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R&A's Chief Says His Organization Initiated Controversial Old Course Tampering

Check out Alistair Tait's interview with R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson and consider the big picture here: one of the two governing bodies, who treasure their role in making the rules of the game to protect the sport from changing in a negative way, is playing architect to mask incredible changes that occurred under their watch.

Sadly, Dawson resorts to all-out falsehoods and gets no pushback from Tait when the R&A Chief characterizes the Old Course social media fire storm by claiming that the outraged masses suggest the course has never changed. He couldn't point to anything of the sort because it's not out there.

I also find it incredibly peculiar that he would go to Golfweek for such an exclusive instead of a UK-based publication.

Anyway, let the spinning begin…

"I know there are lots of people who think the Old Course has never been touched, should never be touched, that it’s a shrine,” Dawson said. “The history of that is simply not factual.

Actually, it's not factual to say that and if he had read any of the criticism he'd know that. 

But just to give you an explanation in case you're reading this Mr. Dawson: the opponents to changing the most treasured, iconic and important design on the planet have been quite clear about understanding its evolution. The outrage stems from watching a governing body, clearly scared of a low score calling attention to their incompetence, figuring out ways to massage a few more pars and bogies out of the field when the Open returns in 2015 and chipping away at ground features that were thought to be untouchable by every generation. Except this one.

Anyway, here's the unfortunate inconsistency:

Dawson said the changes came about after the R&A’s championship committee suggested alterations in advance of the 2015 Open Championship. “The Championship Committee of the R&A went to the Links Trust with some suggestions. The Links Trust and the Links Management Committee agreed to some of them and not others. We agreed on the appointment of an architect (Martin Hawtree) to look at the suggestions in more detail.”

So the R&A Championship Committee came up with the design ideas, some of which were rejected, and Hawtree was there to rubber stamp them as he has been at other Open rota courses. 

Unfortunately the original press release gave a different sequence of events:

Renowned golf course architect Martin Hawtree was commissioned by St Andrews Links Trust, which manages the Old Course and the other six courses at the Home of Golf, and The R&A Championship Committee, which organises golf’s oldest major championship, to assess potential changes which would enhance the challenge for elite players without unduly affecting club and visiting golfers while remaining true to the special character of the Old Course.

Martin Hawtree’s recommendations have now been agreed by the St Andrews Links Trustees and Links Management Committee and The R&A Championship Committee.

The R&A Championship Committee agreed to the recommendations...they themselves initially made!

Dawson goes on to talk about the "information exercise" with the local clubs, which sounded just as meaningless as that euphemism sounds. After that, Dawson elaborates on about all of the changes, though cleverly leaves out any discussion of things like the fourth hole work that involves shaving down undulations that have been around since the days when the land was covered by the sea.

Even more tragically, at a time the USGA is beginning to lay the ground work for reducing the footprint of courses, to find ways to make the game more fun and faster and less maintenance, the R&A is busy doing the opposite and using the world's most iconic design as a plaything for amateur architects. Hopefully they at least pick up the bill for the work and Hawtree's, uh, consultation.

Meanwhile, Dave Woodford has posted some of his photos taken Sunday of the work in progress.

The Old Course petition continues to add names.

And nice to see the SI/ Confidential participants join the outcry.

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Reader Comments (28)

Great pics from Woodford. And the best so far at illustrating the front section of No.17 green, even though you really have to stand there to fully appreciate it. The work at High in makes me ill.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
If Alastair's article doesn't have the "pushback" you require Geoff, why don't you interview Dawson yourself? He invited you to have a chat with him during the Anchoring teleconference last week. Perhaps you might podcast it and address those falsehoods you claim.

He didn't "go" to Golfweek, Alastair went to him. Called him up. It's quite simple, I did it myself for my own story about the changes. He's quite approachable by media.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Scott
Mr. Dawson makes Richard Nixon sound honest. Digs said "follow the money." I'd say we have the answer. Also, too, when the CEO of the R&A does it, it's not "illegal."
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Peter Dawson: erasing history on the course, rewriting it off.

I encourage everyone to clip and save this post, which will lay out the political playbook used by those who seek to rewrite history and will share typical ways the opposition reacts:

1) Check calendar for upcoming news conference / declaration of some other contentious issue
2) Schedule said announcement for a Wednesday, and then, for your really controversial issue...
3) News dump Friday afternoon
4) Start work Monday morning
5) Finish as quickly as possible
6) If the uproar cannot be managed:
a) rewrite sequence of events to your favour
b) define your opposition in a way that enhances your standing or at least your position
c) reframe decision in a way favourable to your position, even / especially if in conflict with opposition's actual position

How's he doing so far? Running the bog-standard playbook?

