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THE ROYAL AND ANCIENT GC MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 12, 2018
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Good morning, everyone. We hope you enjoyed the Tour around our newest equipment test centre. We felt that it was a great opportunity with all of you being here to actually show you how and what we have invested in and how serious we take our governance responsibility on equipment standards. It was about five or six years ago the decision was taken to build this place, and I think from my perspective, I think we have, in sort of computer speak, that we've had great software with some people, professor authorities, as you met and took you around, and this gives us the hardware and the facilities and technology that we need to be able to take on that responsibility.
Apart from that, I think it's a long time ago that I was an engineering graduate and a production engineering graduate, so I enjoy some of the stuff downstairs just purely from an engineering point of view.
I thought the second thing is, we put this announcement in front of you. I think this is the best kept secret in golf. There were lots of reasons why we didn't publicly say and confirm this for a long time. We do want to get into sort of a way of working with every year when we meet with yourselves that we announce the next venue. I think that's a good discipline to get in. You know what's going to happen, we know what's going to happen.
But we're very excited to have The Open back on the Old Course at St. Andrews. It'll be the 150th playing, and we are working on a number of initiatives that will be aimed to mark that wonderful achievement.
It is the oldest championship, and we want to make sure that it shows that history as we stage it on the Old Course. And I think the Old Course is something special, not just around the table, but for us and every other golfer, there is something magical about the Old Course and an Old Course Open Championship. It will be my first one responsible around St. Andrews, and it was also, if you remember being in my office, the picture on the wall that I have is the first Open I attended, which was 1984, and Seve, who's probably my favourite golfer, won around the Old Course. So I think it will be a very special time.
We've got two, three really good Opens in between, but 2021 will be very special, and as Mike said, it's embargoed until 1:05.
Before sort of handing over to yourselves and what you would like to talk about, one of the themes that we and the executives spend a lot of our time and what we're trying to do is what we call our modernisation agenda. We feel very strongly that in all aspects of what we work on, our real goal is to make sure that golf is thriving 50 years from now, and we also want it to be relevant to today's society.
A number of the things that we have done over the last couple of years are really focused on that sort of modernisation agenda. Our merger with the LGU was a very big piece of that. The rules modernisation project that is coming very near to its fruition is an important part of that, as is work that we've done on shorter forms of the game. Our 9‑hole championship that we started as a pilot at Troon, moved to a more formal qualifying for the Birkdale Open, and is now for the Carnoustie Open being very broadly run across all the home nations in terms of qualifying through to play at Carnoustie.
I think we've learnt a lot doing that. And I think the thing I really learnt was when you play club golf and you stand on the first tee of a normal golf course and you can play a bit of golf, when you stand on a tee on a course that's set up for The Open Championship with some players around, with the stands out there, it is a much harder proposition. It has been a real learning to see how white faces have gone as the people‑‑ they've all thoroughly enjoyed it.
We have one singular objective out of that 9‑hole event. It is great to win; we recognise the wins, but that is not what we are wanting it to be. What our objective is to have more 9‑hole golf formally in clubs' agendas and in diaries, and we are certainly seeing that: Scotland particularly has embraced that, and there's a lot more 9‑hole golf. We need to get people who are time poor to be able to keep playing this game, and 9‑hole golf is a great way of doing it, and we will continue to invest in that initiative at Carnoustie, and if any of you are there, if you're not on duty at the Scottish Open the week before, you're very welcome to come and watch and see the white faces.
But I think it's not just what we're doing. I think there's some very great initiatives being played out in the European Tour. I think Keith is really challenging the status quo, and he and I spent a lot of time talking, and I thoroughly support what he's doing, and I'm sure we will get to our pace of play at some point in the next hour, but the shot clock idea I think is terrific, as is the ready golf and the impact of ready golf, which I can talk to you about later.
On the women's side, as we've been developing our strategy on that, we are launching two new championships this year. I'm off to Asia on Wednesday of this week, and next week we will be hosting at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, the Women's Amateur of Asia Pacific, which is a closed elite event being played over 72 holes, where the prize of winning is pretty significant in that they will play the following week in the HSBC Champions event. They will also have a start into the Ricoh Women's British Open and the ANA Inspiration, as well.
