Players who defect to the LIV Golf tour will not be banned from future Open Championships, but the R&A is set to review the qualification criteria.

Ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews, Martin Slumbers – chief executive of the governing body which runs golf's oldest major – addressed the most vexing issue in the sport at present. 

The tumult caused by the Saudi-backed breakaway competition has been evident at the home of golf this week, with LIV Golf chief Greg Norman – a two-time Claret Jug winner – having his invitation to the event withdrawn.

While that move was supported by the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, it has underlined the deep divisions within the world of golf and Slumbers hinted at moves that could further isolate those who opt to join LIV Golf, though he stopped short of suggesting any bans would come into force.

"Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that's offered to them. I have absolutely no issue with that at all," he said.

"But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model we've seen at [the LIV Golf events at] Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money.

"We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.

"I would also like to say that in my opinion the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and, if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve.

"We believe the game needs to focus on increasing participation, achieving greater diversity, and making sure that golf is truly open to all, rather than this narrow debate involving a small number of players.

"As importantly, it detracts from what makes golf, as Arnold Palmer stated, the greatest sport that mankind ever invented. Golf is far more than just professional golf, and we should all remember that."

Martin Slumbers

On the subject of issuing what might be considered the ultimate sanction, Slumbers added: "Looking ahead to The Open next year, we have been asked quite frequently about banning players – let me be very clear, that's not on our agenda. But what is on our agenda is that we will review our exemptions and qualifications criteria for The Open.

"And whilst we do that every year, we absolutely reserve the right to make changes as our Open Championships Committee deems appropriate. Players have to earn their place in The Open, and that is fundamental to its ethos and its unique global appeal."