One can safely assume that Martin Slumbers doesn’t have a nuclear button on his desk. And even if he did, it’s probably bigger than the one Donald Trump has boasted about having.
Slumbers’ insistence on kicking the issue of Turnberry and the Open into the long grass will probably have crash-bang-wallop Trump aiming his warheads towards the R&A chief executive’s St Andrews office in a show of fruitless posturing. When it comes to golf, Trump doesn’t always get what he wants.
While the Old Course in the game’s Fife cradle was officially unveiled yesterday as the host venue for the 150th Open in 2021, an announcement so unsurprising you almost felt it was actually announced five years ago, there were knock-on effects for Trump’s Turnberry.
As long as the President of the USA is involved with this storied Ayrshire venue, the R&A won’t be touching it with the barge, let alone the pole.
This stance is not new, of course, but with Slumbers also unveiling that the 2022 Open would be heading to somewhere in England, the prospects of the majestic Ailsa Course – which last held the game’s oldest major in 2009 – getting the Open any time soon, keeps getting shunted down the order.
From a purely golfing perspective, that is a huge shame. The revamping of the Ailsa in recent years has polished a gem that needed some buffing up. In this case, though, the mix of sport and politics is an explosive brew.
Slumbers was typically evasive on this prickly issue but re-affirmed the R&A stance.
“They’d love to host The Open Championship and the club [Turnberry] is in constant touch with us,” he said. “Turnberry is a fantastic golf course and will be a great venue when we get there. It would be very complex having an Open at Turnberry at the moment. You’ve got the ownership issue of the course and the staging there. But there are a number of other courses we haven’t been to
for a few years and we are looking forward to going back to all of them.
“Turnberry remains one of the 10 courses, and it will considered every time that we come back to Scotland.”
While Trump and Turnberry was swatted aside, Slumbers was more forthcoming on the issue of the ball and the distance modern technology is allowing them to travel.
Across the golfing spectrum, from the top of the tree in the pro game to George and Ronnie at club level, folk are generating more length than ever before. In fact, you’ve probably heard George and Ronnie constantly boasting about that extra 20 yards over a shandy and bag of Cheese and Onion crisps after the Saturday medal.
At the elite end of the game, concerns are growing, even though the R&A and the USGA, the two custodians of the global game, have tended to adopt a “nothing to see here” policy despite evidence to the contrary.
So far this season, almost 70 players on the PGA Tour have averaged drives of over 300 yards.
Last year, Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, conceded that increased driving distances was not good for the game while talk of bifurcation, where amateurs and professionals play with two
different sets of equipment, refuses to go away.
Ahead of the forthcoming report on the lengths balls are now being clattered, Slumbers expressed the quandary he himself was in.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the technology has made this difficult game just a little bit easier,” he said. “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. If you look at the data, there has been a significant move up across all tours. We’re looking at the longest on-record average driving distance. Both of those have caused us and our colleagues at the USGA serious concern.
“For a number of years there has been a slow creep upwards, but 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. But when you look at this data we have probably crossed that line in the sand. A serious discussion is now needed on where we go.
“I’m hoping that we have a constructive conversation with all stakeholders for the good of the game. I think we will all work and talk around this whole distance issue.”
As usual, the old chestnut of pace of play cropped up in the discussion as one of the plooks on golf’s complexion got another going over.
The recent incident on the PGA Tour, where JB Holmes took over four minutes to play an approach shot to the green in the heat of the battle, had many observers grinding their teeth in a futile rage.
The five or six-hour round continues to blight the game, although Slumbers remains happy that the R&A’s own showpiece, the Open, maintains a decent pace of play.
“The average for round one and round two at Birkdale [in 2017] was four and three quarter hours, give or take a minute. And the average for round three and four was three hours, 45 minutes,” noted Slumbers.
“I think as long as we can keep to these times, I don’t see the need for any draconian changes. I think these are perfectly acceptable times for three balls in round one and two, around an Open course in the condition it’s in, and round three and four in two balls.”
While it is not a pace of play policy adopted at the Open, the use of Ready Golf continues to be pursued by the R&A across its amateur championships with rounds being shortened by “at least 10 to 15 minutes”.
Slumbers added: “Pace of play is a significant impediment to people taking up the game. There is no doubt about that.
“There has been a steady increase in the time it’s taken to play for years. We’ve got to change it around, which is why we introduced ready golf into all our stroke play events except the Open. Interestingly, the Ladies’ Amateur picked it up quicker than the Men’s Amateur. But they all embraced it and got on with it.”
As always in this game, there’s plenty to be getting on with.
Source : HeraldScotland