SOUTHPORT, England – Peter Dawson has announced his retirement as chief executive of the R&A and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the R&A announced today. Dawson will leave his post in September 2015.
Dawson took the reins at the R&A in 1999 after a career in engineering. He had some very big shoes to fill in the shape of Michael Bonallack, a five-time British Amateur champion.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1948, Dawson has overseen important changes to the role of the governing body for the rest of the world aside from the U.S. and Mexico. Most recently he helped pave the way for the Royal & Ancient to permit females.
Members will vote in September to allow women to join the club for the first time since its inception 260 years ago. Dawson recently said he was confident the members would approve the move.
“If they don’t vote it through, it will be the most ridiculous thing ever,” said Laura Davies. “I’m assuming it’s already a done deal.”
Davies, who was speaking at a media day for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, is among many who think that getting female members into the Royal & Ancient will be Dawson’s overriding legacy from his time in charge at St. Andrews.
In 2004, the club’s 250th anniversary, Dawson presided over an important split in the governing body.
Until that point, the Royal & Ancient was a private members’ club. Dawson instigated a separate group of companies to run the Open Championship and conduct its governance responsibilities. Thus the R&A came to represent the governance role while the Royal & Ancient remained the private members’ club.
The split was instigated for two reasons. The first was for tax purposes. As a governing body, the R&A got a better tax break than if it had stayed within the private members’ club. The other reason was legal. As the body that decides which clubs and balls are suitable for competitive play, previously the members would have been liable for any lawsuit launched by a club manufacturer. Today, the members have no liability in that area.
Dawson is also president of the International Golf Federation, which will oversee golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games for the first time since 1904. Dawson will remain in that post until 2016.
The search for Dawson’s successor begins this weekend, with international executive search firm Spencer Stuart recruited to fill the post in time for handover in September 2015.
Golfweek is continuing to try and contact Dawson for a response to the news, but calls have yet to be returned.