Media Conference with Martin Slumbers at The 148th Open Championship

Press conference with Martin SLumbers, the Chief Executive of The R&A at The 148th Open Championship on Day 1 of Practice rounds.

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July 17, 2019: R&A Media Conference with Clive Brown, the Chairman of The Open Championship Committee. Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of The R&A. And Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the Executive Director of Championships.

Q. Golfing Indian Exclusive:  As you grow the game of golf, what is your perspective on Asian golf and its role in the future of the sport? 

MARTIN SLUMBERS: MARTIN SLUMBERS:Very important. I spend a third of my time on Asia and have already traveled there, three times this year. Japan is the second largest golf market in the world and we cannot ignore that fact that the Asia-Pacific as a region is very significant to our efforts to grow the game.

We cannot to see sustained momentum for golf in Korea and that is very encouraging. Just this week, we have the largest contingent of Asian golfers in any major and that is a sign of increased interest as well.

More importantly, we are constantly trying to increase avenues for golfers in the region. We have added a qualification series event this season and an amateur event. The Women’s Asia Pacific Amateur with Augusta National has been a great success and both the editions in Singapore and Japan have witnessed some quality golf.

I believe the pyramid is in place and we are continuously working to strengthen the grassroots. I am very bullish about the region and expect to continue working closely with the regional golf bodies to continue growing the game from the grassroots.

Hero - The Open - 2019
Hero – The Open – 2019

Q. Johnnie, just wanted to know what the challenges and the opportunities have been coming to work here. You’ve been to the other venues. And sports is encouraged to become more sustainable. What have you made to insure that this is the greenest Open ever?

JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: It has been a challenge, all of our Open championships provide a challenge to the team but it’s a hugely exciting one, where we’ve had an enormous amount of support from multi-agencies, from the authorities, from the club, itself. We’ve built two new holes, moved the greenskeepers sheds, put a tunnel in place, and the Royal Portrush membership has been hugely supportive of that.

We’ve had the experience of having a clean canvas at Hoylake for the 2006 Open and similar in 1999 was a long return from Carnoustie, so we had that challenge as well. We loved the challenge and embraced it.

In terms of the sustainability, we work really hard with all of our partners on waste, energy. We’ve obviously got the water policy where we’ve removed single-use plastic water from the site which we’re very, very proud of and very pleased and we’ve had a huge cooperation from lots of partners in that. So we’re working very hard to make The Open as sustainable as possible.

Q.. Is it a staging challenge?

JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: It’s not easy. It needs investment from ourselves and government and multi-agencies and it’s a big exercise. We’re putting a temporary village and a temporary small town on a 450-acre site but I’ve loved every minute of it.

Q. You’ve got internal out of bounds on 1 and 18 and I’m not sure if that’s always the case here, but can you just discuss the reasoning for that? It doesn’t happen very often?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: The reason for that is if you go back in history the club did not own that land. And so it was somebody else’s land in years gone by. And as the course has developed they’ve always kept that historically as out of bounds. And we felt that was highly appropriate to do so this year as we’ve rebuilt the course. We try to stay true to how the course is played.

Q. That’s just on 18, correct?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: And first. It’s that triangle of land between 1 and 18 they didn’t use to own.

Q. Could you give us a little update on where you are with the distance study and meetings and also elaborate a little bit on the concept behind the testing of the drivers here at The Open Championship, what you are hoping to find with that testing?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: So, we’ve been working for just over a year on a research project around distance and all its varieties, which we call the Distance Insights Project. That work is now complete and is in the process of being compiled. And we’ll be publishing the output of that research soon after the championship season finishes. And we’ll work from that point.

In terms of the driver testing, we’ve always done driver testing — we’ve done it for many, many years at The Open as a service for the players. You’ll recall that last year for the first time we said we  wanted to test a random sample of players and we did the same thing this year. And we will continue to do that as we’re going forward. I think it’s very important that the players, we work very closely with them and with the manufacturers to make sure that the equipment rules are in line.

Q. Can you give us a little more specific on the date and the timing of when we will learn your results of the study?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: It’s going to be around the October, November time frame. We’re going to wait until the season is finished.

Q. Padraig Harrington said to us yesterday that it is logical The Open moves around on a global scale and moves away from the current rota and goes beyond the boundaries of these islands. He mentioned Holland, he mentioned Australia. Is that something that’s part of The R&A long-term strategy? And could you elaborate on that? Would the venue of Portmarnock come into that equation I guess?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: There’s been a lot of talk about that this week. And a lot of it is due to the great success of bringing it to Royal Portrush for the first time for a long, long time. But we have ten courses in the pool that we use for The Open Championship. We think that’s ten of the best links courses that we have in the world and we are very happy with those ten courses.

We have gone to — if you think about over the last few years coming back to Carnoustie, going back to Hoylake, were great successes. And I think by any stretch this week is a great success. And I think that Hoylake and Portrush are really venues which are going to be used and played for The Open Championship for many years to come.

We are not looking at the moment beyond that pool of ten courses.