What we're trying to do is to get more opportunity for the very best women players in Asia, amateurs, to compete. I'm very excited for that, and then the year after it will go to Japan at the Royal Club.
And then we've also launched the under‑16 girls, which will be played at Fulford for the next three years, and again, that's part of us trying to create more of a pathway. We felt there was a gap for the young elite girls coming up in the championship season, and this is filling that hole that we thought was there and allow these girls to have more of an opportunity to compete in an elite event and go on and play in the Junior Vagliano and other things, so two new championships to add to the 21 championships that we ran last year. It was a busy year. Many of us were not here very often, like yourselves, but that's great for golf.
That's what I'd like to say as an opening remark, and look forward to anything you'd like to talk about.
Q. I was hoping to ask you specifically about The Open after Jordan Spieth's final round last year. Has there been any consideration to practice round inbounds, given the issues that we had?
MALE SPEAKER: I think the question is we have a condition in place that allows practice on a designated practice area, so there was no issue.
Q. What would the fallout have been had that incident happened at half past 10:00 on a Friday when there's going to be up to 80 guys practising on that driving range? That would have been very difficult; is that something that you've considered?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, it's certainly been a topic of conversation, as you can imagine, and you know, we try to play the golf course as the members play the golf course, as it's played in regular play. We did have the other problem at Birkdale, if you'll remember, with the 9th and the 10th. There was the talk about playing down the 10th fairway and then playing back over the crowds to get to the 9th, and we ended up having to put internal out of bounds in place there, because frankly, it was just not safe. It could be a way of playing the hole, but it just wasn't safe.
I think all of us were‑‑ and the practice ground is the same thing. It's inbounds for the club. I think it made for captivating television in many ways. I thought it showed wonderful presence of mind by Champion Golfer of the Year and a real measure of what golf is‑‑ you have to use your brain as well as your skill. But I think when we go back, we might think about it as being out of bounds. We haven't had that decision at all yet. We would make that decision when we get there.
Q. I know you don't tell us in advance except once a year now, but do you envisage St. Andrews being back on a kind of five‑year cycle, twice every decade? I know it's fallen out of its previous order, but do you want to play St. Andrews as often as you have in the last 20 years?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, it's going to be, what, six years, and that was personal because we wanted to play it‑‑ the most appropriate place to play the 150th is here in St. Andrews. 2022 we will be going to England. It will be south of the border. It's not good to go‑‑ St. Andrews is such a magnetic place for people to come to, that actually it's better to not play in Scotland the year after a St. Andrews Open, so we will be going to England in 2022. I wouldn't say every five years, but I think it's appropriate sort of about that frequency to come to the Old Course.
Q. Just given that there's a debate in the territory of the no‑readmissions policy, is that something that you'd expect a bit of a sticky add in 2021 in St. Andrews?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Let's talk about the no‑readmission policy for Carnoustie. We ‑‑ coming back to what we're starting to do, we are deeply conscious that The Open Championship is the only one of the four majors that's played outside of America. We're deeply conscious of the history in our game, and it being the oldest championship, so we very much think about the history and conditions of our game when we're thinking about The Open.
But we also recognise that we want it to be viewed in the eyes of the public as one of the world's greatest sporting events, not just golfing events, sporting events, and as part of that, we look at it and say, we want to have‑‑ make sure we have a world‑class experience for our players, our patrons, our suppliers and other sponsors, and our fans. One of the things that we have done in the last two to three years is start to put measurements around what does world‑class mean. It's easy to say what I just said, but what do you really mean by world‑class. And we also do‑‑ started three years ago doing extensive market research during the buildup, during the event, and after with those three groups, the players, the sponsors, and the fans.
We have a theory, a practice of continuous improvement. The Open is pretty damned good, but we want to get it better and better every year, and you do that by making little steps and little things and little improvements, and we get a lot of that from the market surveys that we did.
On the player side, a great example of that was where we put the gym in for the first time at Birkdale right next to the players' facility, which proved to be extremely popular with the players.
