Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer July 19, 2023, 8:56 a.m. ET
CloseSenior college football writer Author of seven books on college football Graduate of the University of Georgia
HOYLAKE, UK — With the wallet for The Open multiplying over the last decade, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers on Wednesday would not rule out taking money from Saudi Arabia Public Investment to help fund rising costs.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference ahead of this week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Slumbers said R&A was not interested in having a presentation sponsor for The Open but would continue to speak with various potential sponsors.
“We have a number of large corporate partners who are helping us make this happen,” said Slumbers. “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 far behind.”
On June 6, the PGA Tour announced that it was forming an alliance with DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund, which has spent more than $2 billion financing the LIV Golf League over the last two seasons. At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, PGA Tour chief operating officer Ron Price testified that PIF was prepared to invest more than $1 billion into a new for-profit entity that the PGA Tour would control.
The Telegraph of London reported 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 purchased an 80% stake in Premier League club Newcastle United. Oil and gas company Saudi 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 sports has changed dramatically in the last 12 months, and it is not appropriate for R&A or golf to simply ignore global social change,” said Slumbers. “We will consider in all parameters we look at all the options we have.”
Wallets for the Open Championship have more than doubled since 2013, when it topped $8 million and Phil Mickelson took home $1.44 million for a win at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland.
This year, R&A will distribute $16.5 million in prize money, with the winner receiving $3 million. Last year, Cameron Smith raised $2.5 million to win his 150th Open Championship in St. Louis. Andrews in Scotland.
“The significant increase in prize money in the men’s professional game has resulted in a long-term reassessment of the professional golf business model,” said Slumbers. “As custodians of the game, we must balance prize funds at The Open with ensuring the right investments in grassroots and new golf initiatives, ensuring a pathway is available from elite amateur golf to professional play, and most importantly, promoting women’s and women’s golf, both amateur and professional.
“There is no doubt that our ability to achieve this has been impacted by a much faster acceleration in the men’s professional prize money than we anticipated or planned for.”
Wallets at the other three major championships in men’s golf have also improved this year. The Masters raised his purse to $18 million, the PGA Championship awarded $17.5 million and the US Open distributed $20 million.
“These are tough choices that we, and I believe the other leading bodies in golf, face, and we must take a strategic approach that is financially sustainable over the long term rather than looking for only short-term solutions,” said Slumbers. “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 ensuring that golf thrives in 50 years time, but most importantly, we maintain and don’t lose sight of the values surrounding our game.”
Slumbers said R&A will invest about $258 million in global golf over a 10-year period.
On Wednesday, R&A announced it would host the first-ever African Amateur Championship at Leonard Creek in South Africa from February 21-24. The 72-hole event will feature 72 male players from Africa, and the winner will be exempted for next year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland. R&A will host an invitational event from 20 elite female performers that same week.
The R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and the United States Golf Association stage similar amateur events in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.