The governing body announced yesterday that the satellite giant 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.
However Irish golf chiefs are confident they will benefit financially from the controversial agreement which is understood to be worth £75m (€100m).
“We welcome this development,” said GUI general secretary Pat Finn. “There is significant reference in the statement to the benefits that will accrue to the game in this country.
“It also fits in nicely with the fact that the Open Championship is set to be staged on an Irish golf course over the next few years.”
Ireland was mentioned on three occasions in the R&A statement which confirmed the agreement. The extra monies will be especially welcome at a time when a sizeable reduction in golf club membership is hitting the game hard in this country. Furthermore, the undertaking of a comprehensive strategic review of golf participation in Ireland ensures the game will feel the full benefit of the increased resources that become available.
High-profile players have voiced their disappointment about the move, with former world number one 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 on Tuesday, 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.
“There is no question that free-to-air sports broadcasts generate good exposure for sport... but firm conclusions about their positive impact on participation cannot be drawn.”
He added: “Significantly, our new agreement will enable us to take our support of golf’s development in the UK and Ireland to unprecedented levels.
“Additionally, we are undertaking a comprehensive strategic review on the subject of golf participation and we will ensure that golf feels the full benefit of the enhanced resources available.
“I’d like to reassure you that the R&A approaches change with caution and a great deal of consideration.”
Within the new deal — which commences at what will be the 146th Open Championship, played at Royal Birkdale in July 2017 — the BBC will offer two-hour daily highlights and live radio and online coverage.
BBC presenter and commentator Peter Alliss said on Tuesday that 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.”
Westwood had his say over the weekend, telling the Telegraph: “I cannot believe the Open isn’t protected as one of the crown jewels — that is an absolute disgrace.
“It’s very disappointing, even though I can appreciate how much Sky have done for the European Tour, and how much they’ve done for the game of golf. But look at the viewing figures for Sky compared to the BBC and you have to question it when the number of golfers are dwindling. It (the R&A) is the guardian of the game. But it seems to be all money-driven, and Sky are willing to pay more than anyone else.”
Graeme McDowell has backed Westwood’s comments, while their European Ryder Cup colleague Rory McIlroy, the current world number and reigning Open champion, has said the news is a “shame”, adding: “Money talks, you know.”
Caddies in the US have launched a lawsuit against the PGA Tour claiming a share of $50m (€43m) earned from wearing sponsored bibs.
The action by more than 80 caddies stems from a year-long dispute. The caddies contend they receive nothing of the millions made by the Tour from bib sponsorship. They also accuse the Tour of denying them access to healthcare and pension plans, according to BBC.
Mike Hicks, caddie for the late Payne Stewart when he won his last US Open in 1999, and Kenny Harms, who caddies for 31-year-old Kevin Na have been named as two of the representatives in the collective class action.
The lawsuit outlines a series of grievances against the Tour, including having to “use portable lavatories that lack running water”.
As a result, the caddies are asking for a share of the profits from the sponsorship along with damages for wearing the bibs in the past.
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