124th U.S. Open

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Money Matters

British Open 2023: R&A CEO says he's open to Saudi PIF investment

July 19, 2023
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Andrew Redington

HOYLAKE, England — Against a changing golf and socio-economic landscape, the head of the R&A said he would not rule out the governing body getting into business with Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to the media Wednesday at Royal Liverpool ahead of the 151st Open Championship, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers acknowledged he would be open to working with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund—the financial backer of LIV Golf—should the opportunity present itself.

“If I'm very open, we are and do and continue to do, talk to various potential sponsors,” Slumbers said. “We have a number of large corporate partners that help us make this thing happen. 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 is a swift departure from Slumbers’ comments this time last year at St. Andrews, when he took Saudi Golf and LIV Golf to task.

“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 no problem with that at all,” Slumbers said in 2022. “But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model we have seen at Centurion and at Pumpkin Ridge is not in the best long-term interest of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money. We believe it undermines the merit-based nature and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.” Slumbers later added at last year’s Open that he did not find claims from Saudi Golf and LIV Golf members that they were “growing the game” credible and instead were actually harming “the perspective of our sport that we are working so hard to improve.”

However, this week’s Open comes in the shadow of last month’s surprise framework agreement between Saudi PIF, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, which has ended litigation between the warring factions and could possibly create a new for-profit entity among the leagues. Slumbers noted that it was “very unfortunate” that the game was in the situation of the past two years, referencing how last year’s Open, in his opinion, was almost secondary in importance to the LIV threat.

“I think where we were last year in this room was extremely tense, and it's disappointing that for our game, the first championship to get to 150th, two thirds of this meeting were focused on the topic which had nothing to do with the 150th,” Slumbers said. “The disruption being caused by the game is not good for the sport. It's tearing the sport apart. And as importantly, I care about what the perception of this game is around the world. I don't want it to be perceived as a game that isn't available to everyone, that isn't available to boys, girls, men, and women.”

Conversely, Slumbers also said there’s a “sensible conversation” to be had regarding the long-term financial stability of the game, and why he is hopeful the proposed deal ultimately brings peace to the game.

“This constant discussion about money, which I referred to again last year, was in my opinion damaging the perception of our sport worldwide in the eyes of a number of young people who are saying, why do I want to join that, in the eyes of a number of politicians who help us put on these fantastic championships,” Slumbers said. “We need to move beyond that, and that's why we welcomed the announcement.”

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Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.

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