When you get to the fans, one‑‑ the most important thing the fans want is to be close to the action. They want to get as near to the players as they possibly can, and part of Johnny's challenge is how to design the infrastructure, the stands that we put out there, and the way that the fans get round the golf course to be able to achieve that. It's not easy. You all spend a lot of time traipsing around. It's not easy. But one of the things we did that was less stands and more of what we call these viewing platforms. You would have seen the big one was at No.5 at Birkdale last year. I thought the two that we had‑‑ the 4th, which is the par‑3, at Birkdale was fantastic because the players stood on the tee, and it looked like it was just like it does in normal play. You could see the pin, but it was just over the hill. You couldn't see any grandstands. But when you walked over the top, you get to see the whole vista below you, and there were the viewing platforms to the sides of the greens, and there were hundreds of people down there watching. But again, much more a feeling of the golf course, how it plays.
Now, as we go through that, the survey on the fans. Every year we have significant problems, which I can talk about in a second, around unofficial hospitality, and unofficial hospitality is‑‑ I mean, I didn't bring it, but I had an email‑‑ one of the team just had an email on Friday offering us the unofficial hospitality, which was kind of amusing. So this is real. It's happening all over the place.
And what this does is basically make‑‑ purports to be official hospitality, but it makes claims about access that are just not true. And we also have problems with people forging tickets as part of that. Now, when that happens, The Open experience goes down enormously because those people who have been mis‑sold hospitality blame us, and we absolutely get a lot of this on the gate every year, and it's very, very uncomfortable.
We had one at Troon where a wife had bought her husband for his 60th, and their friends, unofficial hospitality with a view overlooking one of the greens, and we made a statement about‑‑ warning people about it, about unofficial hospitality. She phoned and said, I'm really worried about what I've bought, and the view that she bought is impossible to have.
So unofficial hospitality is a real issue for us. It degrades The Open. It undermines that fan experience, and we have decided that the no‑readmission policy is a very core way, along with other things that we are doing, to reduce unofficial hospitality. And that's the primary reason that we want to do this, and it applies all across the campus, but every venue will look at how we do it.
We started at Birkdale for the first time. We had problems with unofficial hospitality at Birkdale, and we'll see how it works at Carnoustie, and then we'll take an assessment where we go from there.
Q. Is part of that difficulty unique to‑‑ not unique, but specific to Carnoustie, not just where you have right on the course, almost right next to the course, a lot of those clubs like to do what you described as unofficial hospitality, but you wouldn't describe as pilot hospitality; it's generally fairly low key, generally local companies buying up the club?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, I don't think it's specific in that way. In fact, at Carnoustie, the clubs are so important to our staging of The Open. Many of them are volunteering to work. They're important to the ambiance, and actually the clubs are, in effect, inside for this no‑readmission, so you'll be able to go in and out of the club if you're a member of the club, because the clubs are so important to us to make this work.
Q. You had sites last year where outside was effectively on the campus?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, in effect.
Q. (Indiscernible) special hospitality?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, we were involved in it. What we're wanting to do is to protect people who are coming to the Open and spending good money.
Q. How did you solve the problem with the lady with the husband's 60th birthday?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't remember how she solved it in the end, but we had to tell her that what she'd bought wasn't official hospitality and certainly wouldn't have the view of the green that she had been sold.
Q. It wasn't your problem, in effect.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: It always comes back to us, and that's the problem. That's what reflects on us, and it doesn't reflect well in our game. Sadly, it's not just in the Open, it happens in lots of sports, and it's not fair on those people who have bought, and it's not fair on those people who think they've bought something that they haven't.
Q. The casualty of this will be‑‑ obviously there's been a lot of complaints from Carnoustie, people who get the in‑and‑out train during the days of play; the same thing is going to happen at St. Andrews?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think we're going to see what happens at Carnoustie. Let's just talk about Carnoustie. We'll see how it goes at Carnoustie. You know, this is‑‑ what we're trying to do is we're trying to keep moving this world‑class championship forward. But when you look at Carnoustie and you look at the Counselor Cheaps (ph) letter, I fully support. I think he saw the big picture. The Open brings £100 million‑‑ it'll bring about £100 million pounds worth of value to the region in that one week, week and a half, that we'll be there. It will put Carnoustie in the 600 million households around the world that will watch The Open. People will see that and hopefully enjoy the Scottish summer.
And most importantly, the playing of The Open round Carnoustie brings people to play Carnoustie and to stay in Carnoustie or Dundee, to eat, to buy, go shopping if they wish to, for decades, and I thought that's the big picture, and we have to make sure that we keep to the big picture and also make sure that we deliver a fantastic championship that makes golf proud and Carnoustie proud. We crown a great champion golfer come July.
