The chief executive of the R&A has dismissed LIV Golf as “not in the best long term interests of golf as a whole”.
In his customary press conference on the eve of The 150th Open in St Andrews, Martin Slumbers delivered a withering assessment of the Saudi-funded start-up, branding it “entirely driven by money”.
Visibly irritated at having to address the subject, Slumbers also elaborated on why the R&A elected not to invite LIV Golf's CEO, two-time Open champion Greg Norman, to this week's milestone championship, and issued a thinly-veiled threat to those golfers who have committed to LIV over their future Open prospects.
“I firmly believe that the existing golf eco-system has successfully provided stable pathways for golfers to enter the sport and develop and realise their full potential.
"Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that’s offered to them. I have absolutely with that at all.
"But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model that we’ve seen at Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money. We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.
"I would also like to say that, in my opinion, the continued commentary that this is about 'growing the game' is just not credible and, if anything, is harming the perception of our sport, which we are working so hard to improve.
"We believe the game needs to focus on increasing participation, achieving greater diversity and making sure that golf is truly open to all rather than this narrow debate involving a small numbers of players."
Adding that the noise surrounding LIV detracts from "what Arnold Palmer described as the greatest game mankind ever invented", Slumbers said: "Golf is far more than just professional golf and we should all remember that.
"I have often talked about the 99% who play golf for love and I believe that the vast majority of the 70 million-plus golfers do so because of the values of golf, which, to me, are integrity, personal responsibility and respect."
LIV golfers have been permitted to play in this year's Open Championship and whilst Slumbers says that introducing bans for the so-called 'rebel alliance' from next year is "not on our agenda", he did hint at changes to the current qualification process.
"We will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for The Open," he said. "And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our committee deems appropriate. Players have to earn their place in The Open and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal."
Slumbers refused to be drawn on the subject of LIV Golf's application for world ranking points - discussed at a meeting of OWGR stakeholders in St Andrews yesterday - but was much more forthcoming on the R&A's decision not to invite Greg Norman to this week's festivities.
"This is a very important week for golf," he said. "This is the oldest championship. It is the original championship. We are absolutely determined to ensure that this goes down in history as being about The 150th Open.
"We decided, based on noise that I was receiving from multiple sources, that that was going to be unlikely [if Norman attended] and so we decided that we didn't want the distraction. We wanted to ensure that the conversation was all about this week, playing golf, balls in the air tomorrow and the 'Champion Golfer of the Year' on Sunday.
"Greg hasn't been here since 2010. He didn't come in 2015. In fact, it's many years since he's even been to The Open. So there would have been another reason for that [this year]. It was very clear [we needed to] protect the integrity of this week."