JOHN MCHENRY: Golf suddenly confronted by an identity crisis

Donald Trump must surely be counting the financial cost to his golfing empire after recent events, writes John McHenry.

“Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be but before you start pointing fingers...make sure you hands are clean!”

— Bob Marley

On June 24th, Donald Trump will visit his newly renovated Doonbeg resort in Co Clare and will no doubt remind everyone how good he has been to Ireland and most especially the local economy of west Clare, where he is a major employer.

Despite the fact that the Government has declared him “racist and dangerous” or the fact that he is going to be met by protesters, the very fact that he could be the next US president, should be a sufficiently sobering thought to guarantee him some form of céad míle fáilte, even if it is through gritted teeth!

As Irish people have we ever been really fussy about the motives or policies of US politicians visiting Ireland, especially when they are investors in Ireland? Not really. I needn’t remind you either how eager we were to celebrate his arrival and take his money, so can we suddenly have standards or opinions that differ from the other free speaking societies in the western world?

Nevertheless, it is no harm to take note of the profound impact of his actions in Scotland. Much like most self-made businessmen, Donald Trump could never be accused of being afraid to voice his opinion or to speak his mind. Just ask those folks in the Scottish government, who he described as being small-minded and parochial, after his lengthy and costly legal battle to stop wind farms being built near his luxury golf resort in Aberdeen was thrown out in court. That’s despite the fact that in time the wind farms are expected to generate an income stream in excess of £250m and power over 49,000 homes.

Yes, it seems that where business matters are concerned, all is fair in love and war and like all good businessmen he obviously believes that he is as entitled as anyone to fight his corner by whatever means necessary!

His entrance into the US presidential race, it seems, has only fuelled his appetite for controversy. His unacceptable remarks about Muslims, court judges, women and Mexican immigrants has polarised American opinion, forcing candidates and celebrities to “out” their views at a time when Europe, in particular, needs a strong and stable voice.

From a golfing standpoint, his controversial and unpopular views have already afforded the R&A the opportunity to remove Turnberry from the 2020 Open Championship roster and now that Doral too has lost its WGC status and position on the PGA Tour’s schedule, he must surely be counting the financial cost to his golfing empire.

That Trump has found support from golf’s greatest golfer and ambassador Jack Nicklaus is significant, not just because Nicklaus feels he is an honorable guy but because the actions might now spur the R&A and other leading golfing organisations into clearly defining many of the “grey” areas that have existed in the game for too long.

For example, if the R&A are prepared to remove Turnberry from the Open roster for Trump’s controversial views and they are also prepared to remove Muirfield from the Open Championship roster for their “men only” membership policy, why are they allowing Royal Troon to host the Open Championship this year when they too have a “men only” membership policy?

There is no doubt that golf is an easy target, one that is easily lampooned, but when the R&A came out with this public statement; “The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members”; it begs the question, are they really only limiting this policy to the Open Championship?

Surely the same policy must carry true for all championships, professional or amateur, under their control (the amateur championship is scheduled for the “male only” members club in Portmarnock in 2019). Going further, if they are really determined to address this issue for once and for all, why aren’t they attempting to redefine a club’s status under the R&A’s rules to be one that must include both male and female membership?

If I am being too harsh then I apologise, but it is little wonder golf is suddenly confronted by an identity crisis. As passionate as I am about the game, I can not condone the often “grey and murky” stance adopted by all the leading golfing organisations, around the world, by way of allowing themselves to either accommodate controversial golf clubs or indeed sponsors that fly in the interest of public opinion.

In doing so, they are hurting the game’s integrity as well as its future and by doing so they are not demonstrating any understanding of how the modern world works. Most importantly, they are alienating the spending power and views of the more conscientious younger generation who perhaps see golf a little differently.

And so if golf is truly interested in “pushing on” globally then it should perhaps learn one lesson from Trump’s campaign strategy — they should eliminate the fudge and act definitively in a manner that’s all inclusive.

I’ll hold my breath on that one!


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