Q. Is it absolutely inconceivable that The Open might one day go to an inland course?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think The Open is all about being played on the best links golf courses. And so it’s not in my mind to take it inland at all.

Q. The study about the equipment, which kind of measurement did you use?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: So this week?

Q. No, during the study?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: We have looked at distance in every single way you could possibly think about it. Where were golf courses a hundred years ago? Where have they been during that period of time? How long have they been? What has happened to golf balls? What’s happened to equipment? We’ve gone to players, architects, all aspects of the golfing world and asked for their perception on distance. So we think it’s probably the most concise and detailed research into the topic that’s ever been done.

Q. Could you talk about the unique security challenges at Portrush. Is there anything you’ve been looking at? Is it going to be safe?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: As every year, security of players, spectators, yourselves, is No. 1 priority. We have our own security advisors that we work with. We have a very close relationship with PSNI this year, who have been incredibly supportive, helpful, in both advising us of the nuances of the new venue, as well as the things that are consistent wherever we go. That process of work has been going on for the last two years.

There is a no fly zone above this golf course going out into the sea and into the land, and that includes drones. And we have been specifically working with PSNI around drones and ensuring that we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure they do not come anywhere near the golf  course or near our spectators.

Q. What is the current feeling about taking The Open back to Trump Turnberry?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: Turnberry is one of the ten courses. We’ve talked about this many times in terms of it being part of the pool of courses, nothing’s changed from the previous points and comments that I’ve made on that in respect to taking The Open there. But it’s absolutely one of the  pool of ten courses.

Q. The water stations are such a good sight to see and it’s a great start. But what more can we do as a sport to try and make it far more environment friendly over the years?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: Johnnie talked a few minutes about for a number of years we’ve looked at whole concepts of recycling, reducing to as close to zero the waste to landfill. This year was a step forward on single-use plastic water bottles. We will look to do more on plastic in the coming year.

You’re absolutely right, the whole game needs to look at sustainability. It’s quite interesting when you look at a lot of our golf courses and the way we manage it, this sport is doing a great deal for nature and sustainability and water conservation.

We started a project a year ago at The R&A, we’re working with agronomists and advisors around the world. We’re calling it Golf Course 2030, which is all about saying if we had to maintain the playing surfaces that we have today with a fraction of the water usage that we use today and no pesticides and no fertilisers, how would we do that. And it’s in its early days of the work.

It’s not an easy question, which is why the question mark has been set. And it will create great opportunities for the game in the future. And I think we do have a responsibility to be sustainable in the way our game is played.

Q. The Women’s British Open has been staged on an inland course, as you know, in a couple of weeks. As you assume control of that event, do you envision it falling in line with the philosophy of the men’s events and being held on links courses?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: That’s a very good question.

We’re looking at it very carefully. We get full control of that event next year. We’re as ambitious for the Women’s British Open as we are for this Open. But I have said previously that we want to grow the women’s game. We’re passionate about growing the women’s game and doing it. But we need to build a sustainable women’s game. That means building a bigger amateur game right from the beginning up to the top.

As we’re looking at the Women’s British Open, how we attract more people to watch the championship, to watch it live, watch it on TV, it may be that all being on links courses may not be the right answer.

And we’re at Woburn in two weeks time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see, with the Women’s British Open, a mix of some of the great inland golf courses and the great links courses, but all aimed  at trying to make the championship more engaged with by the public.

Q. Given some of the things you’ve described that The R&A is working on, we’ve seen some significant increases in purses. Is there a point where you could see this sort of race to increase purses impacting your ability to carry out the mission that you’re hoping to succeed with so many of these various ventures?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I look at the business in the round. So a lot of my responsibility is to balance out the revenues and expenses of our championships with our desire to invest 200 million pounds into the game in this decade. We’re two years into this decade.

I think we have to keep growing The Open. This is our biggest event. And we need to keep growing it to keep it one of the greatest sporting events, with half an eye on how do we improve the difference in pay between The Open and the Women’s British Open.

You will all have seen that we increased the Women’s British Open prize money for this year by 40 percent, and to do that in line with our investments into the game. And we have to juggle all three things.

I think that’s what’s really important about The R&A. What we really care about is a great championship out here but we really care about the game. We want the game to be here 50 years from now. We want it to be thriving. We want more people to be playing it, more families to be playing it. And try to balance all that out. That’s part of my job.

Q. Can you take us back to October 20, 2015, when The R&A announced that The Open was returning to Portrush. What was the emotion, the feeling in the room? And did The R&A get a sense that for some this was an impossible dream come true?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: I wasn’t actually in The R&A at that time. I think we have looked — there’s been a lot of talk about it coming back here. I think from our perspective there are so many people who have made this possible. And from politicians to the wonderful tourist board that Northern Ireland has.

They should get huge credit for the effort they have made to make this a success. Through to the club, and the imposition on the club to make the changes for here. I think the members have been wonderful to work with and they have all shared, all of them have shared, How do we put Royal Portrush on the global map? And The Open is the way that we’re doing it.

