes offer more information for spectators. They detail not just where competitors playing a particular hole stand but stats from their rounds and past results in the Open and miscellaneous information.

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But there is a trade off for upgrading into the modern age.

Several players quickly noticed the new look at Hoylake. "What happened to the yellow scoreboards?" Tom Watson inquired during a press conference earlier in the week. "There's no more yellow scoreboard."

Spectators waxed a little nostalgic, too. "It doesn't seem right not to see them," noted Gene Larson, a Liverpool native in attendance at Hoylake Thursday. Larson remembers them from when he came to the Open here in 2006 as well as watching the tournament on television.

The R&A's decision to make the change is part of an overall effort to upgrade amenities for spectators attending the tournament. A free Wifi network has been installed around the course so that fans can follow action from the R&A's Open app on their mobile phones as well as watch TV and listen to radio coverage.

"The experience for our spectators will, I believe, be the best they have ever received," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

Indeed, the moves are forward thinking and likely leave officials with the other three men's majors watching to see how the R&A's efforts play out as to whether they incorporate any of the changes into the Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, for sentimentalists the saving grace is that the large manual boards a top the grandstands beside the 18th green remain, allowing for the traditional "Well done" salute to the winner on Sunday and the "See You at St. Andrews in 2015."

Thankfully some traditions are off limits.

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News & Tours

Is Turnberry becoming the odd course out of the Open Championship rota?

By John Huggan

Predicting Open Championship venues became something of an (almost) exact science back in the 1990s. Somewhere around that time, someone in the R&A came to the conclusion that the world's oldest tournament should be held every five years on the world's most famous links, the Old Course at St. Andrews. With eight other courses on the rota, it then became a safe bet each would host the championship once every decade or so. To wit, this week saw the announcement of the Open's return to Royal Birkdale (2017) and Carnoustie (2018), nine and 11 years removed, respectively, from when they last hosted the major.

Yet this cozy little arrangement may be undergoing something of a shake-up. With the R&A's recent extension of an invitation to Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush to host the Open, and the strong likelihood that the club will accept, allowing the event to be played outside Great Britain for only the second time come 2019, at least one nose is liable to be put out of joint. And the proboscis in question -- according to at least one well-informed source -- belongs to Donald Trump, the equally recent purchaser of the now grandly-titled "Trump Turnberry."

It is safe to say "TT" has never been the R&A's favorite place to go. An Open venue only three times since it was first taken there in 1977, the last in 2009, the Scottish resort is located in an out-of-the-way spot just off the almost exclusively single-track A77 road that winds its way circuitously through Ayrshire. As such, it traditionally attracts the smallest crowds of any Open venue. By extension, it also generates the least amount of income for golf's ruling body outside the United States and Mexico.

Although surrounded by some of the most aesthetically-pleasing vistas on the Open rota, the Ailsa course has long been in need of re-working. Specifically, the three-hole run beginning on the iconic ninth tee (below) that juts picturesquely out into the Firth of Clyde.

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As many players have pointed out, the hump-backed ninth fairway is all but unhittable, a fact that, in the words of one past Open competitor, makes the hole "bloody stupid." The 10th, by comparison, is merely "OK," but the short 11th is bland in the extreme and comfortably the worst hole on the course.

Happily, The Donald seems aware of the shortcomings. At a press conference Wednesday, Trump announced that course architect Martin Ebert has already conceived a plan for the problem areas.

"We can't share all of the ideas at the moment," Ebert said. "It is all very much a work in progress. We will respect the wishes of the R&A and develop proposals sensitive to the needs of the Open Championship. We are keen to protect the history and heritage of the course, but there are definitely opportunities."

Ebert did reveal that the 10th tee will move back and to the left, creating a 260-yard carry to the fairway -- "right on the limit." The green will also be re-located, back towards what is now the 11th tee. And the 11th will become a much-more attractive par 3, tee shots flying "across the bay" to the green.

What wasn't mentioned is that the aforementioned ninth will surely be transformed from a par 4 into a stunning par 3 from the present tee to a green nestled beneath the lighthouse that is, along with the soon-to-be expensively renovated hotel, the resort's signature landmark.

Significantly, Trump was at pains to emphasize that Ebert was hired on the recommendation of R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson. The obvious implication being that an Open Championship is very much part of TT's future.

