When it comes to change, golf has never been the quickest pursuit to embrace it.

At times, it dodders along with all the surging, forward impetus of Grandpa Broon when his bunions are playing up.

“We probably haven’t embraced it as much as we should,” conceded Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, of the need for the game to move with the changing times.

In golfing circles, we tend to go round in circles. Conversations about flexible membership structures, encouraging families and juniors, relaxing dress codes or playing shorter forms of the game have been taking place for years.

They are certainly not new issues but often get treated as if they have just suddenly louped out from behind a curtain like the bogeyman.

The planned closure of various municipal courses in Glasgow and Ayrshire, and the demise of some well-established clubs around the country, has highlighted the dire straits into which certain golfing facilities have been plunged. Doom and gloom? Well, perhaps not quite.


By his own admission, Slumbers is a “massive optimist” and while membership numbers are certainly nose-diving, he remains encouraged by the figures for golf consumption in less traditional ways.

“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.”


As the historic custodians of the worldwide game, the R&A has pledged to invest twice as much money into golf over the next 10 years as it did in the decade just ended.

Plenty of Slumbers’ focus during his tenure has been on exploiting the value of The Open in order to generate the funds that can be ploughed back into the game.

“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.”