The R&A insists its decision to hand live television rights of the Open Championship to Sky Sports is “the best result for golf as a whole”.
The governing body announced on Tuesday that Sky had been awarded the exclusive rights in a five-year agreement from 2017, taking over from the BBC, which has had a 60-year partnership with golf’s oldest major.
High-profile figures in golf have voiced their disappointment about the decision to switch from terrestrial television to a subscription network, expressing fears it will strike a further blow in terms of participation to a sport already in decline in that area, and suggesting the decision was simply money-driven.
But in an open letter, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson defended the call, while saying he recognised that “change, particularly where it involves the BBC, is controversial”.
Dawson said: “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.”
Dawson also said it was “not possible to make an informed case that participation is simply and directly linked to free-to-air television viewing”, and stressed the R&A is conducting a “comprehensive strategic review” on the number of people playing golf in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
He added: “Our new agreement will enable us to take our support of golf’s development...to unprecedented levels.”
BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss said he had been saddened by the news.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, the 83-year-old said: “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.”
Lee Westwood, the former world number one and 2010 Open runner-up, had his say over the weekend, telling the Sunday Telegraph: “I cannot believe the Open isn’t protected as one of the ’crown jewels’ – that is an absolute disgrace.
“It’s very disappointing. 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.”
Rory McIlroy, the current world number and reigning Open champion, said the news is a “shame”, adding: “Money talks, you know.”
The BBC will offer two-hour daily television highlights within the new deal, which begins with the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July 2017, plus live radio coverage.