Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Magnificent links to be star of the show

Walker Cup

The seeds of this week's Walker Cup at Royal County Down were sown as long ago as 1999 when it successfully staged the British Amateur Championship.

Young Englishman Graeme Storm may have won that week but it was a reminder to the R&A, if they needed it, that the magnificent links was the true star of that occasion.

And certainly chief executive Peter Dawson needs no prompting on the merits of Royal County Down as he says he is " lucky enough to be a member here".

"Not that I get the chance to play it anything like as much as I would like," he added.

"When we decided to bring the Walker Cup here we thought that to bring the Americans to one of the finest courses in the world was too good to resist.

"To play in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

"When you look at the names of some of the top players today who have played the Walker Cup, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, it shows that it is the pinnacle of the amateur career and no-one knows what lies ahead for the players competing this week."

The idea of staging the Walker Cup at Royal County Down was first mooted during that championship eight years ago.

"It was my first week on the payroll of the R&A and I remember it well," adds Dawson.

"The members were very keen on the idea of bringing it here and I have to say they have worked incredibly hard in order to do so.

"As well as that the course is in absolutely incredible condition at the minute, about as well as I have ever seen it."

For Dawson all the hard work is in the preparation behind the scenes and he was busy finalising pin positions for Saturday before finding time for an interview last evening.

But after all the dinners, ceremonies and a hundred other tiny details have been sorted out, he will be able to relax a little and maybe even enjoy some golf.

"The Walker Cup is different because people can get right up to the players and feel they are completely involved," he says.

" And I think the Northern Irish fans will come out and give great support. It may be partisan support, but it will be fair.

"They are very like Scottish fans in that they know the game well and are very knowledgeable about the game and so they play their part in the whole event."

In his time as head of the R&A Dawson has seen the average age of Walker Cup teams tumble which he says is just an indication of the way sport in general is going.

"In all sorts of sports, not just golf, people are getting very good at a very young age," he said.

" You can see that in these teams and in golf, players are playing virtually full-time and turning professional at a very early age."

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