Former R&A chief executive Peter Dawson defends his record during 16 years at golf’s helm
In a wide-ranging interview with Scottish Club Golfer’s sister title bunkered, the former chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, has reflected upon his time at the helm of golf’s governing body.
Dawson, who stood down from the post at the end of October after 16 years in charge, revealed that he had ‘mixed emotions’ about retirement but said that he felt the ‘time was right’ to step aside.
The 67-year-old also discussed:
• Golf’s imminent return to the Olympic Games and the role he will play in its delivery;
• The challenges of keeping on top of the advances in equipment technology;
• Controversial design tweaks to courses on the Open Championship rota;
• The Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s decision, in September 2014, to allow women to become members;
• How the media ‘could be kinder’ to the game.
Dawson, who has been succeeded by former banking executive Martin Slumbers, was speaking to bunkered just a matter of weeks before he handed over the keys to his office on the first storey of the R&A Clubhouse, a prospect he admitted he was not entirely looking forward to.
“I’ve had a wonderful time at the R&A,” he said. “It has been a privilege to work here and a privilege to work in golf but, you know, anno domini is catching up. I’m 67 now and I think, after 16 years, you get a gut feeling of when it is the right time to go.”
Dawson succeeded Sir Michael Bonallack in the role in 1999 and has overseen some of the most significant changes in the game’s history during his tenure including, in 2004, the creation of the R&A, the administrative body devolved from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. However, he says that the biggest obstacles he and his team have had to overcome in that time have been to do with the game’s technology.
“[The single biggest issue has been] advances in equipment and trying to make sure that average players can enjoy all of that whilst, at the same time, retaining skill as the key element of success,” he said. “There’s been more equipment regulation in the last ten years or so than at any other time in the history of the game. I do think we have the issues surrounded but we have to be vigilant and not complacent about it.”
One of those issues is the distance that modern golf balls travel. Dawson’s biggest critics have pointed to the lack of regulations placed on golf ball technology as one of his biggest failings during his time in charge. However, he insists that this didn’t happen because there was no need to.
“The average of the longest hitters on tour - and we get wonderful data from the ShotLink system in the US - has not moved,” he told bunkered. “I feel we’ve got it under control. The R&A and USGA are committed through the joint statement of principles that was issued in 2002 to take action if the hitting distances start to move up and they haven’t done that yet according to all of the data that we look at.” However, he added: “Would I rather that hitting distances were a bit shorter? Yes, I would. But we’ve drawn the line in the sand and everyone’s content there at the moment.”
On the subject of modifications to the likes of the Old Course at St Andrews during his tenure, Dawson added: “The course changes we’ve made have not really been about length. The actual length of the courses we altered after we’d tweaked them was only 100 so yards longer per course, which, over 18 holes, is not very much.
“It was more to be sure that we were setting up a proper level of examination for the professionals whose skills are getting better and better all the time.”
Dawson also called on the media to portray the game in a more positive light. “Golf does seem to get more negativity than other sports do and I don’t think it deserves it if I’m being brutally honest,” he said.