Q. How many people are we talking about here in terms of illegal hospitality or unofficial hospitality? It seems to me you're not going to make the vast majority, restrict their movement just for the sake of a handful.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think that's a very good question. When I first got involved in it, I thought, oh, it can only be one or two, but actually it's a lot more prevalent than you think.
Q. How many is it?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't know how many covers, but it would be a pretty significant percentage compared to what we've got inside the gates. I mean, it's a lot of people, and that's just not fair.
Q. Did security play any part in this decision, or is it purely about unofficial hospitality?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Security plays a little bit of a part. You know, if I look back to Birkdale, and Johnny has done‑‑ how many Opens have you done now, Johnny? We've probably spent more time on security in the last year than probably 10 of those added together. It was a very difficult year. We had three terrorist atrocities in the buildup. We had armed guards inside the gates for the first time in Open history, not something that Johnny and I felt very comfortable with.
It's a little bit about that, but that's not the drive, because we can deal with that otherwise. There was a lot of technology around Birkdale providing security, and as I said to a number of people, there was a lot more that you could see in terms of security, and there was a lot more that you couldn't see, and that's what we will try to do again at Carnoustie. We'll try to keep it hidden because we want to reassure the fans that we are going to do everything we can to possibly keep them safe but not impede on them having a wonderful day.
Q. Do you think you're going to be able to do that at St. Andrews?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We're going to see what happens at Carnoustie first.
Q. Can you tell us a bit more about forged tickets?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, we allow tickets to be printed at home, and they have bar codes on them, and that some people scurrilously double print them, and that sort of thing can happen.
Q. Given 2022 is England, there will be a minimum of 14 years between Turnberry Opens. What should we read into that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I wouldn't read very much into it, actually.
Q. It's a long time.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I think it was '77 through to‑‑ is that the same time as the gap between the last two times, if my math is right.
We have 10 courses on the pool. And we tend to use this word rota, which is not a good thing, actually because rota implies that there's an order that you're going to do them in. It's a pool of courses. You know, we look at that pool of courses in terms of what we're trying to achieve, and if I said to you a couple of times‑‑ we have a criteria about which course we want to go to, and part of that is clearly macroeconomic impacts, which I talked to you about before, and clearly part of that macroeconomics, I suppose, is a little bit about politics. But Turnberry is a fantastic golf course and will be a great venue when we get there.
Q. When you talk about politics, what do you mean by that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think issues around how the‑‑ it would be very complex having an Open at Turnberry at the moment.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, it's a course where you've got the ownership issue of the course and the staging there, and we want to make sure that we stay true to the golf, the playing of the golf. But I see there's a number of other courses we haven't been to for a few years, and looking forward to going back to all of them.
Q. You'll be accused of kicking this in the long grass in terms of Turnberry. If there were such a point as ownership may change or the U.S. presidency changes, how would you respond to that allegation?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think Turnberry remains one of the 10 courses, and it will considered every time that we come back to Scotland.
Q. They want to host The Open Championship‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: They'd love to host The Open Championship, yeah, as would all the courses, actually, as we found out as we go through‑‑ The Open is important to the future of all the courses.
Q. He says he'd like to hold it there, and yet President Trump hasn't been in touch with you?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, the club is run by the club.
Q. Okay, and has the club been in touch with you?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The club is constantly in touch with us, yeah. We've talked to the club, yeah. We've talked to all of the 10 clubs.
Q. Can you give us the thrust of the conversations you have had with Turnberry?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I've had the same conversations that we have with any of the events about what's going on on the course. We like to know how the condition of the golf course is. We like to know how many people are playing it. We like to know has it wintered well at the moment, which is a key concern. It seems pretty cold out there. It's just general discussions around The Open and how we would stage a championship.
Q. Have they done anything like putting in wi‑fi or anything that might be‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We have put bunting under the golf course, but as you can see, we have to put the wi‑fi fibre‑optic underneath, into that bunting.
Q. The fact is they have the lowest attendance of all Open venues. Is that attractive in going back or not?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You know, when you come back towhat do we want to achieve, is the future of the game, and participation and growing the game is very important to us. I've openly publicly committed to increase our investment in the game of golf to 200 million over the next 10 years, which is roughly double where we have been for the last decade, and our only asset for earning money is the Open Championship. And so included within our thinking is the financial capability of each of the venues, and Turnberry is quite difficult to get to, and as you quite rightly say, it is the lowest attendance crowds that we get there.
