R&A Chief: Open Will Remain Open
Slumbers addresses several issues of the day, from Trump Turnberry to Open qualifying. Plus, a Washington Post writer goes to Saudi Arabia and LIVs to tell about it.
Perhaps sensing that the talk of coming player bans from majors had gone too far, the R&A’s Martin Slumbers emphatically shut the prospect down. He did, however, reiterate how “appropriate pathways” will be necessary to reach the 2023 Open Championship.
In a wide-ranging interview with GolfDigest.com’s John Huggan at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, Slumbers repeated several points lost in the 2022 Open brouhaha over world ranking points.
But first, he expressed his pleasure at the state of this week’s amateur championship where invitations to the Masters and a spot in The Open are on the line. Slumbers noted the progress young international players are making from places like Iraq and Nepal.
“We really care about the game becoming more popular,” Slumbers says. “The perception of the game is really important to me. We need to get away from this view that it is a game for rich white men. That’s a bad perception and not where I came from in the game. But to build that pyramid there has to be a pathway for players. Yes, at the top end there is a springboard. But there is another at the bottom, one that creates opportunities. This event does that perfectly.”
Slumbers was asked to address former President Donald Trump’s claim that the R&A was still interested in bringing the Open back to Turnberry. A spokesman told outlets, “There's no change to our position on this” and Slumbers reaffirmed the R&A position. He also suggested Turnberry’s remote locale may have also put it on the unofficial list of second-tier rota courses unable to generate robust-enough ticket sales and revenue.
“Yes, Turnberry is a wonderful course. But I come back to what is the R&A’s purpose? It is to ensure that the game is thriving 50 years from now, that it is open and accessible. To do that costs money. There are not many organizations or governments who are investing in the game. We feel a bit lonely sometimes. And we only have one source of income. That is one pressure I feel.”
Regarding The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool next July, Slumbers said a timetable for announcing qualification standards remains on schedule for after the new year. This is pretty typical in non-pandemic times, including a likely announcement soon on potential “Open Qualifying Series” events like December’s Australian Open.
However, any “ban” on LIV players is not happening.
“We’ll go public in January/February with what we are going to do with regard to LIV golfers,” he says. “But if you want a guide, go back to what I said in July. We’re not banning anyone. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open. The name says it all. And that’s important. What we will do is ensure that there are appropriate pathways and ways to qualify. I’m looking forward to seeing Cam Smith tee-up around 9:40 a.m. on the first day of the Open next year. The Open needs to set itself aside from what’s going in terms of disagreements and make sure we stay true to our principle, which is to have the best players in the world competing.”
Guess we know now that the defending champ will be going early-late!
Slumbers became the first (I believe) head of a governing body to address concerns about all of the first-world money talk and its impact on perceptions of the sport.
“Golf’s values really matter,” he continues. “I keep saying that to my colleagues. I think there is a risk that the LIV Golf debate could lose some of those values. And I think some of the pathways could be eroded. Neither would be good for the long-term health of the sport, in my opinion.”
He also repeated that Greg Norman’s lack of an Open Champions dinner invite came this year because the LIV Commissioner passed on the last four such events at St Andrews and had “a reason he wanted to be there this year.”