DUE to hand over the reins to his successor in just under two weeks’ time, Peter Dawson is well into the back nine in his 16-year stint as the R&A’s chief executive.
While not necessarily something that we can expect to see the new man, Martin Slumbers, taking on going forward, Dawson was happy to fill the “Ivor Robson role” as official starter for the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham over the weekend. “Peter Unsworth [the last in a long line of Championship Committee chairmen he’s worked with] suggested it to me two or three months ago and I said fine, I’ll do it,” revealed Dawson of a task he took in his stride.
As has been the case throughout his spell at the helm of the St Andrews-based governing body, he also granted a request for a sitdown with a gaggle of golf writers in between sessions in the biennial contest and revealed the anecdote he is likely to recall in years to come.
“Remember when Tiger chipped in at the 16th at Augusta?” he asked of the iconic shot that helped Woods record his fourth and most recent Masters victory in 2005. “I was the nearest person to him in the world when he hit that shot. I was the rules official for that hole and had to move my chair when the ball was in the air.
“It was a fantastic shot because what a lot of people don’t know is that his ball was tucked against a collar of rough and he had to strike the ball through the rough, so it went up the green and came back down.
“Steve Williams [Woods’ caddie at the time] told me later that they picked a small spot, a discolouration on the green, as the ideal spot to pitch the ball on and it hit it absolutely on the nose.
“He [Woods] had a picture behind his desk of the crowd going absolutely berserk and one person, standing deadpan, watching this thing unfold. So he sent it to me and with a note that said ‘get a little excited in future’.”
Dawson is certainly excited at the prospect of The Open being back at Royal Portrush, possibly in 2019, for the first time in 68 years. “Work has begun at Portrush, where they are building two new holes,” he said. “We went there a few weeks ago for a site visit. Darren Clarke came out with us and it will be terrific.”
Work is also underway on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, where Donald Trump would like to be an Open host for the first time soon after its return to Northern Ireland. “To think that we are going to determine where an Open Championship is held because of something somebody said on the political trail in America is absurd,” said Dawson of Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have other priorities, but that’s for a future committee to judge.”
What about the prospect of the American billionaire showing disrespect to the world’s oldest major, as he did when he flew in over the Ayrshire course during the first round of the Women’s British Open in July? “I think you’ve got to give us a bit of credit for being able to organise The Open, to be honest,” added Dawson.
While staying involved in the game until next year’s Olympics in Rio through his role as president of the International Golf Federation, Dawson’s last day occupying an office with the best view in golf is 25 September – the day after the R&A’s annual business meeting. It proved historic last year when women members were granted membership for the first time.
“I won’t be coming out of that this time to make any pronouncements,” he said with a smile. “My last duty will be reading the minutes, which largely means reading the list of prize-winners of the various competitions, and the last one on the list is the Brazil Nut Cup.”