Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, has defended the decision to cancel the staging of this year’s 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George’s while also warmly welcoming a decision to include Muirfield on the Women’s British Open rota commencing in 2022.
The R&A made the decision early in April to reschedule The Open, golf’s oldest major to 2021 and at the time, Slumbers stated: “I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible”.
This despite golf’s other three Major Championship organisers – the PGA of America, the USGA and the Masters – managing to reschedule to later this year.
Slumbers found himself being asked to revisit the decision ahead of this week’s AIG Women’s British Open at Royal Troon.
“I think like a lot of people, those were pretty dark times, weren’t they, in late March, early April and there were bigger issues for the world to worry about and still are bigger issues to worry about,” said Slumbers.
“I think at that time we were struggling to see how any golf was going to take place, certainly at the top level. Right through it we wanted to take as long as we possibly could on this event, the women’s event. We wanted to see where everything developed, and all along, I have felt this sort of deep responsibility to stage this.
“I think I have been committed about women and girls golf since I arrived in St Andrews, taking control of this event for the first year this year made me more determined to wait as long as we possibly could and see how the world evolved, and when I sit here today with it teeing off, all be it with some pretty dreadful weather forecast for the next couple days, it was a great decision. I think there’s a wonderful sense of excitement and I’m glad you feel that there is something special about holding it this week, because we certainly do.”
Slumbers, however, was also asked for clarity when the R&A felt then it was possible for this week’s Women’s Open to go ahead given the cancellation of the Men’s Open.
“I think we have spent a large part of the last three months in deep, deep dialogue, not just with AIG and making sure that they were committed to it, but with the Scottish government who have been incredibly supportive and suitably challenging in making sure we got an environment that was safe for the players,” said Slumbers.
“But if I’m really honest, it was probably only a month or so ago that we were really comfortable that we could get this away, and it has been an enormous effort by an enormous number of people, and our thanks go to not just our partners but the government both in Westminster and Scotland who have been tireless in helping us try and make a statement of putting this championship on.”
Another positive for women’s golf coming out of this week’s event at Royal Troon is confirmation a first-ever Women’s British Open is to be held in 2022 at Muirfield.
And Slumbers chose the Royal Troon media centre to make the announcement.
“I want to announce today a schedule for the AIG Women’s Open for the next five years,” he said.
“We appreciate the cooperation of the venues helping us compile what is a very exciting run.
“This is a very strong statement of intent as to where we want to take this championship, and I’m delighted to tell you that the venues which will stage the AIG Women’s Open until 2025 are as follows: 2021 will be at Carnoustie. 2022 will be at Muirfield. 2023 will be at Walton Heath. 2024 will be on the old course at St Andrews and we will culminate this fantastic five-year run in 2025 at Royal Porthcawl.
“The flexibility the venues have shown in adjusting their own calendars has been vital in allowing us to confirm our plans for the championship for the next five years. It’s been a truly collaborative effort, and we look forward to working with them to deliver an outstanding experience for the world’s best women golfers in the coming years.”
And given the stuffiness and negative press in recent years surrounding the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers or Muirfield as we commonly know the club, Slumbers was delighted for women’s golf that the ladies will get to tee-up on the East Lothian links gem.
“I think the world has changed quite a lot in the last five years,” he said.
“The game of golf has changed quite a lot in the last five years. I think there is a lot more discussion and energy and commitment about the game more modern and relevant to today’s society, and we couldn’t have a more enthusiastic partner in the Honourable Company in wanting to change this championship.
“I think it will be a fantastic place for the women golfers to go and play. I’m pretty excited already and I think Muirfield will really embrace it and give us a fantastic championship.”