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  • Alistair Tait

Golf Only Has Itself To Blame

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

What a mess the world of professional golf seems to be in right now. All because of the worst of all evils: money.

And the professional game only has itself to blame.

For years the PGA Tour and European Tour, now the DP World Tour, have measured success in dollars and cents. FedEx Cup money, Race to Dubai money, the Player Impact Program, bonus pools, Rolex Series events, World Golf Championships, where the main hype has been how much money each new “initiative” is throwing at players, how there are more tournaments with bigger prize funds – “north of $200 million" European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley proudly said when he announced the 2022 DP World Tour schedule – then can they really complain when others come along and offer to trump them with even more money? Even if it comes from a country with scant regard for human rights like Saudi Arabia?

As I’ve said previously, Saudi Arabia isn’t the first regime to try to sports wash itself with wads of cash, and golf and golfers haven’t exactly taken the moral high ground over the years when it comes to accepting money from dodgy governments. Just the opposite.

Saudi Arabia has more money than both main tours put together and it’s dangling suitcases full of greenbacks under the noses of the game’s top players gathered for this week’s $5 million Asian Tour event the Saudi International at Royal Greens Country Club in Jeddah, trying to get them to sign up to a proposed new golf league. The threat it poses to world golf is as huge as the sums the Saudis are offering.

And players are listening and pondering, especially established stars coming to the end of their careers looking to cash in on potentially the greatest financial mulligan of all time. Read Tony Jacklin’s thoughts on what he would have done if similar sums had been around at the end of his playing days.

Lee Westwood summed up the situation perfectly when he said this week:

“The other tours see the Asian Tour as a threat now, don't they, because of the huge investment? It's kind of like a game of poker really where the European Tour and the PGA Tour have had the biggest hand, and now there's somebody else come to the table with more chips, so everybody is on their guard and very defensive and are clearly seeing the Asian Tour as a threat. Nobody can deny that. There wouldn't have been all this trouble with releases and things like that if that wasn't the case.
“Yeah, I can see why they feel threatened, but at the same time, the PGA Tour and the European Tour have gone into areas I suppose in the Asian Tour's path over the years and never had any problem playing tournaments all over Asia and the Middle East, which I think has probably cost Asia, as well. Now that the Asian Tour has this backing, it appears to me like they're just doing what the PGA Tour and the European Tour have been doing the last 25 years.”

There’s the rub: the European Tour hasn’t given a minute’s thought to staging events in Asia over the years. Yet is unhappy when the Asian Tour announces a tournament in England, as I reported on here. The PGA Tour hasn’t stopped to ponder that it has lured all the world’s top stars to its circuit and enfeebled the Asian, Sunshine, Australasian and European Tours as a result. To be fair, the PGA Tour didn’t set out to weaken other tours. It’s just been a by product of success. For years the American circuit has lived by the golden rule: we have all the gold, we make the rules.

Now that another proposed tour has come along with more gold suddenly the PGA Tour, and DP World Tour, feels threatened. So much for the laissez-faire, free-market economics of professional golf. Or has that system ever really been in place?

John Huggan’s insightful interview with Phil Mickelson in Golf Digest would suggest otherwise. Similarly, the obvious discontent from established European stars with the DP World Tour threating Ryder Cup sanctions against them suggests the players feel they’ve been misled. (So much for the image of the European Tour as one big happy family, huh?)

Ditto for PGA Tour members threatened with bans if they play in a new Saudi golf league.

For decades it has been perfectly okay for the world’s top stars to accept appearance money anywhere and everywhere, but suddenly it’s a no-no? No wonder professional golf is in this mess, and players are unhappy.

When you create a Frankenstein monster based on money, then you shouldn’t be surprised when it turns around and threatens you.

#JustSaying: “When it comes to money, you don’t know any man.” Line from the movie Hombre

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