Q. From a golfing point of view, the changes that you've been able to make to the course, which are stunning, it must be‑‑ you would like to go back, given the changes that have been made, and showcase these changes?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's a fantastic golf course. It's a wonderful links golf course, and as you say, there have been some terrific improvements there, and I think it would show really well.
If you go to Portrush, I think Portrush is along similar lines to Turnberry, and the more time Johnny and I spent in Portrush, the more you sit there and go, actually, if the weather holds fair, that will be absolutely stunning.
Q. Speaking of Portrush, in terms of the compactness of the site, and there was some discussion that perhaps it might be the first time the R&A would have to restrict the number of spectators. Have you come to any conclusion on that yet?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We are thinking about that very seriously. And go back‑‑ it's not just the compactness, but what do fans really want, which is they want to get as close to the players as they possibly can, and that plays into how many people can we actually physically get into the complex, into the course and give them that experience. And so there's a lot of work being done on that we haven't concluded yet.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think there will be also a lot of Americans will be there, especially for the first time. I think it's going to be a‑‑ could be a big crowd. Could be a big crowd. And if Rory keeps playing well, it'll be an even bigger crowd.
Q. In terms of The Open's place itself in the calendar, obviously this year is the last year before the calendar changes. Are there any concerns with the Open becoming the fourth major? Or is that something that's maybe viewed as a positive that it goes to the final major of the year?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I mean, we were consulted during that, whether it would cause us a major problem. I can see positives and I can see negatives. But on the whole, I quite like the idea of us being the last major, actually. It'll end the season. I thought it was very difficult for the players last year. There was only a short gap between‑‑ actually the last two years, as well. It was very difficult for the players, and I've got no‑‑ we've got no real problem with it being the last major of the year.
Q. Going back to the financial aspect you alluded to and the R&A finances through The Open, is it conceivable in the near future that certain courses will have to be sacrificed for that reason such as Turnberry or Carnoustie where the numbers aren't‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I hope it never comes to that. I think what we continually look for is the Open gets bigger and bigger, and it takes a lot of space to stage it, and I would say quite a lot of our time on the championships, on the golf courses, is talking to the clubs about making sure that we have enough space to keep staging it. But you know, those are 10 very fine golf courses, and hopefully we can keep with those 10.
Q. You've got the Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen, I imagine you welcomed that news last week. A year on, Muirfield still haven't made any announcements about women members. Have you heard from them on that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I saw Royal Aberdeen last week, and we've tried to sort of put this into sort of two workstreams: What clubs do and their membership policies is up to the club. We were very clear about that two years ago. For our perspective, we said that we only want to stage our events at clubs which are mixed and have a quality. I think we will stay with that.
Now, I think when you look at Muirfield and Troon who have made recent changes, you know, they are working through that process. They are working through it in a way that fits with their club membership policy, and I clearly do talk to them, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what they've said, but we absolutely stay very close to all of them, and I think a lot of people didn't realise that through the whole Muirfield issue two years ago and Troon that we were having very private court discussions at the same time, and I think, as I said, I think those are best kept private.
Q. It's important that they make the decision that there are going to be women members coming in, but keep need to see some action being taken within a certain period of time I would have thought.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I mean, there's an element of substance over form, and we will certainly be looking for that.
Q. How does it sit with your organisation and agenda and what you've said that the Amateur Championship next year at all‑male Portmarnock?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, let's just compartmentalise it. What we said was we want to take our championships to clubs that have mixed membership and have a quality, but we also said that where we had contractually already agreed, we would honour that contract. And we had already agreed with Royal Aberdeen and with Portmarnock, and I also think it's important that one honour one's contracts.
Q. Isn't that contradictory?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, it's not contradictory in the sense that honouring a contract is a decent way of doing business. We had done that, and we're very clear on that. And new events, we're also very clear on.
Q. The event was, what, three years out?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, but that's what about we do for an Amateur Championship.