If the uproar develops as expected, the next steps in the playbook are to:

1) Use 'plants' in media to advance his position. Plants usually have some external agenda that makes them malleable, such as a desire to join an organisation(s) the decision-maker controls. In addition to advancing the decision-maker's agenda, the plant's other duty is not to contact the opposition or to simply adopt the decision-maker's framing of the opposition without correcting said framing.

2) Continue to bait the opposition into responding or defending its position against 'lies, heresies, character defamations' etc. That's the mug's game the decision-maker must play at this point, having lost the effort to rewrite history.

Has he started in on these yet?

These approaches can be very effective if executed properly; we will have a sense they are succeeding if the furore dies down and the media paints the opposition as a standard assortment of utopians and cranks.

On the other hand, we will have a sense they are failing if the opposition somehow organises, usually a grass-roots campaign of some kind. Newspaper adverts, at least a semiformal organisation of some kind, petitions, position statements, etc etc.

I don't know if any of that will happen but if they do we will know Dawson, the R&A and the Links Trust, despite their very powerful positions and bottomless reservoir of funds, may have opened something they will have wished they didn't.

They may have found they've opened a can of worms involving much more than the changes in question. These are organisations that do not appear to have been exposed to very much sunshine and as the American jurist Louis Brandeis memorably wrote, 'Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.'

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, develops from all this.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark B
Steve Scott,
Approachable? You have got to be freeking kidding me! Lets not get into after the facts!

What he did is more akin to killing someone and telling you to come and look at the body so he could show you how he did it. At least in Golf terms, he took the one purest thing left in Golf, The Old Course of St. Andrews and performed a vivisection. Only, its not done!

Dramatic? Yes. Over-passionate? Absolutely! But what makes this even more killing is the fact that "WE" don't know that the Old Course has gone through transformation over the years... Its biggest transformation have been since the Links Trust and the R&A took over and "Augustifed" the place with clean and maintained bunkers that have to be rebuilt every year. You want history Mr. Dawson & Scott, then go open a history book and look at the course 80 years ago and see the transformation from natural to maintained. All of this to increase tourism in Fife.

All of this done by the hands of the R&A and the Links Trust.

St. Andrews should be the place we aspire to visit to teach us what Golf is all about. Instead, we get politics and narcissism, the very things we want to avoid while playing our Sport.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
Thanks Steve, good to know Peter is so approachable. I've never been given the impression he was willing to talk to someone of my ilk.

Will we get to see your article? Would you agree that the "hysteria" has suggested the Old Course has never changed?
12.3.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
Brilliant post Mark B. Straight and to the point, dead on balls accurate!
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
I'm reading this latest R&A press release -- I mean Golf Week article -- closely and there's no mention of the 'acute spur formation' they're supposed to be chopping down on 4. Has anything changed? For that matter, has it been explained which 'acute spur formation' is involved?

Neither formation meets the strictly geological definition of a spur: a ridge extending from a mountain range. As for 'acute', that could explain either one, couldn't it? Although the one nearer the green is 'acuter', if not 'cuter', than the one distant.

Geoff, one thing I would love to see is someone call up the R&A and ask for the master plan. I can't believe they wouldn't want to clear up this mess of their own making: forcing the public to guess at the changes and 'wait to see how it all turns out.'

Why, we can entertain ourselves with an entire summer's worth of speculation on Phase 2 !

Hmm, refusal to release the master plan could be purposeful. By refusing to provide the public with a complete explanation of the work, they are sowing the fields of hyperbole and hysteria.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark B
Tommy-I'm not disrespecting you here but I think the people who live and work around St Andrews are delighted that the Links Trust have made golf in the area such a successful business.
Dont like what is going on here really but the Links Trust have the wellbeing of the whole town in their hands and mostly do a good job.
Peter Dawson does speak to John Huggan every year knowing he is going to get a hard time and I think Geoff should approach him-I'd like to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
Steve--So now that you of the whatever newspaper you write for has the "big get" with your interview with Peter Dawson...You're keeping us in suspense--when can we read this illuminating article? Promise we won't call you arrogant or an idiot like you did.
That being said, you misspelled Alistair...I guess you do your own editing, too.!

