Ted Bishop threw more fuel on the fire of his controversy with R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson when he described Royal Portrush as “open game” if the US PGA Championship ever goes international.
The PGA of America President declared in an interview with the Golf Channel last week that the Dunluce Links - the only course outside Great Britain ever to host The Open (1951) - would be his first choice as an international venue if fledgling plans to take golf’s third oldest major abroad ever get off the ground.
Some commentators wondered if Bishop’s suggestion of a move into R&A territory was a cheeky one designed to ruffle the feathers of Dawson in the wake of their fraught interchange over the PGA of America’s outspoken opposition to the ban on the anchored putting method this year.
Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio today (full interview at www.back9networkradio.com), Bishop claimed that his Royal Portrush suggestion was a “personal” not an institutional choice before going on to reply to what he described as the insinuation that he had been trying to rile Dawson by earmarking a venue that will host an R&A Championship next year - the British Amateur - and is still under consideration for a possible return to the Open rota.
“One thing that bothered me when I read the repercussions of what I said last week, some people insinuated that in some shape of form, there was another shot by Bishop at Peter Dawson and that coudn’t be further from the truth.
“I respect those guys… tremendously. If, at the same time, they have decided for whatever reason for 62 years not to take the Open Championship to Ireland, that kind of makes it open game, I guess, to a certain degree.
“The history of the golf there has been great. The difference in the time zone it’s not too much different to going from the east coast in the United States to the west coast, if you are on the east coast.”
Asked on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive last Thursday which venue he’d like to see stage the first international edition of the PGA, Bishop told presenter Gary Williams: “Royal Portrush would be a great first international major. I think given the powerful effect that Irish golfers have on the professional game today, that might be a good place to start.”
Royal Portrush have heard nothing from the PGA of America, which is not surprising given that Bishop claims he was simply giving a personal opinion, though he later reveals that he knew the question was coming and had researched his answer.
“Very simply, Gary asked me the question: ‘There has been talk of taking the PGA Championship overseas. If this happens which course would you like to see it played on?’
“So the answer that I gave was Royal Portrush. A personal opinion. It wasn’t me as president of the PGA of America saying Royal Portrush is No 1 on our radar for a site.
“I do think that Ireland and Royal Portrush would a great venue. I will say that. But as we have said in the last few weeks, we honestly are just into the beginning stages of doing our research on where would be a potential international PGA site. Whether or not we are going to do it remains to be seen. If we do do it, it is going to be a decade away, probably, at best. And we are very much in the exploratory process.
“That being said, Royal Melbourne in Australia certainly that would be another venue that the players would enjoy. Australia has openly said they would love to host a PGA Championship. And I think in the next few years unfold there are going to be a lot of continents that are going to step forward, raise there hand and say, hey, if you guys are really going to do this, we’d love to be considered.
“Everybody looks at the Asian market as a growing market and that would probably be … if you took a public poll and said if this PGA Championship is going to happen from an international standpoint, where would are they going to take it, most people would probably say Asia. It is going to be interesting.”
Bishop’s Portrush comment was the big talking point at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship on Friday with 2012 US PGA Champion Rory McIlroy and 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell weighing in favourably on the subject.
It turns out that McIlroy’s position has eased somewhat compared to his comments to Bishop, who first broached the subject with the Ulsterman when they played Oak Hill during the PGA Championship Media Day in June.
Never a huge fan of playing majors on links courses in the wind, McIlroy was not particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of an Irish edition of the US PGA.
“There are a lot of reasons why Ireland would be good. And I did have a conversation with McIlroy when he and I played together at the Media Day.
And I thought Rory’s initial comments were, when I threw this concept out about an international PGA Championship, he was kind of lukewarm at best.
He said, ‘When I think about the PGA Championship is that you are playing a lot of the old classic, traditional courses here in the United States and I kind of have to think about that one.’
“He obviously has thought about it over the past few months and he’s kind of warmed up a little bit to the idea. And I appreciated the comments that he made. I think it validated our position and in particular the quotes that have been attributed to me.”
Asked if he’d been able to speak with Peter Dawson to “clear up any confusion” over his comments on Royal Portrush, Bishop said:
“No, no. I don’t think it is my position to do it. I said all along that the concept of this international PGA it was Pete Bevacqua’s brainchild and I think at the appropriate time, when we really start it exploring more seriously, the fact that it is going to come to fruition, we will talk to all the leadings of what I call the World Golf Alliance.”
Surprisingly, Bishop has never been to Ireland. But he did reveal that he researched Royal Portrush in depth (by scouring its website) in anticipation of the Morning Drive question.
“I have not been. But I have talked to a lot of people over the years who obviously have and I have talked to a lot of people who have been to Royal Portrush. I have spent a lot of time on their website, looking at that golf course in preparation for that question on the Morning Drive last week. It’s a stunning venue, as anyone who has played there will tell you.”
Dawson said the something similar about the course before putting it firmly on the Open Championship rota back burner for further study.
With an international PGA Championship “a decade away, at best,” he will have plenty of time to discuss Royal Portrush with Dawson and the R&A before he leaves office.
Then again, given the ill-feeling at R&A headquarters over the whole anchoring debate, we should not hold our breath.
Bishop and Dawson had what Golf World reported was a “testy meeting” between Bishop and Dawson at this year’s Masters.
“When Bishop made the point that the PGA of America was standing up for the “best interests of the amateur golfer,” [re its opposition to anchoring] Dawson bristled and, according to Bishop, pointed a finger at him and said, “That’s not your role.”
“Bishop tried to be diplomatic by saying to Dawson, “I hope you don’t take this personally.” According to Bishop, Dawson said he did take it personally, adding he felt like Bishop “and others in the U.S. grandstanded.”
And that by the PGA of America taking a position opposed to the rule-making bodies “set golf back.” As reported in Golf World, Dawson told Bishop “irreparable damage had been done.”
We await developments in the hunt for “open game” at Royal Portrush with interest.