R&A CEO worried about ‘long-term financial sustainability’ of golf

R&A CEO worried about ‘long-term financial sustainability’ of golf
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HOYLAKE, England – The financial arms race that’s thrown professional golf into turmoil the last year has renewed concerns among the game’s rule makers that current growth of purses is not sustainable.

During his annual press conference Wednesday at Royal Liverpool, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers expansively explained the association’s concerns and his desire to maintain what he called “financial sustainability.”

Full-field scores from the 151st Open Championship

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

The R&A announced last week an 18 percent increase to the purse for this week’s Open Championship to $16.4 million with $3 million going to Sunday’s champion. While that bump is on pace with planned increases it’s well short of what is quickly becoming the norm in professional golf.

This year the PGA Tour rolled out its designated event schedule to combat the growing threat of LIV Golf, eight events with average purses of $20 million and $3.6 million for the winner. While this kept pace with the LIV Golf payouts, it pushed the major championships to match those purses.

The U.S. Open increased its payout to $20 million, but the purse for the Masters was $18 million and the PGA Championship was $17.5 million. The purse dispersion was on display earlier this year when Matt Fitzpatrick won the RBC Heritage, a designated event played the week after the Masters, to earn $3.6 million, which was $360,000 more than Jon Rahm won at Augusta National.

For Slumbers and the other major championships, LIV Golf and the Tour’s move to designated events – as well as the potential for an even greater hike if the “framework” agreement between the Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia creates an even more well-financed, for-profit entity – is a concerning trend.

In the case of the R&A, the revenues produced by The Open fund the association’s operational cost as well as its grow-the-game initiatives, which will total $200 million over the next decade.

“I do think that we have to have a sensible conversation about the long-term financial sustainability of golf, and that, as you say, came up over the last few months,” Slumbers said.

The R&A has created a new amateur event in Africa that will award a spot in next year’s Open Championship.

While Slumbers said there are no plans to add a title or presenting sponsor for The Open like the R&A has for the AIG Women’s Open, he conceded the association continues to work with various corporate sponsors and didn’t dismiss the idea that the R&A could someday add the PIF to that list of partners.

“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,” he said. “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.”

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