Mark--great post--thoughtful and fair.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarva
“There are two bunkers short and right 25 yards away from the green and I can’t get the hang of why they are there. No one is ever in them and so they are being moved closer to the green.” - Peter Dawson

Dear Peter,

Do please let me know whatever else you cannot fathom about the old course and we will have those features changed.

With Fond Regards and Best Wishes for The Holiday Season,

Dr. Alistair Mackenzie
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Blunt has a very full explanation today of the rationale behind the changes.
Not defending or opposing them-just think you all might find their explanation interesting
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
Be careful chico, you're treading very close to being rational and open-minded about this, that will not go over well.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
Woodford's photos show some pretty large divots in the fairways, someone should write a letter and maybe start a petition requiring players not take such large divots so as to not 'change the sacred contours of the land.' While at it, they should probably ask the wind to stop blowing as over time that will change the contours of the land as well. Should probably also ask the locals to stop walking around the property, especially with their pets etc...
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
Press Agent,
Good one! Wish I'd thought of those one liners. Send your resume to The Tonight Show asap.

When I went to Scottish Golf Views it appeared to be someone stealing Tait's Q&A from Golfweek.What were you referring to?
12.3.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff
@chico (and @Press Agent) -- when I went to I was redirected But once there the only thing I found was the Golf Week article copy-pasted in its entirety. Hmm, not sure how the Golf Week people would feel about that, but carry on...

Did we miss something?

Just to be sure not, I used the site's search function and, while not finding the article in question, I did find an interesting press release from earlier this year about St Andrews University's plans to build a wind farm. These plans are opposed by the Old Course Hotel and by the Links Trust.

Now, what I don't get is, why is it okay for the Links Trust to take advantage of a public comment period to fight SAU's plans? Isn't the university acting within its rights as a private entity? Why does the Links Trust oppose the university's right to do with its own property as it sees fit? Why must it, as an outsider, meddle with the university's right to decide how it will use what it owns?

As I read the press release, further confusion followed on my part: the Links Trust's argument against the wind farm is that it will damage tourism. Now I, when I visit St Andrews, by definition would be one of those tourists. But then why are the Links Trust speaking for me, an outsider?

I'm a tourist and can speak very well for myself, thank you. We've done quite well in fact, we tourists, literally for thousands of years without any 'help' from the Links Trust. The Trust seem to think we outsiders will be really upset about this wind farm; I dunno, I rather fashion a big ol' windmill near The Old Course. Modernisation and all.

Yes, the Links Trust need to understand that the Royal Burgh of St Andrews has changed over the centuries. These people with their Conservation Areas, do they really think those areas are unchanged? That people had cable TV, air con, and deep-fried Mars bars back in the day?

Really, the hysteria of these people over a coupla windmills !!!
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark B
I don't care about the town making a living off of the commercialization of the Sport. That's their business and I'm O.K. with that. People selling Golf. I love that!

What I don't like is changing the course to fit the mindset that it needs to be clean and green to be a golf course is my concern. the thought of digging into that masterful hand of nature that was left by the receding sea troubles me greatly. Leave the golf course alone! Go make changes to Ladybank or something.

Honestly, this is more about an out of control R&A Director with little concern except leaving his mark. We've seen how that's worked at Cypress Point's 18th hole and others. You'll soon get to see the devastating changes made by the request of a sanctioning body at Merion this next year. all because they refuse to address distance control 25-30 years ago.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
Press Agent,
I'm O.K. with Mother Nature making her refined changes. She knows how to design best! What I don't think you get is the effort that goes into identifying the best golfing ground, as well as sticking a shovel into the greatest golfing ground ever conceived! You can't repair most of any of it. Its gone in all its subtle and influencing nature. The hand of man can never get it right, nor duplicate it.

Go have another drink.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
Was just trying to be helpful with my link!
Will read things in full next time
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
Mark-in Scotland any person owning a piece of land next to one subject to a planning application or with a direct view of said place can make an objection-nothing unusual there.
I am not defending the Links Trust on this issue merely pointing out that they are not all bad!
The museum is brilliant and the new facilities such as the range and the New clubhouse have been fantastic additions to the town.
St Andrews used to be world famous but it certainly wasn't world class.Having to change in the street and use the smelly toilets in the car park was hardly the image the worlds most famous golf destination should have portrayed surely?The Links Trust has done some good work.
Are they wrong to change The Old Course?-probably.But a bit of balance is all I ask.
I'm staying in St Andrews for the weekend the week after next so I'll report back on what I see-things should be well on by then.So far I''m 25% for and 75% against with what I've seen.Lets see.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
To repeat what I said before: Extraordinary actions require extraordinary justification. It could be that the R&A/Links Trust axis is doing the right thing. But this basic, under-the-cover-of-night approach bodes ill, both for their actions and their reasons. This was not the time and certainly not the place–never the place–for a fait accompli. As for the "hysteria," given the apparent lack of good faith by the R&A it seems a reasonable response.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Will TOC now have to be renamed?
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer

