Contrary to apperances, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson is not going to be replacing fellow retiree Ivor Robson in the green jacket at the first tee as official starter of the Open Championship.
The CEO and secretary in the famous clubhouse for 15 years will step down in two weeks’ time, at the R&A annual dinner at the completion of the club’s Autumn Meeting, when his last task in the most prestigious chair in golf will be to read the prizewinners, the last on that list being, of all things, a little something called the Brazil Nut Cup.
It’ll be a modest sort of ending for the man at the top of the game this last decade and a half, as were his duties as first tee announcer at the Walker Cup at the weekend, the last big event he’ll oversee in charge of the organisation.
“Peter Unsworth (the current championship committee chairman) suggested to me that it would be nice thing to do, and it was,” he said after sending off the last of the singles as Great Britain and Ireland headed for victory. “I don’t think I’m of the calibre to replace Ivor, however.”
Neither does he think about what he regards as his greatest achievement in his time in the hot seat of the best office in sport – maybe the best in the world – perched above the first tee of the Old Course.
“I’m not one to personalise these things,” he said. “There are a whole lot of good people who work at the R&A, on the committees and among the staff they’ll carry on regardless. They all like working for the R&A and they love working for golf. If I’m proud of anything it’s that the R&A itself, the business side, has grown into a bigger, more efficient and more effective fighting unit, if you like.
“Leaving has not been something that’s not been dominating my everyday thinking, even now because I’m still so busy. When the time comes I’ll think more about it, and I’ll have mixed feelings, of course, but I’m absolutely convinced that it’s the right time.”
The forward planning – “those projects that have long term life in them” – have already been delegated to his successor, Martin Slumbers. Chief among them, he believes, is raising the falling participation levels in golf, although signs have been that they are stablising.
“Things will go on as before on many, many fronts, the championships, optimising what we can do commercially to help the game, but I think participation and club membership issues are an area that Martin will have to deal with, and what the R&A’s role is within that issue,” he continued.
“I guess we could try and ban marriage and families and try to get people back to the game that way but I don;t think we’d get much support on that one. You’ve just got to make the game as attractive as you can, although personally I would be very much against the “dumbing down” of golf.”
More options to play nine hole golf would have his support, he said, adding that recent research by the British Golf Musuem had shown that 18 hole courses only became a majority among all courses in the UK and Ireland in the 1920s.
“We all enjoyed a quick nine holes after work and we should get back to that,” he said. “I also always say that slow play is never a problem at clubs which are strict about two-ball golf, it’s just all these fourballs going off at ten minute intervals that slow the game.”
Dawson has remained at the forefront of the R&A’s Open Championship development, whether that be overseeing the start of work at Royal Portrush to bring the great Irish course up to scratch for hosting the Open sometime in the next five years. He’s also robust to those who might question whether Turnberry, with new owner Donald Trump, might be a place for the R&A to avoid.
“It’s for future committees to decide,” he said. “But the idea that the R&A would not take the Open to some place because of something someone said on the political trail in America is absurd. We have different priorites.”
As for Trump’s disruption of the Women’s Open flying his helicopter over Turnberry during play, the outgoing chief executive seemed confident that sort of thing would not be tolerated at their event.
“I think you’ve got to give us a bit of credit for knowing how to run the Open Championship, to be honest,” he said.
That said, the difficulties with the championship this year at St Andrews were down to bad luck, he said.
“There were certainly so many subplots, but it was an exciting championship with a worthy winner in Zach Johnson,” he said. “We also had the World Golf Hall of Fame, the champions dinner, the champions challenge, and Tom Watson’s last hurrah which was very much an “I was there” moment.
“We played the weather by the book. If you think you can play you’ve got to send them out, it’s only fair to the rest of the field. I think we were unlucky that the wind got up like it did.”
There will be plenty time for reflection for Dawson, but although he’s enjoyed all the Opens, his favourite was probably his first as secretary, in 2000.
“It was my first, it was St Andreews, the first champions’ challenge, brilliant weather and Tiger in his absolute pomp winning,” he recalled.
His time time at the R&A has coincided with Woods’ time at the top of the game, and one of his favourite memories directly concerns the great champion and one of his most famous feats.
“Remember Tiger’s famous chip in at the 16th in Augusta at the 2005 Masters? I was the nearest person, bar his caddie Steve Williams, to him at the time it happened.
“I was the rules official on that hole and actually had to move the chair I was sitting on when his tee shot came in my direction. What you might not know is that he had to take his club through a collar of rough beside his ball before making that chip, all the way up the green and back down to the hole. What a fantastic shot it was.
“He has a picture of himself celebrating the shot in his office, with the crowd going absolutely beserk behind him, except for one solitary man keeping completely deadpan. He signed a copy and sent it to me, adding the words, “try to get a little excited next time”.”
In a couple of weeks, maybe he can.