Dawson leaves R&A poised for future

R&A CEO Peter Dawson will retire in September 2015.

Who will succeed Peter Dawson as chief executive of the R&A and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews when he retires in September 2015?

I haven’t a clue. And I’m not alone.

Even Royal & Ancient Golf Club members don’t know who their next secretary will be. R&A staff won’t even hazard a guess as to their future boss.

“There are no whispers from members about who’s going to replace Peter,” said one R&A committee member who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The only thing everyone I’ve spoken to agrees is, it won’t be an internal appointment. The feeling from many members is, it will be someone with a business background and not a golf background, someone no one has really heard of.”

Few had heard of Peter Dawson in 1999 when he was named as successor to Michael Bonallack. Dawson came from an engineering background. He was a Royal & Ancient member since 1994 and served on the Rules of Golf committee. While the next man might not come from within the R&A, it’s a safe bet he’ll be a Royal & Ancient member.

Taking over from Bonallack was a tall order. With five British Amateur victories and nine Walker Cup appearances, Bonallack was a natural for the role of R&A secretary.

Things have changed fundamentally since Bonallack’s days. Dawson made sure of that.

Dawson, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, has presided over radical change in the way golf is governed on this side of the Atlantic. In 2004, he instigated the separation of the governance from the everyday members’ club. Setting up the R&A as a separate governing body meant better tax breaks for profits from the Open Championship. It also shielded ordinary members from potential legal battles with club manufacturers.

Dawson helped get golf back into the Olympic Games for the first time since 1904. He is president of the International Golf Federation, a role he will continue after he leaves the R&A.

However, Dawson’s lasting legacy is sure to be a vote by Royal & Ancient members this September to allow women into the club for the first time in 260 years. That would be a welcome, historical change for the once all-male enclave.

Asked recently what he would be most proud of when he vacated his office high above the first tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews, Dawson replied, “We don’t do personal stuff at the R&A.”

Typical Dawson.

For what it’s worth, I’m sorry to see him go. Before Dawson, the R&A was seen as stuffy and secretive. He opened things up and never ducked issues.

His favorite term is “measured.” He wouldn’t take action without first weighing all the options.

As to why he’s exiting, he said, “It’s purely an age thing. I will be 67 then, and it will be time to go. I will have been 16 years in the role, which coincidentally is the same length of time my three predecessors served.”

A knighthood awaits Peter Dawson. That will happen as sure as women are set to be sipping drinks in the Big Room behind the first tee at St. Andrews as Royal & Ancient members.

As to his successor, your guess is as good as mine.

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