Golf: Price is right to stage a Royal show at Lytham Open

WHILE the US Masters was in full swing at the Augusta National last night, Welshman Rhodri Price was planning a Major success of his own this summer as the new director of operations for the Open Championship.

For the 37-year-old former Abergavenny golfer has made a climb through the Royal Ancient ranks of Everest proportions to reach the pinnacle of golf’s biggest and best Major.

Other than lifting the Claret Jug, helping mastermind a successful Open Championship under the intense glare of the media spotlight, is right up there with the pressure heaped on the world’s best players trying to win the oldest Major in the game.

And for good measure Price is currently juggling a pro-shop consignment of balls also carrying out his duties as the assistant director of championships at the RA.


It means instead of getting a peek at the first Major of the season unfolding at Augusta last night, Price was up and down in a day from his St Andrews home to London meeting fashion giants Ralph Lauren over potential clothing for his team golfers this summer.

And the train just couldn’t take the strain as numerous e-mails and telephone calls during the journey flooded in regarding hosting the RA’s blue riband event at Royal Lytham this summer – the first time the links, close to Blackpool, will have staged the Open since Ian Woosnam’s 15-club debacle in 2001.

But despite seeing amateur contemporaries Justin Rose, Bradley Dredge and Jamie Donaldson rise through the professional ranks to join golf’s millionaire club, Price wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because it’s a job that gives the 1999 Walker Cup squad member the chance to rub shoulders with legends of the world game with the added bonus of picking up money at the end of every tournament in the form of his RA wage slip – and given his promotion to director of operations probably a fatter pay packet since taking on the job.

“If it had been anyone else than the RA who offered me a job all those years ago, I think I might have had a go at the professional ranks,” admitted Price.

“Sometimes I see peers of mine like Jamie Donaldson, Bradley Dredge and Justin Rose doing well in a tournament and wonder what might have happened had I turned professional but I have no regrets at all. I love my job, work for a great employer and the quality of my life is good.

“Walking to lunch past the 18th green of the Old Course is not bad every day.”

Price’s role with the RA nowadays is a far cry from 13 years ago when his working life started in their rules department.

As director of operations Price’s duties encompass his former job of working with the three major TV companies covering the event – the BBC, American network ESPN and Japanese company Asahi – overseeing the practice ground plus trouble-shooting for the players and their management companies.

“We’ve been spread pretty thin on Championship week, and before I could have been getting the right colour socks for players to go with their trousers, instead of focussing on the event itself,” added Price.

“The chief executive thought we needed 100 per cent focus on the Open and 100 per cent focus on the other events we run like the Amateur Championship, Walker Cup, Jacques Leglise Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy.

“It means a separate department has been set-up, the amateur events division, which will take off my hands and my colleagues, everything that is not to do with the Open Championship on site.

“They will be taking off me the whole qualifying structure for the Open, together with all aspects of the team managing side of the Walker Cup team and Jacques Leglise side and all aspects of team selection as well.

“I’ll be sad to see that go but on the other hand I’m very passionate about the Open Championship. But the guys who are taking these duties off my hands don’t start for another month or two, so quite a few more balls have been thrown in for me to juggle with.

“Not taking anything away from the other events the success of the Open Championship is paramount because that is our cash cow and our main, even sole, income stream.

“It is vital we make the Open successful and at the forefront of the other three Majors played in the USA.

“I’m director of operations and my colleague Michael Wells is director of staging at the Open.

“Michael builds the Open infrastructure, I wave my arms around beforehand saying ‘this goes here and this goes there’.

“The boss of the whole show is Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the executive director of championships, but we’ve been given a bit more freedom to drive the Open along.

“I’m taking on a lot but it’s not just going to be on my shoulders which is great.

“The infrastructure of the Open has grown massively since last taking the Open to Lytham, but the ground there hasn’t, so we’ve had to juggle things around cleverly there.

“Like at the Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor in 2010 we’re building a bridge from the practice ground to chipping green. We’re dealing with the same people who did that one and we believe it will relieve a safety aspect for the players.

“It’s not just about isolating Tiger Woods, who we will have at Lytham this year. We have the Army Golf Society who provide enough bodies to be able to go around with the bigger names.

“They walk with the bigger name groups to keep an eye out for cameras because there’s not really any other sport where you can get so close to the biggest names in the world.

“It’s so easy for them to be put off by cameras or phones and also we are securing their safety really.

“The guys who work in the Open nerve centre, we holiday together, we play golf together, we go out for a few beers and all our families are close.

“Working at the scale of the Open can be stressful, can be nerve-wracking and at times we can fall out with one another but being close mates we get through it.

“Like swans there’s a lot of thrashing about under the water, almost a state of controlled panic, but we make it work.”

And given his encyclopedic knowledge of the Open, what chance of Wales staging an event in the future?

With a lobby over the years pushing Royal Porthcawl’s claims Price added: “Nobody would be more pleased than me as the only Welshman in the RA.

“We are always looking at Open venues out of the current rota. The courses on the rota at the moment is not an absolute done deal and we are always reviewing each venue to see if they can cope with the infrastructure.

“It’s natural for any links course to be pushing for the Open Championship.

“If a venue can stage a Walker Cup and Amateur Championship, the next challenge to come on board would be the Open.

“If a course can meets the needs of a championship then the RA would look at it.

“It’s not just the golf course but the infrastructure to service in excess of 40,000 people a day.

“That’s huge undertakings. Royal Porthcawl have approached the RA in the past and we have been on the ground there, where we’ve looked at the course and facilities.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if we have one or two other venues out with our current rota.

“We have nine on the rota at the moment and Lytham this summer hosts it’s first one for more than a decade.

“Requirements change a great deal in that time and if you expanded to say 15 years it would make the task almost impossible.

“Adding to the rota would be problematic and we are comfortable with the courses we use at the moment.

“One or two are at bursting point but they still stage very successful Opens.

“Porthcawl is still very much on our radar for Walker Cups and Amateur Championships and we visit Royal St David’s from time to time.

“But when it comes to the Open it is now such a monster we have to be careful we are still laying on such a successful event for players and public.

“St Andrews has the Open more or less every four or five years and we try to keep it in Scotland for two out of every five years.

“At the moment if you are a Lytham or a Carnoustie you are looking at every 10 or 12 years for an Open.

“That makes our job on the ground running the event very difficult.

“You do envy Wimbledon tennis or Augusta when you are running a big event annually at the same venue. That would be a walk in the park.”

So no prospect of Wales staging an Open Championship any time soon or seeing a Welshman lifting the Claret Jug given the parlous state of professional golf here – but at least we can boast an administrator right at the top of his game at Royal Lytham this summer.


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