Open Championship 2013: R&A moving forward at Muirfield

 

A week on from defending the historical single sex issue at clubs that host the Open, the R&A unveiled its progressive side at the official launch of this year's Championship.

For the first time spectators will see LED scoreboards on four holes on the back nine at the event to be held at Muirfield, near Edinburgh. Enhanced wifi will also be available in grandstands to allow fans to follow the tournament on smartphones.

Organisers are also vowing to clamp down on slow play, they will keep a lid on prize money and on a broader issue the introduction of blood testing to golf's doping programme is not being ruled out.

While the use of mobile phones will be carefully controlled the devices are by no means out of bounds at this year's Open. "Our championship committee is very engaged in trying to enhance the spectator experience," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

We are trying to give fans access to what's going on all around the golf course. If we can get to that then I think golf spectating will take a huge leap forward

Peter Dawson R&A Chief Executive

"We hear many people say golf is easier to watch on television, but you don't get the atmosphere quite as much as if you are present. When you come to the event, in general, you can only watch what is in front of you.

"We are trying to give fans access to what's going on all around the golf course. If we can get to that then I think golf spectating will take a huge leap forward."

LED scoreboards are common at big PGA Tour events providing additional information in addition to the state of play. Statistical analysis is provided on passing groups and Dawson believes this development will ultimately allow for video footage from other parts of the course.

It will be carefully controlled by monitors out on the course to try to ensure players are not disturbed by reaction to developments elsewhere. The added wifi capability should allow fans to use smartphone technology in grandstands.

The new LED scoreboards will be used on the 7th, 13th, 16th and 17th holes but won't replace the traditional yellow scoreboards that overlook the closing green.

In the wake of Guan Tianlang's one stroke penalty for slow play at the Masters, the Open is keen to maintain a hard line on an issue that has become the game's biggest concern.

Dawson is sceptical about the impact the professional game has on the habits of club players but wants the encouraging playing times of Lytham last year to continue in Scotland this July.

So will we see more stroke penalties being imposed on slowcoaches? "We very much hope not," Dawson said.

"We are not here to penalise players, but to encourage them to play quicker. But of course the penalty is last resort. We saw a penalty imposed at the Masters and we wouldn't hesitate to do the same if it was warranted.

"Muirfield is a golf course that historically has been quite good for pace of play just because of the layout and we hope to make further improvements this year."

Single-sex golf clubs 'not a problem' says the R&A's Dawson

Dawson dismisses the notion that lengthened courses mean longer rounds. Muirfield will play 158 yards longer for this Open compared with 2002 when Ernie Els was the champion.

This will be the first time the event has been staged at Muirfield in the drug testing era.

In the wake of Greg Norman's comments that the doping programme is not strong enough, Dawson has confirmed that discussions on implementing blood tests are on the agenda going forward.

He also signalled that the R&A will not be following Wimbledon's lead in introducing a massive hike in the prize fund which is likely to equate to around £5m.

"Tennis has to do what tennis has to do to be competitive within its sport," Dawson acknowledged. "Golfers at professional level are very well remunerated; I've never heard anything from them to say otherwise to that.

"We feel our role is to ensure that the Open Championship is competitive within golf. The Masters, I see, has just been played for the same prize money as prior years so we're not seeing huge inflation in golf and perhaps in these tough economic times that's appropriate."

Crowds similar to the 160,000 who flocked the links in 2002 are expected and corporate hospitality bookings are showing an 11% increase.

The Open is still three months away but appears on course to more than hold its own in a crowded sporting calendar that pits it against the second Ashes test at Lord's.

Thanks to the technological advances unveiled this week golf fans will be able to keep up with the cricket as well.