Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, spoke with The Post’s Lewine Mair on the day he announced the R&A’s first Women in Golf Charter, an initiative which aims to inspire “an industry-wide commitment to developing a more inclusive culture with golf around the world, and to enable more women and girls to flourish and maximise their potentials at all level of the sport.”
A conference announcing the charter was held at The View from The Shard, an iconic London venue which was built on the site of what was formerly the Price Waterhouse offices where Slumbers had his first job as a trainee accountant.
MAIR: In the course of the conference, you described the R&A’s role as one of needing to say the more difficult things and asking the more difficult questions. Can you expand?
SLUMBERS: I don’t have anything specific in mind, but I’m very much into getting started on what needs to be done. There is a clear ethical need for change, while the likely economic benefits of growing the sport through having more women and girls playing are substantial.
We’ve got these wonderful traditions in our game but, great though they are, it’s important that we build a correspondingly great future. We need to embrace the age we live in – and to make sure that we are doing all the right things to attract new golf club members for a start.
MAIR: One question you have obviously been asking yourself is why so many of the clubs don’t have the appeal they should have or, rather, need to have.
SLUMBERS: Yes. I have devised this mental checklist for when I visit the different establishments and not a lot of them tick all the right boxes. The first thing I’m apt to ask myself is why they aren’t attracting families like their counterparts in (Continental) Europe. At the moment, there are four times as many people in the UK consuming the game in one way or another without being club members, and a third of their number are women.
We need to create a product which entire families, women included, want to experience. If we can do that, there is a huge opportunity for golf. If we don’t change, we will suffer the consequences.
MAIR: You say you are impressed with what our par-3 venues have to offer, not just in terms of family fun but in having a touch of the coffee-shop appeal which women so like.
SLUMBERS: Very much so. The atmosphere is nicely relaxed at so many of these places. Also, I really “get” why the coffee side of things matters so much. When I asked my wife about it, she explained how, when she goes for a walk with a friend, they walk to somewhere they can enjoy a good coffee and then they walk back again. Coffee’s an important part of the experience – and it’s become a big thing for everyone.
MAIR: After the conference, Sinead Heraty, the chief executive of the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union, revealed that Ireland has 22 percent women club members as against the 15 percent in England, Scotland and Wales. And that in their case, it has at least something to do with looking after their older golfers. Heraty explained how, since handicaps over the traditional 36 have been allowed, the more senior women have been enjoying a new lease of golfing life and staying involved for longer. Apparently, some younger members had warned that they would hold up play but, according to Heraty, that hasn’t been the case at all.
I know that today’s conference was more about getting women and girls into golf but how important are the older players?
SLUMBERS: I quoted Arnold Palmer at the start of the day and how he described golf as “the best game ever to have been invented.” I couldn’t agree more, largely because it’s a sport which you can start playing at 4 or 5 and carry on playing all your days. Golf, as I say, has these rich traditions which we need to keep. What’s not good, though, is when I walk into a golf club and see that it’s full of men my age. The game’s got to be relevant now – and it needs to be thriving in 50 years’ time.
MAIR: Could you pass on a couple of things which struck/surprised you from what you heard at today’s conference.
SLUMBERS: What Jasmine, the “jazzy golfer” had to say….talking about golf as a game in (which) she can make friends and have fun. It was good to hear from someone her age who didn’t just assume that golf was the fuddy-duddy pastime that so many of her peers might have thought. (Jasmine is 28 and has more than 23,000 Instagram followers.)
Then there was that contribution from Chyloe Kurdas, the Australian lady whose vision became a reality as she introduced eight licensed clubs for the Australian Women’s Football League. I listened to what she had done in Victoria and I said a heartfelt “wow!” If we could harness some of that energy to what we already have in golf it would be truly amazing.
MAIR: If you had to pinpoint what golf has lost across the last few years, what would it be?
SLUMBERS: It would be a feeling of community, a feeling which I’ve always associated with Scotland.
Scots are proud to belong to the so-called Home of Golf. For them, golf has been an easily accessible game for the people from the start, a part of the local community if you like. There are parts of Scotland where nothing’s changed; the local club is somewhere people will meet for food, coffee and chat, just as they’ve always done. That’s the ideal – and it would mean so much if we could capture that community feel for the game at large.
MAIR: Just checking on that “Why can’t I use my phone?” comment that you threw into what you had to say at the conference. I know you were speaking in your capacity as a father of young kids rather than the CEO of the R&A but even so.
SLUMBERS: I meant what I said. It is important that we embrace the world we live in and, as a father who plays with his kids at a selection of courses, I often ponder on why it is we can’t look at our phones – and what it is that makes golf clubs so frown on the practice.