R&A CEO Martin Slumbers does not rule out Saudi investment

Mark SchlabachESPN Senior WriterJul 19, 2023, 08:56 PM4 minute reading

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HOYLAKE, England – With the purse for The Open more than doubling over the past decade, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers on Wednesday would not rule out taking money from Saudi Arabia’s public investment to help fund escalating costs.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference ahead of this week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Slumbers said the R&A was not interested in having a presenting sponsor for The Open but would continue to speak to various potential sponsors.

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

On June 6, the PGA Tour announced it was forming an alliance with the DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund, which has spent more than $2 billion to fund the LIV Golf League over the past two seasons. At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, PGA Tour CEO Ron Price testified that the PIF was prepared to invest more than $1 billion in a new for-profit entity that would be controlled by the PGA Tour.

The Telegraph of London reported on Tuesday that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will attend The Open this week as a guest of one of the tournament’s biggest sponsors.

In 2021, PIF bought 80% of Premier League club Newcastle United. Saudi oil and gas company Aramco is a global sponsor of F1 racing, the LPGA Tour, the Dubai-based International Cricket Council and the Indian Premier League. Last month, ATP Tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said he had “positive” discussions with PIF officials about a potential investment in men’s tennis.

“The world of sport has changed dramatically in the last 12 months and it is not possible for the R&A or golf to just ignore what is societal change on a global basis,” Slumbers said. “We will consider within all the parameters that we look at all the options we have.”

The purse for the Open Championship has more than doubled since 2013, when it was $8 million and Phil Mickelson took home $1.44 million for winning at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland.

This year, the R&A will award a record $16.5 million in prize money, with the winner receiving $3 million. Last year, Cameron Smith collected $2.5 million to capture the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland.

“Significant increases in prize money in the professional men’s game have resulted in a long-term reassessment of the business model of professional golf,” Slumbers said. “As custodians of the game, we need to balance the prize fund at The Open with ensuring appropriate investment in grassroots and new golf initiatives, ensuring pathways are in place from elite amateur golf to the professional game, and most importantly, promoting women’s and girls’ golf , both amateur and professional.

“There is no doubt that our ability to achieve this has been affected by the much faster acceleration in men’s professional prize money than we had expected or planned for.”

Purses in the other three major championships in men’s golf also increased this year. The Masters raised its purse to $18 million, the PGA Championship awarded $17.5 million and the US Open awarded $20 million.

“These are the tough choices that we, and I’m sure the other leading bodies in golf, face and we need to take a strategic approach that is financially sustainable in the long term rather than just to find short-term solutions.” Slumbers said. “If you want to know what I really care about and what I think is important to the game, it’s the financial sustainability of professional golf. It’s making sure that golf is thriving in 50 years, but really important that we maintains and does not forget the values ​​surrounding our game.”

Slumbers said the R&A would invest about $258 million in global golf over a 10-year period.

On Wednesday, the R&A announced that it will host the first African Amateur Championship at Leonard Creek in South Africa on 21-24. February. The 72-hole event will feature 72 men’s players from Africa and the winner will receive an exemption to next year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland. The R&A hosts an invitational event featuring 20 elite women’s players in the same week.

The R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and the United States Golf Association organize similar amateur events in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.

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