Outgoing R&A chief Peter Dawson wrote an open letter to discuss the changes coming to the Open Championship's U.K. television coverage, and to address some of the criticism of those changes.
Dawson announced that beginning in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, live coverage of the season's third major will shift to Sky Sports in the U.K. while BBC, which has shown the Open live for the past 60 years, will be relegated to replay coverage.
"I recognize that this new broadcast model represents a significant change and I understand that change, particularly where it involves the BBC, is controversial," Dawson wrote. "We have observed, over several years, that the way the majority of people are choosing to consume sport is changing. ... We have to cater for that changing environment and deliver the best viewing experience possible for golf fans."
Sky already has broadcasts rights to the other three majors and will reportedly pay more than $15 million per year to broadcast the Open live under the new five-year agreement, a $4.5 million per year increase over the BBC's current deal. Critics believe that the move to Sky from BBC, a free-to-air station, could result in a drop in interest in the game. That faction includes Englishman Lee Westwood, who told the U.K.'s Daily Mail that the move was "an absolute disgrace."
"The BBC are doing golf no favors at all by letting the Open go, and you have to question the role of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club as well," Westwood said. "They are the guardians of the game but it seems to be money-driven."
Dawson, who will retire from his post as chief executive of the R&A in September, disagreed.
"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," he wrote. "There is no question that free-to-air sports broadcasts generate good exposure for the sport ... But firm conclusions about their positive impact on participation cannot be drawn."