That remains to be seen though. No matter Trump's protestations that the re-naming of the latest addition to his golfing portfolio had "nothing to do with ego," for many observers a fifth Turnberry Open would come as something of a surprise. Even the least cynical conspiracy theorist must suspect that the ultra-conservative members of the R&A are unlikely to take their flagship event -- and sole source of revenue -- to something named after such a "loud American."

Even if he is eventually snubbed by the R&A, Trump does have an obvious and attractive alternative. Offering to host the Scottish Open on a permanent basis in the week before the Open would bring with it a stellar field, annual worldwide publicity (instead of once every decade or so) and, no doubt, fill more than a few hotel rooms.

Just a thought.

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News & Tours

Royal and Ancient Golf Club explores allowing proxy votes on female-membership measure

By Ron Sirak

When the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews announced last month it would hold a Sept. 18 vote on whether to admit female members for the first time in its 260-year history -- a measure strongly backed by the organization's leadership -- one particular nuance of the process was noted. According to club bylaws, there are no proxies; current members must be present at the fall meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland to cast a ballot.

loop-randa-clubhouse-female-voting-518.jpgIn the ensuing weeks, supporters of expanding the Royal and Ancient membership to women have become concerned that the opposition might stack the meeting to defeat the measure. Their nervousness has risen to the point where, according to multiple sources who spoke with GolfDigest.com, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is exploring a bylaw change that would allow the 2,400 members to vote remotely by email or standard mail.

Part of supporters' uneasiness stems from the fact a 75-percent majority is needed to allow entry of women. The high threshold makes it even more imperative, in their view, that remote voting of some sort be allowed.

Asked about the matter, a spokesman for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club said, "Members from around the world have expressed the desire to be part of this September's historic vote. The General Committee is investigating a change to the club's rules to allow postal votes to be taken on particularly important issues such as this one so that every member can have the opportunity to be involved."

While it is difficult to believe the Royal and Ancient leadership would have taken such a public stance in favor of female membership without being confident the motion would pass, exploring the bylaw change on voting falls into the better-safe-than-sorry camp. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club has a global membership, including many Americans, and only a fraction typically make the trip for the Fall Meeting each year. Members of clubs closest to St. Andrews, such as Muirfield, which hosted last year's British Open and has an all-male membership, are better able to attend the event -- and perhaps influence the vote.

Photo: Getty Images

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News & Tours

Peter Dawson, now set to retire in 2015, has served the R&A well in a time of transition

By John Huggan

News that the R&A's first-ever chief executive, Peter Dawson, will retire from his post in September 2015 after 16 years on the job comes as no real surprise. With golf in the Olympics and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews finally set to vote on the vexing issue of allowing female members, maybe the 64-year-old Cambridge graduate felt there was nothing much left for him to achieve. Then again, perhaps it is simply time to be at home more with his wife, Juliet -- who has recently not enjoyed the best of health -- and working on the swing that made him a 1-handicapper at his best.

Whatever, what might be called the "Dawson era" is one that brought with it changes and challenges almost unprecedented in the now 260 years of the golf club's existence. Indeed, Dawson's hiring at the back end of the last century surely had much to do with the need for the "R&A GC" to separate itself from the corporate business of being the game's rule maker outside the United States and Mexico.

loop-peter-dawson-clubhouse.jpgPeter Dawson, right, will retire from his chief executive position in September 2015 after overseeing the R&A for 16 years. (Getty Images)

No one in the famous old clubhouse that sits behind the first tee on the Old Course needs to be reminded of the uncomfortable sight of then R&A secretary, five-time British Amateur champion Michael Bonallack, being served with a writ by the Karsten Manufacturing during the 1989 Walker Cup in Atlanta. That incident alone confirmed how much the R&A and its 2,500 or so members needed insulation for the club from the specter of legal action being brought against the governing body.

So it was that Dawson, with a career that climaxed as head of sales and marketing in Europe, Africa and the Far East for U.S.-based Grove Manufacturing ("the biggest manufacturers of hydraulic cranes in the world"), was the right man with the right experience for such a delicate task.

Dawson's background has surely also been an asset in dealing with on-going club and ball issues, what he has called "the most intellectually demanding aspect of my tenure, both technically and philosophically." But through it all, the impression here is that he has always thought more as a golfer than an engineering graduate. While publicly he has consistently defended the actions of the R&A and USGA when the subject of driving distances is raised, it would be no surprise -- eventually -- to hear Dawson's private feelings on large-headed drivers and the modern golf ball do not exactly mirror the party line.

