An Interview With: GEORGE O'GRADY, RICHARD HILLS, KEVIN DONOHOE
September 20, 2006
GORDON SIMPSON: Okay, everyone, as you probably realise, this is an unscheduled press conference between all of the player and captain interviews, but due to events this morning we thought this was a good idea to let everyone have the full details.
On the top table we have George O'Grady on the far end, Executive Director of The European Tour; next to George is Kevin Donohue from the An Garda Siochána; and then Richard Hills, the Ryder Cup Director. Richard, you might want to kick off with some introductory remarks, please.
RICHARD HILLS: Thank you, Gordon. When we arrived on site this morning, wind speeds were in excess of 40 miles an hour. We began a review with our health and safety consultants and the principle contractors who we have used for construction of this site. In a period of time between 6:30, just after 7:00, we deemed that the site was unsafe at that time until further checks could be carried out in full daylight to ensure spectator safety.
A process which was preplanned with An Garda Siochána that was gone through with the various consultants and agencies involved with the safety of the matches, and I'm pleased to say, as you've now witnessed, that the gates were able to be opened in a time frame which allowed people to re enter the site at 9:45.
So the situation which we reviewed, felt was unsafe for public admittance and indeed unsafe for the players at that time until we were completely sure that the structures in and around the playing areas were safe, was carried out. Coupled with weather forecasting which we carried out on site and through things with Dublin airfield and City West, we were able to monitor the likely wind speeds that were going to be prevailing through the day.
So that in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen, is the process which we followed in the delayed entry, delayed gates opening this morning.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, Richard. All three gentlemen are available to take some questions from the floor now.
Q. Were you worried about grandstand problems?
RICHARD HILLS: With the winds of last night and the winds that were prevailing, we were worried about all of the structures and what we call 'loose impediments' that were around the site until we could conduct a full review in daylight, have a balanced view of what was happening with the winds through the morning, allowed us to come to the decision to open the gates at 9:45.
Q. Have you got a cutoff point where if the wind speeds get to 45 miles an hour on Friday morning, you won't play?
RICHARD HILLS: In conjunction with our consultants, that is something which has to be taken into account.
We view the procedure very similar to threat of lightning, threat of further winds, if they got beyond 40, 45, 50, there would have been potential structural difficulties.
Q. One for you, George. What's the weather forecast, and do you know from your experience, do you have contingencies to take the tournament into Monday?
GEORGE O'GRADY:: We've got I think the very best Ryder Cup forecasting you can have, but it's not an exact science when things are swirling like this. All across Ireland, there's different wind speeds.
We've looked at the contingencies, we've always had them to go into Monday if we had to. We don't visit that at the moment at all. We have time up our sleeve when Sunday comes. I think this is a one off today.
The structures are exceptionally soundly built. The structural engineer we have on site says it's the safest place you can be is inside these things. The grandstands have all been double checked. We've been expecting high winds. We're more concerned with the loose debris flying around. We have tried to address this as best we possibly can, a lot of table and chairs, a lot of people are coming in, plenty of umbrellas, all of which were dangerous this morning, but we are battening them down as tight as we can now.
We want to play if the golf course is playable, and by that we mean balls stationary on the greens and not moving. We've had contingencies for Monday built in right from the beginning, but we are not considering that at the moment.
Q. I don't know if transport comes into your jurisdiction, but nine years since the Ryder Cup has come to The K Club and massive road works from Dublin to the course. Why was that? And second part of the question, why is it that with hotels on the way, it's been an hour's journey to get here sometimes around the back?
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: I'm not so sure, first of all, if we can blame the police organization for road works and public roads that are 20, 30 miles away from the course. A huge amount of effort has gone into the infrastructure into the extended area around Straffan. You're coming into a major city at a key time of the morning, and unfortunately there's going to be traffic buildup. Everything possible is done to minimise that and how far we extend away from the course, whether we have traffic management advance in place, sheer volume just mitigates against free movement as well as we would have liked it to be.
Q. What about taking the buses around the back?
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: I'm not sure of the question you're asking.
Q. The buses coming to the course don't come through the front, they come through the back entrance, which means a big detour around sort of Kildare countryside.
