On the day after Rory McIlroy reportedly played 18 holes with President Trump, Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, was asked if he would do the same. He was not about to dismiss the idea. “With all the senior people in the world,” said Slumbers, “I think it’s polite and respectful to listen to them and work with them. … It would be foolhardy not to.”
Mercifully, Slumbers, who was hosting the R&A’s annual roundtable conference at R&A HQ on Monday, was not doing a Trump in making plain that he couldn’t stand the media. Quite the opposite in fact. He thanked them for coming and said he appreciated what they did for golf.
One of the main questions of the morning concerned whether Turnberry, with its loose cannon of an owner, was still on the Open Championship rota. Slumbers said that the situation had not changed from a year ago: “Turnberry remains as one of our nine courses.”
He added that the success of the Open and the players’ and spectators’ security would be the R&A’s first priority when it came to looking at the club’s suitability in any given year. “We’re in uncharted territory here with the president’s family owning the golf course. We’re all learning as we go along.“
As to whether he thought the president had been good or bad for golf, Slumbers opted for the former, drawing attention to the vast sums of money he had invested in making his courses among the finest in the world.
Though Slumbers announced Royal St George’s as the Open Championship venue for 2020 and did not deny that St Andrews would be holding the 2021 instalment in what will be the championship’s 150th year, he gave no indication that 2022 might belong to Turnberry.
It has to be a possibility, though Muirfield could well be hoping that date might belong to them, always assuming that they can play their way back onto the rota by agreeing to take women members. The results of what is their second vote are due in the middle of next month.
Slumbers expressed relief that the club had opted for that second vote: “It’s a wonderful course and a great Open venue.” He then owned to having had had several meetings with Muirfield club officialdom across the last 12 months, though he did not want to break any confidences by revealing the gist of the conversations.
Of the negative publicity sired by the club’s no-women vote of last year, Slumbers merely reiterated his view – or rather the R&A view – that there was no room for discrimination in golf and that it should be a game for families. That said, he probably did not enjoy being asked about juniors at the R&A. Apparently, the nearest thing to a child at the R&A is aged 25.
Though plenty of those in the golf industry have been a little alarmed at Keith Pelley’s ideas for revving up golf, Slumbers is a great supporter of the European Tour’s new CEO: “He’s a bundle of energy and ideas.” He went on to say that the R&A were in no way as innovative as Pelley but that they were pleased with the reception they had been getting with their push for nine-hole golf.
Slumbers would not have it that the R&A and USGA’s latest report about the distance a ball travels did not reveal the whole truth. Though a list of great names who insisted that the ball was going too far for the good of the game were read out to him, he pointed to how the governing bodies had dealt with “real data.” He wondered if there were members of the media who had penned their reports without reading the findings but, where Trump might have described their efforts as “fake news,” he went with the word “interesting.”
Slumbers says that the question which is apt to occupy his mind concerns how much of length is down to technology and how much to skill.
Though this idea was not advanced at the R&A’s Time for Golf conference last year, the CEO is convinced that the top players should shoulder a deal of the blame when it comes to continuing slow-play problems. In his opinion, remarks such as Jason Day’s – it was along the lines that he needed to go back to playing slowly – did the game a heap of no good. “It’s not helpful to growing the amateur game. … Young people take a steer from what happens with their role models.”
Though Slumbers made plain his disapproval of Pat Perez’s failure to call “fore” in a dangerous situation during last Sunday’s Genesis Open, he said that there are no plans – at least as yet – to have a set of penalties for those who refuse to heed this precautionary measure.
The R&A are not about to do as Wimbledon in having equal prize money for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, which now comes under its umbrella, though they are aiming for that in the future. Yet one area where they are currently taking their lead from the tennis arena is in establishing a better relationship with the clubs.
“Some of the clubs,” he said, tellingly, “don’t even have the date of the Open on their notice boards.”