Yes, we’re going to celebrate the fact that we’ve had some fantastic Irish golfers in the last few years. But this championship will be watched in 600 million households over the coming days, all around the world. And that profile will bring into households this course, many people have never heard of, and this beautiful landscape. They will share that passion.

You can feel it out there. I have never been to an Open Championship where so many people, as I’m walking around, which I do every day, have come up to me and said, Thank you for what you have done. It’s thank you to lots and lots of people. And we’re really enjoying it.

Q. When you guys take full control of the Women’s British Open next year, will you change the name to the Women’s Open Championship?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: That’s something we are considering very carefully. We’ll be announcing something in due course.

Q. Obviously it’s amazing to see so many young kids walking along and the atmosphere is wonderful. Do you feel slightly queasy that there’s a march, three-hour march with the “Sons of Ulster” playing, and does it perhaps send the wrong message, when you’ve got such an inclusive tournament going on?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: There are 30,000 under 25s will be attending this week. And now we’ve been running our camping village for three years, we’ve had something like 8,000 under 25 staying there. Under 25 is a very, very important part of our product that we’re trying to develop.

We are very conscious that The Open comes to town once every X years. We are very conscious that we are guests here. We’re guests every year at the place we go. As guests we are very conscious that we want to be part of the community. We are very clear that we want to spend money in the community. We want to help with legacy funds in the community. But we will be gone in a couple of weeks. And so we want to live with the community.

And every year, certainly since I’ve been here, and I think Johnnie would say the same, there’s always things going on around the golf. And that’s wonderful. And the community carries on. Our job is to put on the Open Championship and to respect the fact that we are guests.

Q. It’s very encouraging to hear what you’re doing as an organisation regarding recycling and plastics and stuff like that. I’m also curious to wonder as an organisation what you could do on the playing side and whether you feel there’s a responsibility to get the players to take more responsibility? I’m thinking in terms of first class jet travel, private jets and also the massive logistical effort to set up The Open, the manufacturers’ lorries, the club manufacturers’ lorries. And whether you feel any responsibility as an organisation and a governing body to try to nudge the players in that direction?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: On the contractor’s side, we have about 7,000 contractors.

JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: On the contractor’s side, we’re around 150 companies and we work with them all. They’ve got their own corporate responsibilities and they understand that and we’re working to reduce our requirements on generated power and diesel.

As Martin said, recycling, as much as we can, getting zero percent to landfill and we’re working with these companies all the time. In terms of logistics that was very much in the forefront of what we’re trying to do.

MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think on the players’ side, the stars of the show are twofold come tomorrow morning, the golf course and the players. We are all here because the best players in the world have traveled from all around the world to be here. And I think as environmental issues impact all of us in every parts of our life, I think it may become an issue in the future years. But at the moment I want the best players to be teeing it up tomorrow morning because that’s what makes The Open.

Q. The Women’s Open will soon be held. Do you foresee a time where there will be equal prize money? It’s quite the issue at the moment?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think the future of our game, the amateur game, is in getting more families to play golf. That is the real opportunity that we have. When you look at countries where the game is growing it is a much more family-orientated sport. And so I’m very certain about that.

To build the economics of the Women’s Open, the Women’s British Open, to be able to keep raising the prize money we need to do it as a sustainable business model. It needs to be a long-term business model. And that is what we are spending a long time doing, how do we build a better model to have a more financially successful Women’s British Open that will flow then down into the prize money.

Where it ends up, I don’t know. But my ambition is to keep growing the overall performance of it and keep enhancing the status of the event.

Q. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, when are you going to take this thing to Wales? (Laughter.)

MARTIN SLUMBERS: That is somewhat of a challenge at the moment, but we do have as we said ten courses that we’re very happy with.

Q. Within The R&A itself, how is the integration of women coming along? For instance, how long will it be before Clive is a woman? (Laughter.) On the question of diversity, these two younger guys don’t have the white hair yet, but we’re a bit of a monochrome bunch, aren’t we? How is the diversity coming along, as well?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: I’ll leave Clive to answer your earlier question (laughter.)

We launched 18 months ago our Women in Golf charter. You were there, if I remember correctly, which is all about getting more women and girls to be playing the game, to be working in the game. And that is gathering pace. There are over a hundred organisations that are part of that pledge and I think that we’re going in the right direction.

Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having that question. But do we think we’re going in the right direction? Absolutely. If you get to The R&A committees, I think you’d be surprised how many females are part of the committees now and are learning their trade. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a female chair of the Championship Committee in the near future.

Q. This is the first year that The Open has been the first major of the year, it’s traditionally been the third. I wonder whether that adds to or detracts from The Open?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: That’s a conversation I’ve never been part of. I think when I was consulted on the move of The PLAYERS Championship into March and then the PGA, I could see nothing but positives for The Open being the fourth major of the year. I think the press coverage has borne that out.

It’s been a pretty fast season, I have to confess. But I think it’s added an additional nuance to this week. And it probably adds a little bit additional feeling around who’s going to become the champion golfer of the year.

MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you to the panel for joining us this morning and thank you for attending the press conference.

 

The Open – Media Conference