R&A Chief believes golf needs to embrace change to survive

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, wants to see golf embrace change in order to improve participation.

Jack Seddon's picture
Thu, 27 Feb 2020
R&A Chief believes golf needs to embrace change to survive

When it comes to changes in sport, golf has always seemed to slack in that particular department. While other sports adapt to the modern world we now live in, golf has been stuck in its ways for years and the chief executive of the R&A believes that golf needs to embrace change in order to improve participation.

Recently, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka said that if he could change one thing about golf it would be the "stuffiness" and "country club attitude" associated with the sport.

RELATED: Brooks Koepka SLAMS golf's "country club attitude"

R&A chief Martin Slumbers is fully aware that golf membership numbers are declining, but he believes participation in the sport is increasing due to the numerous ways people can enjoy the game.

“The traditional way of looking at the health of golf in GB&I is the number of golf club members and that’s about a million golfers,” he said.

“But if you look at how many people consume golf, whether that’s 18-hole golf, nine-hole golf, at driving ranges, on par 3 courses, at adventure golf, all those places, then that group in GB&I is 10.2m. It is also a group that is much more diverse and much younger.

“There are only two sports in GB&I that have more people who participate in it if you look at golf that way – that is swimming and the gym.

“Now, let’s say, because we’re all a bit cynical, half of them don’t think they’re playing golf. That’s still five million. The question is why aren’t those five million joining golf clubs?

“I would argue it’s because the golf clubs are not providing a product those people want to buy. So we have to change. Grassroots is going to struggle unless the game changes.
“There is a market five times the size of existing membership today that is more diverse and it’s younger. And that’s our opportunity. And we have to break down the traditional barriers to be able to embrace it. You go to clubs which deliver non traditional forms of the game and they’re busy. There are probably too many delivering exactly the same product.”

The R&A have committed to investing double the amount of money into golf over the next 10 years than it did over the last decade, but Slumbers believes golf needs to make modern changes if participation is going to increase.

“I think the next phase will be much more about participation,” he added. “I’ve surprised myself about how passionate I am about participation, and it’s because I do truly love this game.

“The world we live in now, people want choice. If you go to a club which has a lot more choice in their membership policies and the way they do it then guess what, they’ve got quite a lot of members.

“It is all about connecting with people in today’s world. Your whole business is about connecting, and golf is no different.

“If you just confine yourself to a small group, you’re only going to be talking to a small group.

“Clubs that are family orientated, have fitness [facilities], creches, coffee shops, wi-fi, have no dress code, have a short par 3 course, or nine hole course; those are the ones that are going to succeed.”