Q. You're speaking of an modernisation effort, but you're going to stage a serious event on an all‑male golf course. It looks daft.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: But I think we had‑‑ there's a good thing in life about values, isn't there, and I think we have some very strong values, and we've had some values around pushing and wanting to enhance our game with women members, and I stand very tall behind that. If you look in some of our participation agendas, we have‑‑ the way I see the amateur game growing is it has three key problems if it's going to grow. Number one is more women in golf clubs, more women playing, and that's for two reasons. If you look in the UK, 14 percent of club members are women. If you look in countries on the continent where the game is growing, that number is in the high 20s and in the 30s. So the UK could double its percentage of women members and still be below countries that are growing. And if we want more youngsters to play, it's a very interesting thought‑‑ when people say, well, it's dad who takes the youngsters to play. Well, actually the statistics point out that it's actually the other way around. Only 18 percent of young children play with their father. The majority of them play with their mother.
So the thing is to me it's very simple. It's getting more women to play golf, brings more women, brings more champion, brings more people in golf clubs, and I think that's our modernising agenda, and I think that's where the game needs to go.
Q. There's a blatant contradiction. You make these laudable points, then you say because we have a contract we're going to play a significant event at an all‑male golf club. It's a blatant contradiction.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think it's important to the values of the R&A that we honour the points of law.
Q. Would you have not sent a stronger message if you'd said to Portmarnock in this instance, we've changed, you're going to lose it if you don't change, as well? Would that not send a message to the populous, especially women?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think there's a lot of things one can wish for in life, but the matter of law is actually quite important, and we had a contract, and we will honour that contract, and we are very about honouring that contract.
Q. Where does the R&A's membership stand at the minute with women members? How many have you got?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You mean the Royal &Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews? The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, we have 14 full members, and it was 15 but sadly one passed away, and we have a number‑‑ a significant number entrained through the process now.
Q. Do you envisage any coming this year?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The whole membership timing for the Royal &Ancient Golf Club is a little bit shrouded in mystery. It's not far‑‑ all I'm willing to say is it's not far away, and this is building, and it's great.
Q. How many female members of Muirfield are there?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: At the moment they've got none, but they have some in process.
Q. And Troon?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Some in process, none as of the last conversation I had with the captain of the club.
Q. So Muirfield's announcement was‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Two years ago.
Q. And there's not a single female member?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: It does take time to get through the process in these clubs. You've got to‑‑ any club you've got to identify who, who wants to, who wishes to apply, and then it needs to go through the process.
Q. Is it fair to say the 14 surviving members of the R&A were once fast tracked.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Correct.
Q. The ones in process are all the regular process?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Regular, correct.
Q. The same way the men become members?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: With the Royal &Ancient Golf Club or which one?
Q. All of them.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Now it's exactly the same as any member goes through the same process.
Q. What chance do we have of stamping out slow play when rounds take six hours and one player takes four minutes and 10 seconds and doesn't get fined? Are we doomed?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't think we are‑‑
Q. I mean, everybody in here watched it, and it was ridiculous. Would you have hit maybe two shots? I think we're doomed. It's a serious question.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I think the difficulties they had in that round were not down to one particular incident.
Q. But it doesn't justify six hours, does it?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No, but in any of those circumstances, the person who's doing the timing will have to make a judgment whether the amount of time a player is taking is reasonable. The trouble sometimes is these cases, you think when you watch it live, you think the player is on the verge of hitting the ball, and then they actually choose not to. It's a very difficult‑‑ it's not as easy just to say there's a penalty or there's not. I think as we've seen a number of championships, you've got to take all the circumstances into account‑‑
Q. Let me rephrase it. Would you have liked to have him hit with two strokes? Surely you've got to be proactive. Every year we turn up here and we talk about pace of play, and you say you want to work with the tours. Well, The Open Championship is your tournament. You can do whatever you want. You can have an observer of the shot clock with every group. But you know what I'm saying?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Let's go back and try to build it up because it's not simple. But from my perspective and our perspective, pace of play is a significant impediment to people taking up the game. There is no doubt in my mind about that. But it's been a steady increase in the time it's taken to play for years. You know, we've got to change it around.
From our perspective, we did something that I think surprised a lot of people last year, which is we introduced ready golf into all our stroke play events except The Open. I'll come back and talk about The Open in a second. And that surprised a lot of people, that we would do that. And some have followed that lead. The take‑up, as we went through our championships, was quite interesting in that we had to sort of educate a lot of the players about what ready golf means, and what that means they're allowed to do and what they're not allowed to do.
