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NEWS: R&A Intent on Modernizing Golf While Honoring Past

Martin Slumbers poses with Henrik Stenson prior to last year's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. (Photo Credit: Paul Childs, Reuters)

For years, it was said that one of golf’s greatest strengths lay in the fact that professionals and amateurs were playing the same game with the same equipment. Now it looks as if the time is not too far away when the professionals could be using a tournament ball of restricted length. Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of the R&A, indicated that it would be “a dramatic change” but that it was not out of the question.

Mike Davis from the USGA was the first to reveal the extent of the problem at a time when as many as 68 players on this year’s PGA Tour are hitting 300 yards or more on courses which, in many cases, can only be running out of space. Now the USGA and the R&A are having ever more serious discussions as to their next move.

“In 2002,” said Slumbers, “we drew a line in the sand and we’ve crossed it now.”

If the possibility of different golf balls for the pros and amateurs is fresh or at least revived news, the announcement that the 2021 Open championship is to be held in St Andrews from 11-18th July is anything but. Indeed, so long have people known about it that the chances are that fans will even now struggle to find accommodation for what will be the 150th anniversary of the oldest major of them all.

The Old Course first hosted The Open in 1873 when the 13th Championship was played over an 18-hole course for the first time and was won by Tom Kidd. Since then, the historic links has witnessed victories by some of the most notable players in golf’s history, these including J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

Slumbers talked of how the R&A would be showing off the history of the links, though he was also at pains to speak about golf’s future. “The R&A is intent on modernisation, on doing what they can to ensure that golf is thriving fifty years from now. Our merger with the women is a big part of the deal, as are developments in the rules and a new emphasis on shorter forms of golf.”

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For himself, Slumbers deems it particularly important to make more of women’s club golf. The figures have been released before, but only 14 percent of club golfers in the UK are women as against the 30 percent which applies in certain continental countries.

“More women are needed,” said Slumbers, pointing to how, since only 18 percent of golfers are introduced to the game by their fathers, women can play a huge role in expanding and repopulating the game overall.

It would seem that Slumbers’ suggestion that more women are needed has not exactly got through at Muirfield and Troon. Though both clubs agreed to take women in order that they would be able to stick fast on the Open rota, there is not a woman in sight at either. At least as yet.

One name was bound to come up at the meeting. Namely, Donald Trump’s. On the subject of when Trump Turnberry, which hosted the Open in 2009, might feature again, Slumbers said it would be “very complex” to hold the championship there with things as they are. Here, he was not just speaking of ownership issues but of how Turnberry brings in the least money of any of the Open venues. In 2009, for instace, crowd figures were no higher than 117,000. However, since market research has suggested that there is nothing fans like more than to be able to get close to the players, the course remains an attractive option.

While Trump himself has not been in touch with the R&A, Turnberry has and, like other the other venues in the 10-strong Open pool, there are regular conversations with R&A officialdom concerning the state of the course.

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Almost inevitably, slow play was on the agenda at the meeting held at the Allan Robertson House, the R&A’s new impressive testing centre at Kingsbarns earlier today. The R&A, are pushing ‘ready golf’ for all they are worth whilst admitting to being pretty satisfied with timings at last year’s Open at Birkdale. Four and three-quarter hours was the average the average for the first two days and three hours and forty-five minutes for the weekend. Even Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar managed to compete their final round in four hours and four minutes in spite of that twenty-minute foray into the truck-park and practice area at the thirteenth. (Just in case anyone is thinking of taking the Spieth route at the next Birkdale Open, it is maybe worth mentioning that that practice area will be out of bounds.)

Everything is set for this year’s Open at Carnoustie where, as applied last year, there will be no re-admissions allowed. This is down to of the rising number of unofficial hospitality units and ticket forgeries.


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