Hoylake, UK — The Royal & Ancient isn’t ruling out accepting funding from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as stock markets continue to rally — so much so that Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Martin Slippers thinks Golf will need to re-evaluate its business model.
R&A leads the British Open, where this year the prize pool will total $16.5 million, nearly double from a decade ago. The British Open still has the smallest prize pool of the four Grand Slams.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is already the main financier of the LIV circuit, which offers a prize pool of $25 million for each of its tournaments. The PGA Tour and the European Tour reached a preliminary agreement with the Public Investment Fund last month over a possible business merger.
According to a PGA Tour executive who participated in a US Senate hearing last week, the Public Investment Fund is expected to pay more than $1 billion under the deal.
Will R&A be next on the list?
“We count on several key corporate partners who allow us to hold this event,” Slippers said on Wednesday. The world has changed since last year. Not just in golf. You see it in football. You see it in Formula 1. You see it in cricket. And I am sure that tennis will not surpass him.
The PIF is involved in all of these sports, notably buying an 80 percent stake in Premier League club Newcastle United. Aramco, a Saudi state-owned oil company, is an overall partner of F1 and the International Cricket Council. This company also funds, through sponsorship agreements, certain tournaments on the European women’s golf circuit.
“The world of sports has changed radically over the past 12 months, and it is not an option for R&A or golf in general to ignore the societal changes that are happening on the international stage,” Slumbers continued. “We will consider, within our own criteria, all options presented to us.”
Slippers added Wednesday that golf’s oldest tournament is not interested in a new sponsorship deal that would change the tournament’s name – it would remain the “British Open”.
R&A, like all other organizations that run major golf tournaments, depends on many multinational corporations to support them financially.
However, his main concern is still the overall prize pool.
He was $7.8 million at Muirfield in 2013. A year ago, he hit $14 million. This year, the champ alone will take home $3 million.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Yasser Al-Rumayyan, director of the Public Investment Fund that brokered the deal with the Professional Golfers Association, is set to attend the British Open as a guest of one of the event’s partner companies. Al-Rumayyan is a golf enthusiast.
Among the documents presented in the US Senate ahead of last week’s hearing on a possible merger between the PGA and the LIV Tour was Saudi Arabia’s “wishlist”. It included the proposal that Al-Rumayyan become a member of the R&A Golf Club.
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