I found interestingly that the Ladies' Amateur picked it up quicker than the Men's Amateur, and they definitely embraced it and got on with it.
We saw rounds at our elite levels somewhere around 10 to 15 minutes quicker, and that's about right. That's about right. What we also have seen is the number of clubs‑‑ in club golf, we need to get this into club golf, are adopting ready golf. And my home club has‑‑
Q. Do we know how many clubs have taken up the ready golf?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, we don't know. That's a good question we can certainly ask. But the clubs who are taking it up are beginning to really see the benefits of it. And my own club, which has never been slow in the way it plays its golf, even they were surprised what the benefit was of playing ready golf.
So I think we can start‑‑ we're starting to do that. We need to do a lot more work on the elite amateurs coming up because we've got to educate them around the need to play a bit quicker, and it's not racing around the golf course. We're not talking about racing around the golf course. It's just getting on with it. And there is work that we have a responsibility to do.
So we've started on the ready golf thing. We will continue ready golf in '18. And we will continue to work with all the home nations and all the other affiliates around the world to get that involved. And I think ready golf is probably one of the biggest silver bullets, if there is one, in this.
In the rules modernisation project, there's been an emphasis on pace of play, and there are a number of initiatives in there in David's new rules that are aimed to create opportunities for people to play faster.
When you get to the Open, it's quite interesting about times. So the average for round 1 and round 2 at Birkdale was 4 and three quarter hours, give or take a minute. And the average for round 3 and 4 was three hours, 45 minutes. And Spieth and Kuchar, despite 20 minutes of the ruling on 13 that we just discussed, were 4:06. So David and I have talked quite a lot about why is it‑‑ The Open course is one of the more challenging golf courses that they all play. Why is it they would get round. And we do think that there is lots of reasons for it. The European Tour have definitely put more of an emphasis on pace, and therefore their players actually get on with it.
I think there is a significant benefit of having referees with every game, which we have at the Open the luxury of doing and walking referees, and the more we talk about the value of the walking referees, the more valuable it is and something we will keep, and talking with David about it, we probably in rounds 1 and 2 talked to about 25 percent of the games during the round about getting a move on.
I think those numbers for The Open, I'm quite happy with, considering the difficulty of the golf course, and I think it's always a surprise to people that the final round, which is in 2‑balls, play in three and three quarter hours. I would be surprised if anybody objects to that.
Q. Would you ever see yourself getting to a point where The Open Championship or major championships would have a shot clock with each group? Me personally, I don't see the problem with referees having a stopwatch.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: They do have a stopwatch.
Q. So why don't they use it?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: They are constantly‑‑ I think The Open‑‑ I think as long as we can keep to these times, I don't see the need for a draconian changes. I think these are perfectly acceptable times for 3‑balls in round 1 and 2, around an Open course in the condition it's in, and round 3 and 4 in 2‑balls.
Q. It's harder at St. Andrews, though, isn't it?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: St. Andrews is the challenge because of the double greens. We all know that. And there's probably not a lot we could do even if we had a shot clock because the players have to wait. There is no‑‑ the Old Course is tough for that, but that's one of the beauties of the Old Course. So no, I don't see a need to do anything draconian like that at the Open Championship, and like all of you, I'm going to be quite interested to see what happens in Austria. I think it's a very bold move. I think it's a terrific move.
Q. The never‑ending topic of distance, Mike Davis a couple weeks ago seemed to break ranks at the USGA and said that distance was a problem of some sort. Is that the R&A's view now?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: So we'll be publishing the distance report shortly. It'll be out in the next‑‑ within the next month. And there is a statement in there from the USGA and the R&A on the data that's contained within it. I want to be careful not to preempt that too much because that is meant to be‑‑ I know it's quite a modern thing to sort of pre‑release announcements, which I think is a good thing.
Q. There is a lot of talk about it in our circles that something is meant to be done.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think at the Open Championship you heard me, I think for the first time, talk about the balance between skill and technology, and that was in the context of ball hitting distance. And I think hitting distance is very important to focus in on, that it's not just about the ball, it's about the hitting distance, and this balance between how much skill and how much technology is available. And I think there's no doubt in my mind that the technology has made this quite a difficult game and just a little bit easier, and at a time when we want more people to play the game, I think that's a good thing.
