Tee to Green: Turnberry still in Open limbo

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There's still no sign when Turnberry will host its first Open since 2009.

Plenty of matters arising from the golf writers’ annual Spring sit-down with R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers yesterday, in the rather impressive Allan Robertson House testing facility at Kingsbarns…

No Presidential Open at Turnberry now almost certain

The worst kept secret in golf – although not even a secret to readers of T2G for around five years – is that the 2021 Open, the 150th, is to be held at the Old Course, St Andrews.

Slumbers added that the 2022 Open would be in England – “St Andrews is such a magnetic place for people to come to, that actually it’s better to not play in Scotland the year after”, he said.

So with Carnoustie this year, Royal Portrush in 2019 and Sandwich confirmed for 2020 last year, an Open at Turnberry during owner Donald Trump’s first presidential term was ruled out.

Given that Muirfield is probable for 2023 and Hoylake almost certain for 2024, an Open at Turnberry during even a second Trump term – don’t laugh, nobody thought he’d win the first one – is now out of the question.

Slumbers did mention “political” aspects and that hosting an Open at Turnberry would be “complex”.

He also re-iterated the financial aspect – Turnberry gets the lowest crowds of any Open venue and Slumbers has publicly committed the R&A to increase their investment in the game of golf to £200 million over the next 10 years, roughly double what it is now.

“Our only asset for earning money is the Open Championship, and so included within our thinking is the financial capability of each of the venues,” he said.

Turnberry therefore remains in the pool of 10 Open venues, but with no plans to return there. Money is one reason, but you don’t have to be a genius or hear Slumbers say it outright to know what the other one is.

Royal Portrush could have the Open’s first limited crowd

One of the glories of the Open is they admit everyone who turns up and pays for a ticket. There’s never been a limit on the crowd, or at least until Portrush next year.

“We are thinking about that very seriously,” said Slumbers. “It’s not just the compactness (of the site), but fans really want to get as close to the players as they possibly can, and that plays into how many people can we actually physically get into the course and give them that experience.”

They show up in their 1000s for a putting green opening in Ireland, the R&A anticipates a lot of Americans coming, and Rory McIlroy is at home. Even if they restrict numbers, it’ll be a sellout.

The slow pace of women members

No silly, not on the course. Three years on from making the change from all-male, the R&A has just 14 “fast-tracked” women members.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, a year from changing their minds, and Royal Troon, two years on, still have no women members.

The membership processes of all three clubs are protracted, complex and antiquated, even for male applicants. Muirfield and Troon opted not to fast-track any women and there are candidates “in process” at both as with the R&A.

The admission processes of private clubs are their own matter. But again, golf’s image suffers because it looks like they were never sincere about changing.

Royal Aberdeen, host of this year’s Amateur, announced last week it will change to a mixed membership, possibly under additional pressure about future hostings of the Scottish Open. But there’s no sign Portmarmock, host of the Amateur in 2019, is shifting.

Slumbers said they were honouring the hosting contract they signed with the Irish club. But without at least some sign they’re nudging the Dubliners to do the right thing, that sounds like a fairly feeble excuse.

Slow play – a joint effort required

You may laugh when you recall Jordan Spieth’s Sunday roam on the practice ground at Birkdale, but the R&A think they’ve got slow play at the Open surrounded.

Four hours 45 minutes on the first two days and three hours 45 for the weekend is acceptable, they think (Spieth and Matt Kuchar were four hours six minutes including the 13th hole shenanigans). It’s certainly better than it used to be, although Opens on the Old Course offer real challenges.

Elsewhere, the R&A want everyone to take up “Ready Golf”, as they did in their championships last year. This (largely) means being prepared to play without delay when it’s your turn to hit or putt.

The European Tour are enthusiastically incorporating it (Slumbers and Keith Pelley seem to be golf’s administrative bromance of the moment). Slumbers reports that women are better than men in their championships.

The US? Don’t hold your breath. Neither the USGA no the PGA Tour seem to be much interested, sad to say.