The R&A has moved to allay fears that its decision to award live television rights of the Open Championship to Sky Sports will have a negative impact on golf participation.
The governing body announced yesterday that Sky had secured the exclusive rights in a five-year deal from 2017, taking over from the BBC, which has had a 60-year partnership with golf’s oldest major.
High-profile players have voiced their disappointment about the move, with former world No 1 and 2010 Open runner-up Lee Westwood branding it an “absolute disgrace”.
Westwood is worried, with golf participation already in decline, that it will strike a further blow to the sport in that area, and has suggested the decision was simply money-driven. But in an open letter published yesterday, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson has insisted “numerous factors” were taken into account, and played down talk about the relationship between free-to-air viewing and participation.
Dawson said: “I recognise that this new broadcast model represents a significant change and I understand that change, particularly where it involves the BBC, is controversial. Numerous factors were weighed in this process such as quality of coverage, household reach, innovations in the broadcast, commercial considerations and promotion of the Open and our sport throughout the year.
“We have considered this new agreement extremely carefully and firmly believe that we have achieved the best result not just for the future of the Open but for golf as a whole. I know there are many who are concerned that the Open no longer being shown live on the BBC will lead to a reduction in participation in our sport and I wanted to take this opportunity to address this specific point.
“We have looked at this issue very carefully and believe it is not possible to make an informed case that participation is simply and directly linked to free-to-air television viewing.”
BBC presenter and commentator Peter Alliss said the news “really saddens” him.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the 83-year-old added: “I know they (the R&A) do lots of lovely, lovely things but now when it comes down to the nitty-gritty they have dipped their hands into the money and that’s it.
“I don’t think there will be a golfer that won’t be bitterly disappointed at the news today.”