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: The two entrances to the course, the north terminal and south terminal, bear in mind planning for this event has been 12 months from a police and traffic management point of view. From our point of view, from a safety point of view, from the actual buses that were moving and for the safe and free movement of passengers, we felt that those were the best routes.
Q. Spectator walkways are already becoming quite slippery, and terms of spectator safety, what measures are you planning to take if we get further rain in the next couple of days to ensure we don't expect people to fall all over the place?
RICHARD HILLS: It's something that we'll be watching closely. One of the benefits of the strong wind is it will help to dry out. Gerry Byrne and his team, David Garland being the tournament director, have contingencies that we have with chipwood bark that we are able to put out, and we are taking that very seriously.
Q. Your priority I would imagine is to start on time on Friday. Would that remain the priority even if the players of the two teams got precious little more in the way of practise; by that I mean if tomorrow is a washout?
GEORGE O'GRADY:: I think for that question, practise is one of the things that would have to go by the bye. These are very top professionals of Europe and America; they have played here before. Both teams played nine holes today; I understand that Europe is playing the back nine and the U.S. Team is going out as we speak or making plans to. I don't think our forecast is so bad that we won't be able to play tomorrow, but we'll do everything we can to start on time Friday morning.
Q. To whoever it might concern, how do you plan to alleviate the fact that people are queueing in the north car park more than two hours to even get on a bus this morning?
RICHARD HILLS: That was a virtue of the system and what we had to do with the delay. Unfortunately it was that period of time of delay.
Q. But the system seemed very flawed because people were just accused of not moving at all for over two hours.
RICHARD HILLS: The system worked extremely well yesterday with a similar amount, but the delay did unfortunately cause that delay.
Q. Do you expect to have people queueing for that long?
RICHARD HILLS: With the set of circumstances which prevailed this morning, which unfortunately, we've apologised for, that delay will prevail.
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: Just on that point, I'll make it clear there was issues in respect of public safety here at the site and it made no sense for us to bring thousands of more people onto or close to the site until we were satisfied where we were going to go this morning. And the decision was taken by the executive team running the event that we hold people at the Park and Ride and certainly from our officers and from Ryder Cup personnel out there, we were hugely appreciative of the public's pain.
I think people accepted the position and people weren't missing anything at The K Club, there was nothing here, and it will be the same later on in the week if we have further delays. Patrons coming to The K Club are not going to miss any of the events that are happening.
Certainly we were satisfied, especially with all circumstances this morning, but we were happy with the operation of the way it worked. But I'm very pleased with the patience of people that understood the position we were in. It was the intention of the management group here to do our utmost to assure that the event got underway this morning and is certainly preferable to people not being allowed into The K Club. And while we're sorry there was a delay getting people in here, nothing was happening here other than the analysis and assessment of the position here, and we got people in as quickly and as soon as we could.
I think the infrastructure in place out there was never designed to take in thousands of people in one blast. It would have much more regulated entry into the clubhouse if not for the exceptional circumstances this morning.
Q. Apologies if you've already fielded these two questions, but is there a contingency for an indoor venue for the opening ceremony tomorrow, and what do you do if you lose a couple of days' play at the weekend?
RICHARD HILLS: There is a contingency, as George has indicated, going into the Monday. That has always been within the captains' agreement that Monday could be used if necessary. And yes, if unfortunately weather conditions are not good tomorrow for the opening ceremony, that will take place indoors.
Q. Who has the final say and would it demean the tournament if you had to play preferred lies in the Ryder Cup?
GEORGE O'GRADY:: The preferred lie situation would be finally decided by our chief referee, Andy McFee, but it would in this case be totally in agreement with the two captains. The fairways are immaculate at the moment, the whole course is immaculate but very, very wet. I think they are monitoring today and tomorrow how much mud the ball picks up. It's only really mud we're talking about, not casual water.
We will resist the temptation of playing preferred lies as far as we possibly can, but I think if both teams, both captains wish to do it, convince us, we don't think it would I don't think it can demean the tournament, because this is about a match between two teams, within the Rules of Golf. We don't want to, but we would if we had to.
