R&A Interview

Added on December 21st, 2018 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping, Hickories, Slow play, The ball, TV Coverage

FineGolf  has evolved in ten years from being a ‘running-golf course’ review website to also asking questions about the Golf Establishment’s view, its leadership and vision for golf with the objective of helping increase enjoyment for both those playing and watching the game.

RandA, martin slumbers,

A listening Martin Slumbers

To help celebrate this ten year anniversary we invited Martin Slumbers, The R&A’s Chief Executive to be interviewed and, although he was unavailable for a face-to-face meeting due to a very busy global schedule, he and his executive team at The R&A, answered our questions below.

FineGolf  is enormously appreciative of Martin Slumbers and his R&A team for responding quickly and engaging with FineGolf’s now over 9,000 subscribers to the bi-monthly newsletter and some of whose responses are given at the end of the interview. The answers helpfully raise a number of further and follow-on questions that FineGolf will return to in due course.


Q1). Recreational/professional golf  and Rules

FineGolf  believes that the heart of golf is to be found in the recreational game rather than seeing professional golf as being the most important. Is there any conflict of interest between recreational and professional golf?
For example there has been a divergence in the rules of golf with the pros wanting ever tighter laws and ordinary golfers not bothered and making up their own relaxed ways of playing.

One of our key priorities as a governing body for golf is to ensure that the sport is thriving in 50 years’ time. We look at golf as a whole and want to increase participation at the grassroots level and encourage more girls and boys and women and men to join golf clubs at the same time as ensuring the elite amateur and professional games continue to be successful. As the organiser of three professional major championships and a series of prestigious amateur championships and international matches, that is extremely important to us.

FineGolf congratulates The R&A on eventually adopting from 2019 most of the Ted Dexter Rules published on FineGolf in 2010 and as used at FineGolf’s ‘Running-Golf Day’ in 2013 with their emphasis on speeding-up play, making the rules simpler and more reliant on the integrity of the golfer. When will The R&A go the natural step further and use the present one shot penalty from a water hazard as the rule for ANY lost ball or ‘out of bounds’ ?”

We are very pleased with the way the modernised Rules of Golf have been received by the wider golf community ahead of their implementation in 2019. We have always said that the Rules will continue to evolve to stay in tune with the way the modern sport is played but we will see how the new Rules bed in before we consider any further changes.


Q2). Traditional values

The R&A has over the years given the impression that it supports the traditional values of running-golf and the promotion of fine perennial fescue/browntop bent turf as the most enjoyable for golfers to play-on in the GB&I temperate climate. Is this attitude one that you will continue to support?

Our philosophy in preparing golf courses for our championships and international matches is to ensure that they provide a fitting platform for the top women’s and men’s players to show us how good they are and to work with what nature and the weather gives us. We advocate sustainable management practices and would always encourage course managers to consider what are the best grass types for their courses and work with them.


Q3). Turf firmness legacy

After a thirty year period when soft ‘target’ greens became fashionable, the majority of  GB&I golfers are now calling for firmness, an exceedingly positive instinct. As the majority of greens in GB&I no longer have the turf species of the origins of the game that gave firmness, why do The R&A not do more to protect the legacy?

The R&A works through its affiliated national associations and its partners such as STRI and the GEO Foundation to advocate sustainable management practices.


Q4). R&A Scholars.

How much education does The R&A give their scholars on fine perennial grass greenkeeping and its link to how the game should be played, more along and closer to the ground than purely through the air and stopping quickly?

The greenkeeping scholarship programme is designed to offer financial assistance to scholars looking to develop their careers in greenkeeping. It gives them opportunities to gain invaluable experience in sustainable course management but it does not aim to be prescriptive as to any particular approach to the game.


Q5). Television coverage

FineGolf  believes that The R&A should be lauded for their policy that greens for recreational play should ideally be a speed of no more than around 9 foot and for tournament play around ten foot. Nevertheless some golfers measure the putting quality of greens on purely how fast they run rather than how smoothly they run. They put pressure on their greenkeepers to shave greens below a 4mm cut for ultra fast, which of course will drive out the fine grasses. FineGolf  has attempted to help traditional fine grass greenkeepers to resist these ignorant members of their club by calling Augusta Syndrome a Disease and talking to golfers about the connection of playability with the grass species. To obtain a breakthrough of awareness on this connection, Television coverage of golf needs to become committed to opening up the discussion. What is The R&A, which is the organiser of the largest golf event in the world The Open Championship and therefore has enormous leverage, doing to convince the television executives to invest in presenting this issue, which is also connected to conservationism?

Our focus continues to be on advocating sustainable management practices and we work with our broadcast partners to highlight this wherever possible.


Q6). Conservationism

Society at large is increasingly demanding that golf should become more conservationist in its use of water, fertiliser and pesticides. So far the ‘sustainablity’ initiatives that The R&A has supported such as GEO have ignored the fundamental dichotomy in greenkeeping that traditional fine perennial grasses greenkeeping is more conservationist than the chemical greenkeeping of annual weed grasses (Poa annua). How is The R&A going to show its vision and leadership to golf that running-golf on fine perennial grasses is the conservationist future as well as its legacy?