I'm not sure why you think I have a drinking problem, but we went over this and I don't drink that much, plus last time you also ended by saying if I start drinking - especially scotch, you'd be happy to join me.

I don't disagree with some of the sentiment, however much of the reaction and verbiage has gone way way over the top.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
I would be happy to join you, also to explain to you how ridiculous you sound sometimes! ;) (very easy to do over a single malt!)

PA, It isn't over the top. If you had something so dear to you, which defined you and your existence, and it was the ground zero of your knowledge and love and passion for something so dear, what would you do, just sit back and not react!?!?!

Everything about this stinks, from the moment it was released to the public; the way it was done and the lack of intelligent discussion amongst not just one, but several of the world's best architects (a very small group) It reminds me of the Bush Administration's way of dealing with WMD's in an effort to get what they wanted--WAR! You don't like it? Too bad! We're going to war/we are changing The Old Course so it can handle 8 days out of 3,650 of them, with or without you!

Its these same people that have failed the Sport by refusing to find a way to come to a conclusive end to the equipment race for building the farthest golf ball; the longest driver and the death of fun golf be damned to Hell!

If you can't step up and fight for something that you believe in so strongly, then the sport's existence is close to its end. (sadly)
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
@chico I agree completely, the Links Trust is not the devil and in fact have done an admirable job over the decades. Their CEO has an impressive background and the Trustees are upstanding individuals.

Perhaps in fact in the past they have resisted the urges of the R&A for change on TOC. From what's leaked out here and there, it's possible the Trust blocked change of an even broader scope. Other than the Road Hole bunker fiasco in 2002, prior to the latest I can't offhand recall an incident regarding the architecture of The Old Course where the Trust was 'utterly cryit doon.'

The recent and ongoing unfortunate events show the need for a process similar to that required whenever change occurs that affects artifacts of great historic value (towns, golf courses, buildings, etc). That's all I'm asking for: that The Old Course, the cradle of golf architecture, be given the same protections and respect that enable the Links Trust to make public comment when other entities propose change that affects their neighbors.

People are flawed, we all make mistakes and commit errors of commission and omission. The idea of a fiduciary trust, the idea of public comment periods: these are ways we can protect ourselves from our own bad decisions as well as those of others. It's not flashy nor sexy but structure and process are two of the bulwarks against authoritarianism. As it stands now, it is very difficult to know how the Links Trust comes to decisions such as the most recent and how much the R&A have 'captured' them.

In other words, a public process could protect the independence of the Links Trust.

Had a public comment period been in place, would things have changed -- would the changes have not gone through? Obviously no one knows but probably not. And you know what? We, the Loyal Opposition, would have not liked it one bit, but at least our voices would have been heard, would have been factored (I hope!) into the decisions / votes of the Trust -- and at least we could take comfort in knowing that the people spoke. Most importantly, a proper process would have ensured that the majority were forced at least to pause over the concerns of the minority.

The right to petition would have helped in that regard immensely. As it stands, both the Links Trust's and R&A's reputations have taken a hit, and I would be very surprised if the main damage has yet been done.

As an aside, how odd that we don't even know whether the full Board of Trustees took a vote on the changes, whether it simply was the greens subcommittee of the Links Management Committee -- what. Peter Dawson's thrown out a few timelines. Undoubtedly he will share exciting new ones in the future.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark B
I think Mark B's take is eminently reasonable. Perhaps those from the Links Trust monitoring our conversation will see to it that his suggestions are given a full review. There is no harm in asking for input on well-considered ideas backed by full disclosure of the research supporting them.
12.3.2012 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn

Let's see, there's me, Alastair and now the BBC's Ian Carter who have called up Dawson, or gone through Mike Woodcock, and he's been perfectly willing to speak. We're all established journalists, why do you get the impression he wouldn't speak to you? Have you actually even asked?
12.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Scott
Still waiting to read your piece! Where is it?

And it's Alistair, not Alastair.
12.4.2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff

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