Q. About the contingency plan, you were saying, at the latest, you could think about it onto Sunday to put it into action Sunday for Monday. What does it mean for the spectators who would be entitled to come in on Monday to come in and see whatever is left of the tournament?
GEORGE O'GRADY:: I think we are talking subjective questions here. We take one session of play at a time and we get through that. So as much as we can fill the day's play, we'll play. And so when we get through Sunday, we'll look at it. I'm afraid if we had the horrific situation of losing all of Friday, Friday tickets you would take Saturday, but we don't see that happening. The forecast is not that bad. If we have to roll over on Sunday and have them finish, we'll make a decision and announce then which tickets are available for Monday. More than likely your Sunday tickets will roll over.
Q. To anyone, would you put your finger on something that did happen in the area at the time of the storm? Did the river burst its banks at any stage? What happened, how many trees down, any trees down?
RICHARD HILLS: A number of trees did come down. Reviewing the site in its entirety in darkness was something that we did not wish to do, and that caused the delay of entry. Until we had opportunity in daylight to review the very high wind level overnight, in excess of 40 miles an hour on arrival here at 5:00 in the morning, it was something that we wished to ensure the safety of the site.
Q. Could you just paint the picture of some tree that came down on some fairway?
RICHARD HILLS: There was a tree on 18 that came down, but it was generally in and around the structures where, as George said, we wanted to see that everything was battened down. Nothing had moved, nothing had shifted in position overnight with that very strong wind.
Q. And perhaps the gentleman between you and George can explain something that happened outside the grounds, cars being turned over or roofs being taken off, anything like that?
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: Would you like me to give you facts or you would like me to make something up? (Laughter)
I'm not aware of extensive damage. I think we were aware this morning of the type of weather we were talking about and there was some damage, but not anything of any substantial nature we're aware of or anything that impacted on the event at all.
Q. I wonder if you can tell us how many spectators it was possible to process through so far today, and whether or not you're changing any of your guidance about the kind of time it's likely to take people to get from the Park and Ride or to get from Dublin to the Park and Rides and into The K Club, given what you've said about people coming in at the same time, and is that having an effect on the time it takes?
SUPT. KEVIN DONOHUE: I think just the second part of your question, the first part of our problem this morning was that we could get people into Park and Rides in the rate that we expected. We couldn't get them out of the Park and Rides, and that created a backlog which certainly at the Johnstown side at Palmer House and people attending the Park and Ride being queued up on the carriageway, which as a contingency we planned for but one that we would prefer not to have done, but we had an outlet in that regard. It also caused maybe some disquiet because there's some way away from the site where we backed people up, where once you come off the road, you're on the site and you can see the position.
So as I said earlier, due to the exception, we had to move so many people during a short period caused the delays this morning. But while I don't have the precise number of spectators we'll be satisfied that the facilities we have at the two Park and Rides can take them in at the rate they would have been expected even with the exceptional circumstances this morning. We had people backed up within the Park and Rides and entering the Park and Ride.
RICHARD HILLS: The circumstances are very similar to those in 1997 at Valderrama, where with a thunderstorm, we felt it was safer that the people were held undercover in their vehicles or buses at remote sites, as opposed to exposing somebody to something potentially here, that could have been dangerous. It was a very sort of set of similar circumstances.
Q. There's been some debate about the Europeans playing and the Americans going out at all today, given that there's 5,000 people here to watch some golf, how important was it in a PR sense if anything else that they go out and play some golf today, and did you guys impress upon them to go out?
GEORGE O'GRADY:: The great thing about today and this weather, led by, I would say actually led by the Irish players on The European Team, they were keen to play. They felt if the public were coming in, they felt it was their responsibility to play. We didn't have to ask players to do anything at all. Certainly The European Team are very mindful of it.
I think the U.S. Team always felt that they were playing later in the day. And when one or two thought they wanted to go out and play, they felt it wouldn't be right if they weren't playing at all, or practising and chipping, if people were not allowed in. They understood for safety reasons but they were all to a man more than willing to help and that was very reassuring for us.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, gentlemen.
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