Creating a more productive “club connection” is one of Martin Slumbers’ main goals as the R&A chief executive bids to keep the Open Championship at the forefront of golf, as well as helping the Women’s British Open raise its profile.
The head of the St Andews-based organisation also wants to see both events, though the Women’s British Open in particular now that it has come under the R&A umbrella, appeal more to “sports lovers” rather than just golfers.
“We talk about golf participation, but getting people to watch golf is also a challenge, and we’ve got to get the right product,” said Slumbers, who is now around 18 months into his tenure, having succeeded Peter Dawson following his retiral after 16 years in the post.
“(To achieve that) we are going to apply as much marketing analysis as we can and I think there is a big short in our relationship with clubs. Certainly if you compare to say tennis, where tennis clubs and Wimbledon have a very close connection.
“I think there are many golf clubs who don’t even have the date for the Open Championship in their diary. I’d say there are more of them that don’t have any signage in the club about The Open, and probably more of them who don’t sell tickets. One of the things that we are doing as far as marketing is concerned is actually trying to build that connection with clubs.
“At the same time, the people that come and watch The Open, and I would say probably the same for the Women’s Open, tend to be golf clubbers. We need to move beyond that to sports lovers, who particularly want to see the very best women play in sport and trying to get an angle from both of those is part of our business plan.”
In his short time in the job, Slumbers has had to deal with Muirfield members voting last May against admitting women members, though hopes seem high that a second ballot on that matter will deliver a different result when the result of that is announced next month. Slumbers moved quickly following the first vote to say that the East Lothian club would not be considered for The Open until the position changed, and he is sticking steadfastly to that view.
“I’m very clear on how I see the game,” he said. “I’m very clear how I see it not just at the top end of The Open Championship, but right through. Our merger with the LGU was something that I pushed very, very hard. Discussions have been ongoing for many years, and it took an awful lot of work to get it over the line.
“You’re going to get that same consistent view from me as long as I’m sitting in this chair. I think the growth of the game will be driven by increases in family golf. But, if you look at membership here in the UK for women members, they’re about 14 per cent of club members.
“Countries on the continent where the game is growing, it’s in the 30s to 40 per cent, and I think that’s a good benchmark for the game to really focus in on. I think women being more active with younger people is good for the game.”