For all his successes though, the Aberdeen-born Scot's tenure has not been without criticism or controversy. His dealings with the media, an aspect of the job in which he had little or no previous experience, have often been strained. More than once his irritation with awkward questions has been apparent, especially when the subject has been the R&A's lack of women members. 

Related: Royal & Ancient GC to vote on allowing female members

Since 2004, when the R&A and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club went their separate ways, Dawson has more concerned himself with the set-up of British Open venues. All have been lengthened and many have been subjected to what some critics have euphemistically dubbed "the treatment." This year, for example, the first hole at Hoylake will see a new green courtesy of architect Martin Hawtree that bears little or no resemblance to any other on the course. Likewise, the controversial 17th green at Royal Birkdale has seen many informed observers query Dawson's level of involvement in this often-esoteric area of the game.

Looking forward, the R&A has announced that Dawson's successor will be in place before September next year so that an "appropriate handover period" can take place. Exactly who that man will be remains unclear, as do the qualifications he will most require going forward.

Bonallack was a figurehead at a time when that was what the R&A needed. Dawson's lengthy experience in business was the quality missing from the club's hierarchy back in 1999. The next incumbent is likely to be a mixture of both.

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News & Tours

HSBC's global head of sponsorship, Giles Morgan, weighs in on the R&A's gender debate

By John Huggan

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Critics have long decried the lack of female members in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, organizers of the world's oldest championship in the British Open. That group appears to have gained a notable supporter.
 
Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, made clear during his company's event in Abu Dhabi that the all-male membership stance could have repercussions, including financial ones.

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"It's not something we are going to hold a gun to their heads about. But the R&A are clear that it's a very uneasy position for the bank," said Morgan, whose employers are one of the Open's biggest corporate supporters. "We would like to see it solved so we don't keep talking about it. When you are showcasing one of the world's greatest tournaments it would be much more palatable if it were played where there was not a sense of segregation.
 
"I think things are moving," Morgan added. "They are doing a lot of research, asking a lot of sponsors and stakeholders over the last three or four months. They are acutely aware that things need to change and move on. What I do think they are doing right is spending some proper consultancy time looking at this rather than knee-jerking to a sort of populist decision."

 
Strong words, with obvious implications for the economic future of the Open, the R&A's primary source of income. Given that fact, it was no surprise that the St. Andrews-based organization was not slow in responding.
 
"We promised a period of reflection immediately after last year's championship and this process is on-going," said a spokesperson. "Naturally we have taken soundings within the game, and we will report the outcome of our deliberations in due course."

 
If Morgan's attitude is typical of what the R&A is hearing, potentially the first female members of golf's ruling body outside the U.S. and Mexico could be elected sometime before the 2016 Open at Royal Troon, the next all-male club on the championship rota. Money is talking and the R&A would appear to be listening.

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News & Tours

Explainer: Here's what you can and can't do on the green, and why those rules exist in the first place

By Ron Kaspriske

Sergio Garcia did not tap down spike marks on his putting line on Thursday at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. But what if he had? And what's the big deal with tapping down spike marks, anyway?
 
To answer the first question: It's a violation of Rule 16-1a and comes with a two-shot penalty in stroke play (loss of hole in match play).


The tournament committee could have also disqualified Garcia if they felt he had gained a significant advantage by tapping down the spike marks. That would be considered a serious breach of the rules. The European Tour's Simon Dyson was disqualified at the BMW Masters in October after tapping down spike marks.

 
To answer the second question: It's a big deal because you're essentially improving your line of play (a violation of Rule 13-1) and making it easier for you to hole out. To quote Richard Tufts from his 1960 book The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf, "this simply means that the player must accept the conditions he encounters during play and may not alter them to suit his convenience." It would be like pressing down a channel from your ball's position to the hole so it can roll into the cup like a gutterball in bowling. Rules makers generally frown upon improving course conditions so you can score better. Remember that.

 
And on a more practical note, imagine how slow rounds would become if golfers were allowed to repair all the little marks and indentations on each green.
 
OK, so what CAN you do on a putting green on your line of putt? Here are six:
 
  1. You can remove loose impediments. Things such as sand, soil, stones, twigs, insects, and goose droppings. You can remove these things any way you want, provided you don't press anything down into the turf or test the surface.
  2. You can repair those little craters created when a ball hits the green.
  3. You can repair old hole plugs created when the superintendent's staff move the cup from location to another.
  4. You can place your putter down in front of your ball when you address it (remember, don't press down).
  5. You can touch the line in the process of measuring, lifting or replacing your ball or to remove a moveable obstruction such as a coin left on the green by the group in front of you.
  6. Once you putt out, provided you aren't aiding a fellow competitor with his or her putt, you can tap down spike marks, fix a damaged hole (sometimes a part of the circumference caves in) or push the hole liner back down (they sometimes get pulled up when the flagstick is removed.

