Peter Dawson has stressed the need for “golf to put on a good show” when the sport makes its return to the Olympic Games in Brazil this summer after a gap of more than 100 years.
While Dawson retired as the R&A’s chief executive after a 16-year stint last autumn, he is still actively involved in golf through two different but equally exciting posts.
One is as an advisor to the Dubai Government as it explores opportunities to grow the game in the emirate, with Dawson getting his teeth into that during a busy week of meetings that coincided with the recent Desert Classic. While that door opened after he’d left the R&A, Dawson was still in office in St Andrews when he was appointed as president of the International Golf Federation, the organisation in charge of the sport being part of the Olympics for the first time since the 1904 Games in St Louis.
“That, in many ways, is the main event for me this year and I’ll be going down to Rio in March,” said the 65-year-old, having handed the reins for the Open Championship over to his successor, Martin Slumbers. “While there is still some construction work to do on roadways and around the clubhouse, the course is built and is being amazingly well maintained by Neil [Cleverly, the superintendent] and his greenstaff.”
Lydia Ko, the women’s world No 1, celebrated her win on home soil in the New Zealand Women’s Open last weekend by saying there was “so much excitement and vibe” around the Olympic tournament.
“There is an increasing buzz among the players, men and women, about the prospect of competing,” added Dawson. “Golf needs to put up a good show at the Olympics and secure its position in the Games. Not only have we in golf worked hard on the event and the facilities, but we’ve also worked very hard about being a good member of the Olympic team. That’s very important, too.”
Separate men’s and women’s events will each involve 60 players competing in a 72-hole stroke-play format competition, with Catriona Matthew and Russell Knox both in with a chance of representing Great Britain.
“The cut-off for qualification is the week before the Open Championship, sadly,” said Dawson with a strong tinge of disappointment in his voice. “The reason for that is to give enough lead time for people who do get in to get all their kit and everything organised. Due to the tightness of the schedule, we are only going to have one test event on the course on March 8, though the exact format and who is going to play is still to be worked on. It’s more to try out the system than it is the course.”
In his Dubai role, which has already involved a personal audience with Sheikh Mohammed, Dawson’s brief is to use his expertise to come up with ideas on how to build on golf’s solid footing in the emirate. “I’ve started by talking to all sorts of stakeholders, clubs, managers there, Government departments, making sure that golf being offered in Dubai is as excellent as Dubai’s general reputation,” he said.
“It’s just making sure that everything that can be improved is improved, and I’ll be making some recommendations in due course. But I have to say that we have the luxury of operating from a very strong base, which is great. There’s a lot of good brains, a lot of hard-working people.”