Leaders in the golf world have proven once again that when Donald Trump talks, people listen, and they feel a compulsion to react, for better or worse.
Luckily, after his latest golf appearance — on site at Trump-owned Turnberry, host of the 2015 Women’s British Open — the major U.S.-based golf organizations won’t feel compelled to react to the PC goon squad media manipulators as they have in the past.
When Trump, who has contracts to host several future golf tournaments with the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, the United States Golf Association (USGA), and The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), stirred controversy with his comments on immigration, golf leaders buckled and got dragged into the world of politics and political correctness.
In an unprecedented move, the organizations issued a joint statement that would has won Buzz Word Bingo: "While the LPGA, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, and USGA do not usually comment on presidential politics, Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf."
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They were relieved that the Women’s British Open Championship in Scotland came and went without any more politically inflammatory comments from Trump that would give them heartburn.
Oh sure Trump attended the event, making a dramatic entrance on the grounds with his helicopter on the first day and declaring, “The whole world wants me here.” But, he left the next day without making too many new headlines.
And it meant golf’s brass could do what they should have a month ago — focus on golf, not Donald Trump’s politics.
Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, was especially outspoken, saying, “We are about diversity, about inclusion, about growing the game. We are evaluating things, and at this point that’s all we can say.”
Since the initial blowup, all those golf organizations have gone silent in what appears to be a concerted effort to refuse answering questions on the situation. They all either refused to comment or did not respond to requests for this story. But the questions remain, including just what kind of evaluating any of the groups are doing.
Diversity and inclusion? Is the implication that some are being systematically excluded from golf? There are more than 10,000 public golf courses in the United States that anyone can play for the price of admission and there have been civil rights laws on the books since 1964 that ban discrimination in public accommodation businesses. No one is stopping anybody from playing golf if they want to.
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Growing the game? How about trying to stem the hemorrhage of golfers and golf courses? Since 2006, more than 600 18-hole courses have closed in this country and there are 6 million fewer golfers than there were 12 years ago. There is nothing to alter that trend any time soon, despite Davis suggesting he and the USGA can do something significant about it.
The organizations may be evaluating the Trump situation, but the bigger question is: What are they going to do about it and when? What is the trigger point? Trump is running for president and he shows no signs of toning down his rhetoric. In fact, it is getting him a lot of attention, and his supporters cite it as a breath of fresh air in a PC-mad world. Are they suggesting they will challenge his right to free speech?
The PGAA and Trump jointly agreed to move the Grand Slam of golf, a minimally attended and sparsely viewed four-man exhibition, from a Trump course in Southern California. There is little, if anything, else any of the organizations can do about future events unless Trump agrees or they decide to breach their contracts, which would probably be legally indefensible. Moving the Grand Slam comes across as a little face-saving wrist slap in exchange for contract compliance in the future and radio silence in the present.
For a group of organizations that are obsessive about enforcing their rules — where the slight movement of a twig in a hazard can cost a golfer penalty strokes or disqualification and possible first-place money of more than $1 million — they don’t seem to mind that the immigration laws are not being enforced by the current administration. Would Mike Davis preside over a golf tournament where he decided which rules to enforce and which ones to ignore if it benefitted some constituency who might keep him in office?
In my mind, Davis and his cohorts could have addressed the situation, without indicting Trump, by saying: Although we might not like the way Mr. Trump said it, we are all about the rules being applied fairly, which includes those that apply to anyone who wishes to immigrate legally to this country. We are opposed to illegal immigration because it is unfair to those who play by the rules.
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But they didn’t, and that’s what happens when you let a mob dictate your agenda. That’s when you become a follower and not a leader. That’s how you get into a no-win situation.
The golf organizations may not like Trump’s political or social views, but it appears they realize they are stuck with each other for now in an uneasy alliance.
Wayne Mills is a New England-based writer who has been producing golf stories for more than 20 years. He has written for national publications such as Golf Inc. and superintendent-related, regional golf lifestyle magazines and has played more than 700 golf courses from Canada to the Caribbean and from Cape Cod to California.
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