But we do also think that golf is a game of skill and should be reflective of skill, and when you look at the points Mike was making last week around golf course lengths, which is something he feels very strongly about, has floated in the U.S., you put those two things together, it's something that we have spent an awful lot of time thinking about and how we want to do that.
When you see the report, the distances, the raw data is available out there on the website. We don't make up the data. Some people think that we do, but we don't. We actually take it straight from the tournament. There are some things that you will see. One is that there has been a significant move up across all tours, and we're looking at the longest on record average driving distance, and you'll see that in the data, and both of those have caused us as well as our colleagues at the USGA serious concern.
We had talked for a number of years about slow creep, and this is a little bit more than slow creep. It's actually quite a big jump.
Our 2002 joint statement of principles put a line in the sand, or purported to put a line in the sand. I think our view is when you start to look at this data now that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed on where we go. And it is a multifaceted matter. It's extremely complex. And you can rest assured that we are very serious to make sure what's right for golf. But there's a lot of things to consider, a lot of stakeholders involved. And that will be part of the next stage for both‑‑ I think for the R&A and the USGA.
Q. What has changed in the last number of months, because this is a very different message from the one you gave us at this same meeting 12 months ago. Something has changed; can you pinpoint what that is?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think we were looking at the data very carefully last year, and you know, we wanted to look at it and not make sure that we were‑‑ data has a habit of going up and down and all over the place, and we were very much starting to think about the future last year, but it was not the right time or place to say anything other than where we were, and this year's data, I think, shows a slightly‑‑ significantly different.
Q. What do you think has caused the difference?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: What, in terms of the distance?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, we're not quite sure, if we're really honest.
Q. Is it even more than before‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I'm not quite sure. There is no‑‑ there's no one single thing about that. We've talked about it many times. There's three prongs‑‑
Q. It's not just one thing?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think it's the technology in the drivers is getting better; the club head speed is able to go up because of that; and there are a few more players coming through who have been brought up with sort of the longer hitting environment, so I think it's a whole combination of things, but the data is going one way, and as I said, I don't really want to preempt the report, but that's where we're now thinking.
Q. Just because people are hitting the ball farther, does that necessarily mean that golf courses should be longer? Why not make them just more difficult without being longer?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I think it's always an option. Course setup is a massive part of how a player gets round a golf course. There's no doubt about that. And you can see that when you look at the major championships. But for regular golf, I think it's hard enough.
Q. Are we closer therefore to either a tournament ball specification being introduced or, in fact, a sort of bifurcation of the rules? Is that the next‑‑ are we closer to that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think there are many, many options available.
Q. But the bifurcation one is sort of seen as sacrosanct, that we're all going to play the same game. If that happens, it's a massive U‑turn. Are you not worried about that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think there are a lot of options and a lot of‑‑ there's a lot of work still to be done with a lot of people, and engaging with not just the game but the equipment manufacturers and all sorts of things, but that work we now feel needs to be done. I'm rather pleased that we've got this facility here to enable us to do our bit on it.
Q. Are you anticipating conflict with the ball manufacturers?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I'm hoping that we have a constructive conversation with all stakeholders for the good of the game. What do we want to do? We want the game to expand. We want more people to play. We want to see it as a skillful game. I love seeing the best of the players out there doing it. I think we will all work and talk around this whole distance issue.
Q. The commercial sell has been the ball that goes further, the ball that does what you want.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yep, and so there will be a lot of conversations to have, a lot of discussions.
Q. How many years will that take?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think a lot of people would like to see it happen tomorrow, but that's just not life. It's not reality.
Q. Or see it yesterday.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: That is definitely not possible.
Q. On the Trump thing, you said you're constantly in touch‑‑
MARTIN SLUMBERS: With the club.
Q. Is it easier to say it's not going to be coming back until he's gone?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, because I didn't say that. I don't believe that. It's a great golf course. It would be a great host for an Open Championship. Wonderful setting, fantastic pictures, showcase links golf at its very, very best. It absolutely deserves a place in the 10, and it'll be a great Open venue again.
Q. So he hasn't managed to get your (indiscernible)? Used to appear about three times a week. Well done.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Oh, really? On that note, everyone, thank you for taking the time. We'll finish on a high note.
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