Should clubs be worried about terrorism at golf tournaments?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 12, 2011 09:56

Should clubs be worried about terrorism at golf tournaments?

Preposterous. Ridiculous. Inconceivable. A few years ago, the very thought of a terrorist attack on a golf tournament would have been as unlikely as Bruce Forsyth winning the Open – nice bloke and decent golfer that he is.

But after 9/11 the world is a different place and few spheres of activity are now immune from being targeted and that includes the great and gentle game of golf. Shudder the thought, but let’s face it  – from a terrorist’s skewed view, a major golf tournament represents a good target; big name stars, thousands of spectators, many American, all with the world’s cameras trained on a game perceived by some as a bastion of the establishment.

So when the rest of Britain was on high alert after the bombing atrocities of 7 July, the home of golf was no exception as The R&A hosted the 2005 Open, particularly with the first practice round scheduled just three days after that terrible day.

“For the Open championships, enormous security measures are always put into operation and obviously after the events of 7 July in 2005, the eventuality of a terrorist attack was a big question that did come up,” admitted a spokesman for The R&A.

In the event, there was no intelligence to suggest an imminent attack – but there was a considerably increased police presence – between 40 and 50 police officers on the course at any one given time. Officers and stewards carried out extensive bag searches, while keeping an eye out for any packages that looked out of place.

Surveillance was stepped up massively through extensive CCTV systems including roving police vans with highly visible cameras. Inspector Andy Edmonston from Fife Police, responsible for overseeing the policing operation of the event, said he wasn’t about to take any chances.

“Is it likely that a golf tournament such as this will be targeted? Who’s to say – I would like to think not,” he conjectured. “But it is entirely right that you explore all possibilities and guard against them.”

If security measures over here were meticulous and rigorous for that ‘big un’, States-side they were near Orwellian for the US Open at Pinehurst, also in 2005. The State Bureau of Investigation assigned 70 agents to the event including its bomb squad and SWAT team. The Highway Patrol assigned more than 100 troopers and air sensors were deployed around the course feeding back to a £450,000 mobile air monitoring lab to detect for any possible chemical attack.

After the national trauma of 9/11, Americans have as good a reason as anyone to be security zealous and no wonder the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed along with several major US tournaments. It was Steve Loy, who at the time managed Phil Mickelson and Mark Calcavecchia, who articulated what was going through a lot of people’s minds at the time: “To be frank about it, a golf tournament would be an easy place to commit mass murder no matter how tight the security.”

Andrew Chandler, who managed the security of three of the European Ryder Cup teams, expressed a similar sentiment.

He said: “There’s no way Tiger’s safety can be guaranteed against people who don’t care about killing themselves. You can’t protect the guy; in the middle of the fairway he’s too vulnerable.”

With this kind of climate, it was perhaps unsurprising that organisers of the rescheduled 2002 event at the Belfry hammered out a portcullis-tight security system. Members of the public were barred from bringing in an array of devices and objects such as mobile phones, push chairs, rucksacks and cameras.

The NEC Security Group were brought in to ensure no stone was left unturned.

With over 500 of his security staff drafted in for the event, NEC Security Manager Philip Barber said the firm delivered an exemplary comprehensive security package. “For the 2002 Ryder Cup, an ‘island site’ was established,” he recalled, “In conjunction with the police and our other security partners we set up a remote park and ride system at the NEC and Drayton Manor Theme Park to cater for the high volume of visitors expected. This enabled us to screen all visitors, staff and contractors, using archway metal detectors and X-ray machines, before they arrived at the event.

“Consequently, any serious security incidents could be dealt with remotely and the transport infrastructure at the Belfry was not overloaded. We shared with police a joint CCTV and control room manned by NEC security controllers, who drew particular praise for their professionalism from the police and organisers. The operation was a model for the type of police / security partnership operations, which are becoming increasingly common.”

So post 7/7, just how concerned should golf club managers and high profile tournament organisers be about the terrorist threat? And moreover what can they do about it?

A spokesman for the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), the national trade body for the industry, says that while big golf clubs need to be on their toes they should adopt a planned and measured response.

“Yes, they should be concerned,” he said, “But you have to put things into perspective by looking at how terrorism factors in within an overall risk assessment within an organisation. That’s difficult for a lot of organisations because they often don’t have a corporate risk strategy in place.

The likelihood of being involved in a terrorist incident remains “very low”, Hay admitted, but added that that doesn’t mean clubs shouldn’t be planning for it to happen.

“The threat increases for sports events as it becomes harder for terrorists to focus on ‘traditional’ targets. When we have got fully televised international sport events, terrorists could get massive exposure by blowing up something or someone that might be perceived as a ‘soft’ target,” he stated.

“The providers we represent are increasingly dealing with sports event organisers and it may sound like a plug, but golf clubs should certainly consider working with a good risk management consultant if they are planning a large-scale event. Our providers work with organisations planning events on an Olympic scale through to those running community-based events. It’s not an exact science: event organisers should be looking for bespoke solutions tailored to their needs.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 12, 2011 09:56
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