The R&A is exploring the possibility of staging a mixed amateur event after the recent Vic Open was a huge success with that format, but chief executive Martin Slumbers is keen to see the Open Championship and Women’s British Open retain their own identities.
“I don’t think that would do either of the games credit. I think they need to be distinct,” he replied when asked if he saw the two events running either concurrently or back-to-back, as happened with the US Open and US Women’s Open at Pinehurst in 2014.
Over the past two years, the Scottish Open and Ladies Scottish Open have been staged a fortnight apart at the same venue – Dundonald Links in 2017 then Gullane last year.There will be a four-week gap between the Aberdeen Standard Investments-sponsored events at The Renaissance Club this year.
Asked during a St Andrews press briefing about a similar set-up for the two R&A-run majors, Slumbers replied: “There are logistical differences. For instance, the grandstand around Carnoustie. You don’t need that big a grandstand if your crowd is only half the size. We can’t take it down over a weekend.
“Having more regular golf mixed is a good idea. I thought the Vic Open was terrific. I would like to see more of those. We are thinking about whether we might do something like that with one of our amateur events. But The Open and the Women’s British Open are sort of the pinnacle of the game for us and I think we should keep them separate and make them both outstanding.”
During last year’s Open Championship, the captain of Carnoustie Golf Club, Bill Thompson, claimed in a BBC interview that the game’s oldest major had outgrown the Angus town, raising fears it might have been staging the tournament for the final time.
A record-breaking crowd of 172,000 attended the event, surpassing the 157,000 total set at Carnoustie in 1999, and Slumbers, pictured, is confident that figure will increase when the event does go back there.
“For anyone who watched those four rounds of golf around that golf course, that was pretty special,” he said of Francesco Molinari holding off a chasing pack that included a rejuvenated Tiger Woods to become the first Italian to get his hands on the Claret Jug.
“Bringing the enhanced marketing and sales capabilities that we’ve built over the last three years, we can grow the number of spectators up at Carnoustie quite significantly.
“Going back, I would expect it to go up again, as we are getting better and better at attracting people to come to it.
“There needs to be more overseas visitors. There’s a smaller number of overseas visitors at Carnoustie than here (St Andrews) and at Birkdale, and that will be a challenge. But Carnoustie can handle 200,000, and the golf course can certainly handle the best players in the world.”
With a return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 on the cards this year before a visit to Royal St George’s in 2020, the next Open Championship in Scotland is the 150th staging at St Andrews in 2021. Slumbers smiled when asked if he feared that event was in danger of being almost “pitch and putt” due to the ever-increasing distance issue in the game at the top level.
“The pins on the Old Course can make a difference of probably four or five shots between easy and difficult,” he observed. “There’s plenty of options to tighten it up. It won’t be like the Dunhill with the pins in the middle of the green and soft. The Old Course needs a bit of wind, but we will preserve the strategy of the Old Course, and it will play to the strategy that it’s designed to play, and it will play hard.”
With Royal Liverpool having been confirmed as the 2022 venue, the next slot up for grabs in 2023, with Slumbers admitting that Turnberry, where the event was last staged in 2009, is set to be among the courses considered. “We go through all the courses available to us, and we work it through on that basis. Yeah, it’ll be on my mind, sure,” he said of the Donald Trump-owned Ayrshire venue.