Our vision is very much about ensuring the long-term sustainability of golf. We are working to raise awareness of the global sustainability challenges facing the sport due to climate change and with our partners developing guidance for maintaining course conditioning and playability as we face reduced resource availability and increased legislative regulation.


Q7). Ball distance

There has been a continuous debate (see a summary of Nick Park’s history of the ball)  over how far the ball is being hit ever since 1902 and it was not until 1990 did The R&A and USGA fully approve at last a similar ball. It was then, actually during the 1990s, that we saw the ball gain prodigious extra yards which from 2003 with the manufacturers showing they could rein-it-in, The R&A has argued  there has been little extra yardage until quite recently. The R&A is at present looking at this question again and inviting golfers to reply to a questionnaire (to which some have suggested that the simplest method of containing driving distance is by getting rid of the use of the tee). FineGolf does not expect you to anticipate this consultation but do you as a golfer agree with the following two principles that have been repeatedly embraced by many famous and sensible golfers through-out the last century?
A. “The ball should be designed to fit the courses – NOT the courses to fit the ball”
B. “Skill and craft in winning championships should be that of the golfer – NOT the manufacturer”.

As part of the Distance Insights project we have been gathering data from a variety of sources and have received submissions from a range of individuals and organisations around the world who have a perspective on this issue. Information like this is of tremendous value in building a broad base of understanding and will be carefully considered as we conduct the most comprehensive dialogue on distance to date.


Q8). Hickories

Hickory golf is one of the few aspects of golf that is growing in Europe and America. Recognising that the detail needs to be considered by the Rules Committee of The R&A, would you support in the future, hickory golfers of all types – whether using modern reproductions or antique pre 1930s (neither give an advantage to a player over modern clubs) – being permitted to play in competitions and perhaps for handicap purposes, even if the club characteristics may strictly be non-conforming to the Rules that were written for modern clubs?

No, clubs would have to be conforming to be used in competitions and for handicap purposes.



Q9). Independent research body

The STRI used to play an important role as a research organisation in giving independent objective measurement of greenkeeping and agronomic issues ever since it was founded in the late 1920s. There are many now who recognise, with the STRI becoming more commercially focused these days, that the industry needs a new commercially independent body supported by the end users to oversee and organise research, to ensure that, (in this time of rapid change in terms of  the products that can be used  and customer expectations), innovations from the whole industry are tested and brought to market not just those from the large corporations that can afford to pay the STRI to test and recommend products. Is it time that The R&A came forward to help set-up such a body with the backing of golf clubs and with an emphasis to coordinate in-vivo – field (at golf courses) research rather than in-vitro – laboratory (at controlled test grounds) research?

At present, The R&A has no such plans.

Reader Comments

On December 23rd, 2018 David Lenton said:

Too many answers from some excellent questions are political and offer nothing such as ball distance. Hickory golf should enable players to have two handicaps -steel and Hickories, speeding up play is essential, and the pro tournament with length of time it took to play a round reduced by 40 mins. Keep up the pressure.

On December 23rd, 2018 Bill Seldon said:

Whilst I would not expect the R and A to support all your ideas for ‘running golf’ and controlling technological developments in golf, I would have hoped that they had showed a more open minded approach and not adopted the ‘defensive’ answers to so many of your questions. Disappointing.

On December 23rd, 2018 Perry J Somers said:

Well, I enjoyed the questions Lorne. I’m affraid the standard answers have not shed any new light on the debate.

On December 24th, 2018 Ulrich Mayring said:

Yes, very disappointing canned answers by an “executive team”. No personal touch and very little effort expended. Happy Christmas to all, nonetheless.

On December 25th, 2018 Ron Coker said:

It’s terribly sad the R&A refused to answer many of your questions. I’m not surprised given that they required you to submit the questions in advance. It appears it prefers to serve a constituency other than the recreational golfer. That’s sad.

On December 30th, 2018 Geoff Bleasby said:

The only non-political response is the answer to the hickory question … which is predictably the wrong answer of course … fair play to you for trying Lorne!

On February 26th, 2019 Neil Sjoberg said:

As always Lorne your questions are excellent but very specialised. I think the “Reader comments” are a little harsh on the RandA who have answered as best they can. As an operator of a growing and successful course I think the RandA replies, if a little brief, were all that you could expect from a lead body that has been the champion of so many good advances in recent years. We cannot expect them to have the depth of knowledge in such a specialised field.

Dear Neil,
You have an excellent point in line with what we said in the 73rd newsletter “FineGolf recognises that The RandA feel a need to be consistent in their answers to everybody, with a default position of not going beyond being philosophical and preferring to avoid detail”. Nevertheless, it just seems to FineGolf that The RandA made a small mistake in not creating a positive PR opportunity out of a number of up-to-date relevant issues that were raised, simply to let golfers know that The RandA cares and is trying to do something to improve matters, particularly after they were told that over 9,000 golfers subscribe to FineGolf’s newsletter.
Good luck with Epping.

Leave us a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

FREE, every 2 months
The FineGolf Newsletter

It will keep you up to date with what new course reviews and articles have been published