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R&A CEO Martin Slumbers not ruling out Saudi investment

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HOYLAKE, England — With the purse for The Open more than doubling over the past decade, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out taking money from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment to help fund escalating costs.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference ahead of this week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Slumbers said the R&A wasn’t interested in having a presenting sponsor for The Open but will continue to talk to various potential sponsors.

“We have a number of large corporate partners that help us make this thing happen,” Slumbers said. “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.”

On June 6, the PGA Tour announced that it was forming an alliance with the DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has spent more than $2 billion financing the LIV Golf League over the past 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 will be controlled by the PGA Tour.

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 80% of the Premier League club Newcastle United. The Saudi oil and gas company Aramco is a global sponsor of F1 racing, the LPGA Tour and Dubai-based International Cricket Council and Indian Premier League. Last month, ATP Tour chair Andrea Gaudenzi said he had “positive” discussions with PIF officials about a potential investment in men’s tennis.

“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,” Slumbers said. “We will be considering within all the parameters that we look at all the options that we have.”

The purse for the Open Championship has more than doubled since 2013 when it was $8 million and Phil Mickelson took home $1.44 million for winning at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland.

This year, the R&A will distribute a record $16.5 million in prize money with the winner receiving $3 million. Last year, Cameron Smith collected $2.5 million for capturing the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland.

“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.

“There’s no doubt that our ability to achieve this has been impacted by the much more rapid acceleration in men’s professional prize money than we had anticipated or planned for.”

Purses in the other three major championships in men’s golf also increased this year. The Masters raised its purse to $18 million, the PGA Championship awarded $17.5 million and U.S. Open distributed $20 million.

“These are the stark choices which we, and I’m sure the other leading bodies in golf, are facing, and we have to take a strategic approach that is financially sustainable over the longer term rather than just finding short-term solutions,” Slumbers said. “If you want to know what I really care about and what I think is important for the game, it’s the financial sustainability of professional golf. It’s ensuring that golf is thriving in 50 years’ time, but really importantly, that we maintain and do not forget the values around our game.”

Slumbers said the R&A would invest about $258 million in global golf during a 10-year period.

On Wednesday, the R&A announced that it will host the first African Amateur Championship at Leonard Creek in South Africa on Feb. 21-24. The 72-hole event will include 72 men from Africa and the winner will receive an exemption into next year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland. The R&A will host an invitational event of 20 elite women players the same week.

The R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and United States Golf Association stage similar amateur events in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.

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