‘Golf clubs should let members play more virtual games’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 1, 2021 07:33

The CEO of The R&A has said golf clubs should stop imposing rules on customers if they want to grow the game.

Martin Slumbers told SCOREGolf: “Consumer is king these days. Golf clubs, on the whole, are seen as not to be selling a product people want. People want a family experience or a friendship experience. They don’t want to be constrained by rules.

“That seems off for someone in my position, but they want more free form. They want to be able to relax more, access the internet, and play virtual games. They want to do in their golf life what they do in their personal life.

“I do think a lot of our sport has missed this generational change of how people want to enjoy their recreational time. A lot of the Topgolf and similar things fully understand that and they’re providing a product people want to buy.

“Golf, like everything, must evolve and must adapt. Standing still is not an option. I have said for me golf is a game of skill and there is a balance between skill and technology. For the vast majority, let’s say 99 percent who play golf for fun, for love, friendship, I think technology has been a wonderful thing. It’s made a difficult game a little bit easier.”

Slumbers also said clubs need to be more professional when it comes to collecting data.

“Data is the most important thing in sport,” he said. “How you communicate with your fans, spectators, and your clients is data driven. I’m always amazed at how few clubs when you go and play have your digital data and how few are communicating with you. If the game is going to attract, we have to be businessmen and we have to focus on how we communicate with our potential customers.

“The biggest criticism I have of the golf business, whether that’s of ourselves as golf federations or media, is that we are very good at talking to ourselves. We invite people to play golf who already play golf. We write stories for people in magazines who already play golf. If you step back and think about that, how the hell do you grow the pie if you’re only talking to people who already play?”

The R&A believes that its new community golf centre at Lethamhill, which will include a permanent presence for one of the world’s fastest-growing participation sports – padel – a tennis / squash hybrid, will be a model for community golf.

“I’m a big supporter of municipal golf. It’s where a lot of people who don’t hardly play golf will find their first steps along the road. I learned to play at a public golf course. None of my family played and that’s how I got into it.

“The thinking behind Lethamhill was if we believe golf is a game for the people and we need to attract more families and we need to connect more with the community and we believe not enough golf clubs are doing that, how do we create a model that could show or prove whether we’re right? Lethamhill became that opportunity.

“Serendipity is a wonderful thing. At the same time, they (Glasgow city council) were thinking of closing it. I was thinking if The R&A could own its own facility, we could show how we think the game could attract more people and provide a pathway to traditional club golf and maybe show what they could learn about that product. At its heart that’s what Lethamhill is.”

He also sees the future of golf as one that firmly includes women.

“I genuinely believe getting more women / girls into the game is our future. I have read thousands of stories, ‘Is Tiger better than Jack Nicklaus?’ I have not read one single story, ‘Was Annika better than Nelly Korda,’ or the equivalent. I hope everyone in your association agrees with me about the importance of women’s golf. If they do, let’s write about it, let’s create the dialogue, let’s tell the stories of women’s golf as we do for men’s golf. That will help all of us.

“We have this responsibility to the game. I feel very passionate that we have a responsibility to grow participation and because of our position in the game we have a platform where we can say things. It’s an opportunity that I’m very careful about because with that opportunity comes great responsibility to use it with respect. But I do think we have an opportunity to shape the future. A lot of what we do is thinking 10 years, 20 years on and make sure golf is thriving 50 years from now.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 1, 2021 07:33
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  1. Sheppard December 8, 19:38

    How refreshing to hear the head of the R&A say that to grow the game golf businesses need to use the data they collect wisely; get out and talk to non-golfers through whatever means and encourage women to take up the sport. I look forward to reading an article on whether Nelly Korda is better than Annika Sorenstam – (takes some beating does Annika imho) #golfbusiness

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  2. Headhunter November 30, 19:53

    Golf will become a 2 tier game

    Golf clubs playing seriously
    Golf clubs playing fun

    Reply to this comment
  3. TLowe November 30, 10:22

    Just imagine when golf starts to think about it’s place in the Metaverse! Will there still be arguments over dress code or will you turn up to a virtual meeting at a virtual club with the latest NFT clothing?

    Reply to this comment
  4. Peter November 29, 16:39

    In general true !! One reason, we must understand our value proposition, who we are and who we want to be as an organization !! There is little doubt, we must embrace traditions while taking advantage of new ideas, technologies and “tools !”

    Reply to this comment
  5. Wayne November 29, 15:09

    Martin Slumbers looks like he embraces the new with the old to grow golf Alistair.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Indoor Golf Arena November 29, 12:16

    Clubs should not underestimate the benefits of offering members indoor golf facilities. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dont-get-left-out-poor-weather-jon-s-standing

    Reply to this comment
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