And here's what you can't do:
 
  1. Repair any damage other than hole plugs or ball marks. This includes any indentations created by the 275-pound guy playing in the group in front of you.
  2. Touch your line of putt for any other reason than the ones listed above.
  3. Test the surface by rolling a ball, scraping or roughening the grass.
  4. Sweep away casual water, dew or frost.
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News & Tours

At Muirfield, the R&A continues to try to avoid discrimination discussion

By John Huggan

GULLANE, Scotland -- There was, as you'd expect, some stuff about the course and the facilities and the new technology. But long before Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A championship committee, concluded his lengthy and earnest remarks regarding the 142nd playing of the world's oldest golf event, the room was getting restless. There was, whether the all-male body that makes the rules of golf outside the U.S. and Mexico likes it or not, only one thing most of the assembled media wanted to talk about.

Women.

Or, to be more accurate, the lack of them in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and in this week's host club, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Scoundrels . . . sorry, Golfers.

Related: One perfect GIF that sums up the R&A's position on gender issues

And it didn't take long for things to kick off. The second question asked of Peter Dawson, the R&A's chief executive, concerned the well-publicized absence this week of Scotland's First Minister, the suddenly morally outraged Alex Salmond. Salmond, leader of the independence-seeking Scottish National Party, has apparently just noticed that those of the female gender have never been members of either the HCEG (formed in 1744) or the R&A, which came into existence a decade later. Well spotted, sir.

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Photo by Getty Images

Anyway, Dawson, an old hand by now when it comes to this perennial issue, was ready with his prepared response.

"The whole issue of gender and single-sex clubs has been pretty much beaten to death recently," he said. "We understand that it is divisive. And it's a subject we're finding increasingly difficult, to be honest."

Related: A hole-by-hole tour of Muirfield

Disappointingly but predictably, Dawson then had nothing new to offer in this ongoing debate. Resorting to the arguments he has repeatedly used since he assumed his present job in 2000, the former executive for Grove Manufacturing, a company involved in the manufacturing of hydraulic cranes trotted out the same old defense of the indefensible.

"Single-sex clubs are in a very small minority in the U.K."

"They're perfectly legal."

"In our view, they don't do any harm."

"We think the right of association is important."

"We think they have no material affect on participation."

While three of those five assertions are indisputable, the other two are, at best, debatable. And Dawson, to his credit, acknowledged an "understanding" of the counter-view. But not much respect.

"Our natural reaction is to resist pressure from the media, politicians and interest groups, because we don't think they have very much substance," he continued. "But I'd like to stress we're not so insular as to fail to recognize the potential damage that campaigns like this can do to the Open. And it is our championship committee's responsibility to do what is best for the championship.

"In the last ten years, for example, we have put, as best I can estimate, about 30 million pounds into women's golf. That's what the Open's success brings with it. So it's not all bad."

Related: Get to know your British Open courses

Yes, yes, you could almost hear from many in the room: But what about the continuing blatant discrimination? How can any rules-making body do its job properly and at the same time exclude a well-qualified candidate because she doesn't go to the men's room? And what, said one lady, is the difference between men-only and whites-only?

"Oh, goodness me," said Dawson. "I think that's a ridiculous question, if I may say so. To compare racial discrimination or anti-Semitism with a men's golf club is frankly absurd."

On and on it went. Question after question; deflection after deflection.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of the whole, fractious affair was that, more than once, Dawson hinted that the question of gender would play a large part in the R&A's annual review of their cash cow.

Related: Who we're picking to win the Open Championship

For example, asked if he would accept that any governing body is hardly your typical all-male club and so should be subject to different rules regarding discrimination, the 64-year old Scot was again smart enough to dodge the thrust of the question.

"I think it's certainly beholden on us to ensure that our governance committees are representative of the world at large in golf," he responded. "We have taken some steps in that direction, but I'm sure there will be more to come."

And so it goes on: The pointed questions and the often-smug answers. Bottom line? Those in "the club" don't really care what anyone else thinks. They never have.

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