2003: British adds international intrigue

Sandwich, England

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews has taken the bold step of taking the British Open to the rest of the world by introducing qualifying tournaments at various international sites, R&A secretary Peter Dawson announced April 29.

For next year’s championship at Royal Troon, the R&A will hold qualifying tournaments in Africa, Asia, Australia, the United States and Europe for players looking to qualify for the British Open in their home territories. A minimum of 36 spots – 12 each from the United States and Europe, and four each from Asia, Africa and Australia – will be available.

One drawback to the new system is that the number of spots from final local qualifying, held immediately before the championship, will be drastically reduced. There now are about eight spots available from each of the four final qualifying venues. Beginning in 2004, there will be only 12 total – three from each qualifying site.

“I think the new number of spots from final qualifying is about right for the championship,” Dawson said. “I appreciate that there are less spots than there used to be, but there are now many more good players worldwide than there used to be.”

The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond the week before the British Open also will not offer the same number of places into the Open as in previous years. Only the top player not otherwise exempt at Loch Lomond next year will earn a spot into the British Open, as opposed to the eight offered now. The same exemption will apply at the 2004 Smurfit European Open the week before Loch Lomond.

The R&A will allocate similar exemptions on the PGA Tour. The top nonexempt player in both the Western Open and the next week’s John Deere Classic will qualify for Royal Troon.

“It guarantees that there won’t be a situation whereby if a player wins a tournament the week before, he does not get into the Open,” Dawson said.

In addition, the top two nonexempt players from mini-money lists to run on both tours will qualify for the British Open. The mini-money lists will end at the PGA Tour’s Western Open and at the European Tour’s Scottish Open. Previously, the top seven players off each mini-money list qualified.

Among the other topics Dawson covered at the news conference was the thorny subject of women members of the R&A and Royal St. George’s. Both clubs are all-male institutions, and Dawson said that status quo would remain for the foreseeable future. All-male clubs may be a burning issue in the United States, but not in the United Kingdom as far as Dawson is concerned.

“I think in my time as R&A secretary I’ve had less than five letters on this issue from the general public, whereas I’ve had three or four thousand inquiries from the media,” he said.

“We have not had any great push on this issue from lady golfers. I really don’t think there is a huge appetite from the public on this. I don’t think this is a huge issue out on the streets at the moment.”

Royal St. George’s captain David Bonsall backed Dawson’s view. “There are a lot of ladies who come and play and enjoy the hospitality of our club,” Bonsall said. “. . . We did actually ask a few of them who play the club regularly whether they thought it would be a good idea to see women members, and they said no.”

Dawson firmly ruled out the idea of a woman playing in the British Open.

“It has always been for male golfers and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future,” Dawson said. “All the evidence shows there is a world of difference between men and women.”

After recent renovations, Royal St. George’s measures 7,106 yards to a par 71 – 246 yards longer than it did when Greg Norman won the last British Open held here in 1993. The most significant change is to the fourth hole. In 1993, it played as a par 4. This year, it will play as a 497-yard par 5.

Prize money has been increased marginally by $150,000. The winner still will receive $1.1 million, as Ernie Els did last year, but small increases have been extended from second place on down.

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