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With apologies to Liza Minelli and her Cabaret co-stars, it’s actually the sun’s gravitational pull that makes the world go round.

Still, there’s no escaping the significance of money, particularly in the perpetually greedy world of men’s professional golf.

Martin Slumbers understands this better than most.

Prior to becoming the chief executive of the R&A in 2015, he had a long and successful career in the financial sector, most notably as the Global Head of Deutsche Bank’s Investment Banking Operations in 2006.

In a space increasingly dominated by those who appear to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, Slumbers is a pleasant exception.

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So, when he used a significant part of his traditional ‘eve of The Open’ meet-with-the-media to discuss the amount of moolah being thrown at the sport’s most talented males – the word ‘money’ came up 12 times in 40 minutes – he did so from a position of authority extending far beyond his current remit.

“If you want to know what I really care about and what I think is important for the game,” he began, “it’s the financial sustainability of professional golf. It’s ensuring that golf is thriving in 50 years’ time, but really importantly, that we maintain and do not forget the values around our game.

“It’s those values which I believe Arnold Palmer framed when he said that golf is the greatest game mankind ever invented.”

He added that the R&A is on track to meet its commitment of investing £200 million into the around the world over a 10-year period – double the investment made in the previous decade – and that he and his colleagues “all we can to ensure that golf continues to capitalise on the surge in participation that we’ve seen accelerate post-COVID.”

Slumbers was quick to point out that there’s now an unprecedented 100 million playing golf globally, of whom 60 million are outside of the USA and 30 to 35% of whom are female.

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“That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” he added.

Still, if a thriving grassroots boost Slumbers’, well, slumber, it’s presumably the fiscal insanity running rife through the men’s game that dominates his nightmares.

Last week, the R&A set the prize fund for this week’s Open at $16.5 million – a championship record and more than double the bounty put up for the 2016 Open at Royal Troon.

It remains, however, the smallest purse of the four men’s majors and, thanks to LIV and the PGA Tour’s ‘elevated events’, The Open no longer ranks among the game’s top-20 most lucrative tournaments.

“When I look at the R&A’s responsibility, we have a huge responsibility to the game around the world to grow it, to govern it, and to ensure it’s thriving,” added Slumbers. “Our one asset which is profitable is this week, and the proceeds of this championship have always gone to be reinvested entirely into the game.

“We’re balancing up that longer term for balance of the P&L, prize money, and our willingness to invest in the game.

“We’re not willing to compromise on how we see developing the game because that’s actually what we think is the most important long-term balance for it.”

After dismissing the notion that he discusses prize funds with the organisations that govern the other three majors, Slumbers was asked about the prospect of “some kind of sponsorship of the championship”.

What might seem like a ridiculous notion actually isn’t. Majors in both the women’s and senior realms of the sport have title sponsors, and such support would both ease the burden on the R&A to keep pace with the game’s richest tournaments and allow it more latitude to invest in the things it cares most about.

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Regardless, Slumbers isn’t interested. “We certainly wouldn’t look at that,” he insisted, repeating the point immediately lest anybody be in any doubt.

“We had expected prize money to rise over a five-year period, and it’s probably risen three years earlier than we expected it to, so there is a significant change,” he added.

“I think you’re seeing the change in the entire business model of men’s professional golf, it being able to be worked, and that’s a significant challenge for us when you take into account our desire to keep growing the game and investing all the proceeds we make into the game.”

One of the biggest drivers of the change Slumbers describes – if not the single biggest driver – is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have demonstrated their willingness to work with the PIF on a better roadmap for the game’s professional future, which begs the obvious question: would the R&A welcome its own injection of PIF money, perhaps as a partner for The Open much like Rolex, Mastercard and Mercedes-Benz.

“We have a number of large corporate partners that help us make this thing happen,” acknowledged Slumbers. “I think the world has changed in the last year. It’s not just golf. You’re seeing it in football. You’re seeing it in F1. You’re seeing it in cricket. I’m sure tennis won’t be that far behind.

“The world of sport has changed dramatically in the last 12 months, and it is not feasible for the R&A or golf to just ignore what is a societal change on a global basis.

“We will be considering, within all the parameters that we look, at all the options that we have.

“It was a very wise man who said to me, remember, Martin, you’ve only got a job because some great person went before you. You’re standing on their shoulders, so make sure you hand that on.

“I think every one of us who’s working in the sport has a responsibility to think like that, including in the business side of professional golf.”

A one-time banker pleading for greater financial sensibility. These truly are weird and wonderful times we live in.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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