Martin Dempster: Hard hat time for R&A chief?

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson with the trophy for the Open Championship, which is to be televised on Sky. Picture: David Cannon/Getty

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson with the trophy for the Open Championship, which is to be televised on Sky. Picture: David Cannon/Getty

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ON HIS way into work today, Peter Dawson might be advised to stop off at the British Golf Museum in St Andrews, where construction is ongoing as part of a major re-development, and borrow a hard hat.

It could come in handy when the R&A’s chief executive hosts a “roundtable discussion” with a posse of British golf journalists in the wake of his organisation’s decision to sell the exclusive live rights for the Open Championship to Sky Sports ahead of the BBC from 2017.

Dawson, in fairness, didn’t disappear into hiding when that announcement was made last Tuesday, hosting a conference call within an hour of it coming out to explain the reasons why the BBC will no longer be the event’s main broadcaster after next year’s visit to Royal Troon.

What upset some of my colleagues, however, is that all this was happening as the majority of mainstream golf writers were in Dublin at the time for Rory McIlroy’s court case that was subsequently settled without a ball being struck, hence claims that the R&A had pulled off what is known in the White House as a “News Drop” – getting rid of bad news when everyone is looking the other way.

In truth, it’s difficult to view what happened last week with anything but cynicism, though should we really expect otherwise in this day and age? As in other sports, golf is guilty of being completely and utterly thoughtless at times, pressing ahead with announcements without any regard for others.

Take the one last April, for instance, about Dawson being set to retire in September 2015. It came out just as a media day for the Women’s British Open was getting into full swing at Royal Birkdale, so instantly took the focus away from that. Yet, the following day, the R&A was hosting a similar event at Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship – the perfect opportunity, surely, for such an announcement.

And what about press releases about changes made to the Old Course in recent years being released at lunchtime on a Friday? Another ill-advised decision because it was obvious that topic would attract attention, so trying to slip it under the radar was a big mistake.

Taken purely at face value, eyebrows were probably raised, too, over the R&A’s decision to hold its vote on admitting women members on the same day as the referendum last September. In fairness, though, that date was purely coincidental.

It’s a pity some of these things have happened under Dawson’s watch because, speaking purely from personal experience, I’ve found him engaging, at least until a ring of steel started to be wrapped around him over the past couple of years.

Perhaps he asked for that after the battering he took from some sections of the media – not the golf scribes, I hasten to add – over men-only Muirfield at the Open Championship in 2013.

Perhaps it stemmed from some criticism – golf writers this time – aimed directly at him for seeming to be on one-man crusade to make alterations to every course on The Open rota.

Whatever, it’s always a great shame when you sense a change of attitude and it would be pleasing – very pleasing – if today’s get-together proved me wrong and that Dawson has not dismissed the perceived value of the Fourth Estate.

With Dawson’s successor Martin Slumbers also due to be in attendance, the main line of questioning will be about the newly-announced TV deal for the Open Championship, which is estimated to be worth £25 million more over five years than the current one with the BBC.

It will be defended vigorously and, despite the R&A being accused of “betrayal” and the loss of the event being described as a “dark day for golf”, I’ll hold my hands up here and admit that there hasn’t been nearly the level of outcry I’d expected.

Admittedly through a straw poll, secretaries and managers at Scottish golf clubs believe the event switching to satellite television will not harm the game directly and, in fairness, they should know through being involved at grassroots level.

At the same time, however, golf can rarely have needed its governing body more to lead the way in helping guide the sport through troubled times and a battleplan is needed in that respect, either as Dawson’s swansong or the start of a new era under Slumbers.

It, of course, has to include a more vigorous campaign against slow play and, for starters, the R&A should immediately appoint Andy Sullivan, a former Walker Cup player and now a European Tour winner, as a new ambassador. He not only plays the game with a smile on his face but gets on with it, too, without any faffing around. A perfect role model for the next generation.

Review into support scheme too late for LET trio

wHAT was Steve Paulding, Scottish Golf’s performance manager, thinking about when he told Heather MacRae she was “unlikely” to win on the Ladies European Tour this season?

If that is his personal opinion, then fine as he’s entitled to that. It was bang out of order for him, however, to say so in an email to MacRae, especially at a time when she should be receiving lots of encouragement at the start of a campaign she’s worked so hard to earn.

Let’s get something straight here. The jokes about Paulding and his cycling background are old hat. He’s put in a lot of time and effort to ensure a much better attitude is prevalent among Scotland’s leading young amateur golfers.

According to people who know a lot more than me about the technical side of the game, the likes of Bradley Neil, Ewen Ferguson and Connor Syme all possess swings that will give them a better opportunity of making the transition from amateur to professional more smoothly than some others in recent years.

It’s disconcerting to think, though, that Paulding is pulling all the strings as far as the Government-backed Scottish Golf Support Ltd is concerned because, if that’s the case, then what’s the point of the PGA being represented on its board? It was through being a PGA professional that MacRae “toughened up” to the extent that she was capable of winning on the LET’s Access Series before being successful along with Kelsey Macdonald and Laura Murray in securing cards for the main circuit.

While Sally Watson and Pamela Pretswell deserve to receive continued SGSL support - a review into the programme has also just been confirmed - what was wrong with giving the other three backing as well this year, especially at a time when the men had no case at all really to argue against that?

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