Martin Slumbers arrived in Australia last weekend with the goal of growing the game and instead found golf to be under attack.

The chief executive of the R&A, which runs the Open Championship and is golf’s global rulemaker outside the US and Mexico, landed in Sydney for a few days ahead of this week’s Asia Pacific Amateur Championship in Melbourne. It’s a tournament for amateurs to compete for the winner’s prize of a start in next year’s Masters and the Open Championship. It was created by the R&A and Augusta National, organiser of the Masters, to grow the game in the Asia Pacific region.

Slumbers, though, quickly learned Sydney’s beloved Moore Park Golf Club would be slashed from 18 to nine holes to make way for an inner city park. NSW Premier Chris Minns announced the decision after previous demands from Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to cut it in half. From 2026, up to 20 hectares of the public course will be axed to make way for a green space for an estimated 80,000 residents living within 2km of the Moore Park area by 2040.

The decision was met with furious backlash, even from outside NSW. Queenslander and legendary golfer Karrie Webb and major winner Hannah Green, from Perth, were among those to slam the move.

Slumbers did not want to be drawn into war of words that has seen newspapers critique the area golf courses take up in inner Sydney.

“I am aware [of the topic], I was in Sydney last weekend and read about it in the newspapers,” Slumbers told Australian Golf Digest at Royal Melbourne. “It would be inappropriate to comment relative to that particular incident.”

Slumbers overseas an organisation whose home sits at the gates of the Old Course at St Andrews. The Old Course is a public layout that sits among a Scottish university town and closes its famous links every Sunday to golfers. Instead, the Old Course encourages the public to walk around the grounds with family, friends and even dogs.

The benefits of golf, and the willingness of many of its courses to share land with the public, is obvious to the Scottish. But not to Australians. Many still believe golf is a pale, male and stale sport for the wealthy. Private clubs exist but golf has never been more affordable and accessible to the public. Moore Park Golf Club costs between $45 to $65 to play and hosts over 60,000 rounds of golf a year. It’s one of the busiest golf courses in the world. With the inclusion of Moore Park’s driving range, the facility takes more than 500,000 visitors annually … of which 82 percent live within 10km of the venue.

Moore Park GC is just the latest golf course to be under attack from governments local and state. Across town, the public Marrickville Golf Club was proposed to be slashed from 18 to nine or 12 holes but that was quashed after lobbying from Labor ministers at both the Federal and State level. In Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs, Monash council is seeking community input into whether it should retain the nine-hole Oakleigh course or convert it into a public park. Northcote Golf Club had to fight to remain as a full, nine-hole course although the local council closes the course at 3pm each day to be used as parkland.

Slumbers said the message of golf’s benefits needed to be broadcast louder and clearer.

“There is a need to create better dialogue around the values of golf to society,” he said. “We’ve just come out of the Covid-19 pandemic [during which golf participation boomed internationally] and if there’s one thing we all learned it’s that being kinder to our bodies, taking better care of our health, is a real thing we need to focus on.

“Golf is very good for physical and mental health. It’s good for the economy [via tourism], and it’s good for society. I think all of us need to make that case more. I don’t envy the policymakers who are having to make trade-offs around this type of issue, and this is not the only place in the world that trade off discussions is taking place. It’s happening in the UK and America.”

So, what line should the game in Australia take? A more aggressive one?

“I think that’s very much a matter for Golf Australia; [chief executive] James Sutherland has been very eloquent this issue,” Slumbers said. “It’s about trying to get the story out that golf is part of the solution . It’s good for society good for individuals. It’s good for environment. We’re not making the case strong enough down here [in Australia] but I’m sure Golf Australia will do continue to do that.”

Whether the message gets through, only time will tell. If it does, hopefully that is before another public course is put in the crosshairs.