Nine years after he started, Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, is going to finish. In a press release the Englishman announced he will step down from both roles by the end of 2024.
“It has been a privilege to serve golf at the highest level,” said the 63-year-old. “It is a role that I have been proud to carry out on behalf of the R&A’s employees, the members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and all our global partners. In any career, there is a time to allow the next generation to have its turn. I am grateful to have had the honour, for nearly a decade, to have been the custodian of all that the R&A and the game of golf more broadly represents.“
Indeed, Slumbers’ tenure has often enough been tumultuous. Quite apart from the long-running debate over distance and the announcement of a rollback on the golf ball last month, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in 2020.
More positively, though, Slumbers led a modernisation of the R&A’s activities, not least through a merger with the Ladies’ Golf Union that enabled the organisation to represent golf for men, women, boys and girls at the elite level. Since the R&A has taken over running the AIG Women’s Open, it has increased the purse from $US3.25 million in 2018 to $US9 million in 2023.
Speaking at the Dubai Invitational, world No.2 Rory McIlroy was quick to praise Slumbers’ contribution to the game since 2015.
“Martin has done a lot of good things for the game and started a lot of good initiatives,” McIlroy said. “He clearly feels deeply about the game. I’ve always had a good relationship with him and he’s always had the best interest of the gams at heart. I’m not sure what the average tenure is in that position, but nine years seems like a good stint. Hopefully he stays involved in the game, even if not as deeply involved as he has been.”
“Nine years is a pretty good innings,” agreed European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald. “For a lot of that time he’s been working on some pretty big issues, not least the ball roll-back. That is game-changing potentially. So Martin hasn’t been afraid to do things he felt would be for the betterment of the game. You have to respect that.”
In a less high-profile way, Slumbers – formerly a successful businessman with the likes of Solomon Brothers and Deutsche Bank – presided over a period of growth in the R&A’s only source of revenue, the Open Championship. In a letter to the membership, club chairman Niall Farquharson touched on that financially beneficial fact.
“Through his stature and influence in the world of golf and sport more widely and in growing the proceeds of The Open to invest back into the game, Martin has been true to the R&A’s purpose of golf thriving 50 years from now,” Farquharson wrote. “We are fortunate to have had his transformational leadership. He speaks often of reflecting history in a modern way and that will be his legacy to the R&A and to the club.
“A paradigm shift in the approach to the commercial affairs of the R&A, primarily at The Open, and the level of expertise in the executive team has enabled the R&A to substantially increase its investment into amateur golf around the world and, with partners, has enabled the AIG Women’s Open to grow into a world-class championship.”
Still, although a strong advocate of both women’s golf and juniors, perhaps Slumbers’ most lasting legacy will be the 2023 delivery of a four-year project to create the ground-breaking new golf facility, “Golf It!” in Glasgow, Scotland. The family-centred facility based in the community creates an opportunity for more people to enjoy what the R&A calls “the unbound joy of golf” and for members of the local community to gain work, volunteering and training opportunities.
There was also the launch last year of the G4D Open for the world’s most talented golfers with disabilities and in 2024 a new Africa Amateur Championship will join elite amateur events in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. And in conjunction with the USGA, Slumbers also oversaw the R&A’s efforts to modernise of the Rules of Golf in 2019 and institute a World Handicap System in 2020.
An executive search firm has been appointed to assist in the search for the next man (or first woman) lucky enough to sit in what is surely the world of golf’s best office, one that overlooks the first tee on the Old Course at St Andrews.