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  • Alistair Tait

How Did Golf Become So Toxic?

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

So much for golf being the honourable game, the royal and ancient pastime, a game for gentlemen and gentlewomen played by gentlemen and gentlewomen.

All those descriptions fly out the window when we think of the current state of professional golf. Court battles, vindictiveness, death threats, name calling, players turning on one another, calling each other liars.

How did professional golf become so toxic?

Anyone else fed up with the whole unsavoury scene that is the LIV Golf versus the PGA Tour/European Tour saga?

Thought so.

Golf has long prided itself on being above the shenanigans that dog other sports, that bring other games into disrepute. We could be mistaken for thinking our game is really no different when we look at the current state of professional golf.

All because of money, the worst of all evils.

I write this from Royal Dornoch Golf Club, where the top senior women and men are competing in the Senior Amateur and Women’s Senior Amateur Championships. It’s a world away from the excrement that seems to be flying around 226 miles south in the Genesis Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club.

Did Billy Horschel insinuate that some of the LIV rebels were liars, on the record? Are European Tour pros turning on fellow members and telling them to get lost? Did Ian Poulter have to go to court for the right to play a tournament on a tour where he’s made 389 appearances since he made his European Tour debut in 1999? Has Graeme McDowell really received death threats for his decision to join the LIV Tour?

Yes to all of the above.

Whatever happened to the measured approach golf has prided itself on for so long? Why can’t everyone be, er, professional and sit round a table and talk, come to some agreement about what’s best for golf rather than pursue vested interests?

We seem a million miles away from dialogue right now.

I’m constantly reminded of George Peper’s brilliant speech at the Association of Golf Writers’ Dinner during the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews. With former European Tour and PGA Tour CEOs Ken Schofield and Tim Finchem sitting just feet away, the former Golf Magazine editor put the world of golf in perspective when he said:

“Golf isn’t about FedEx Cups and Race to Dubai points. If professional golf were to vanish from the earth tomorrow, golfers around the world would observe a moment of silence and then go right on playing the game they love. They’d hardly notice the professional tours had disappeared. Golf would carry on.”

It's one of my all time favourite golf quotes.

Talk about a putting professional golf in its place? Talk about an excoriating put down? It was brilliant, and oh so true.

I’m not sure the majority of golf fans care who runs professional golf. They just want to see the best players in the world exhibit their skills. Will the majority of those lucky enough to have tickets for next week’s Open Championship care about the power struggle taking place in professional golf? After all, the world’s top golfers represent a tiny percentage of the total golf population, and the majority have more important things on their minds than who rules professional golf.

Sure, the LIV issue is currently a clubhouse talking point, but it won’t last. Ordinary golfers will soon bore of an issue that’s hard to relate to, especially when we’re talking about sums of money the majority of us can't even imagine. They’ll soon get back to the issues that matter to them: annual subscription costs, greens fees, course conditions, the handicapping system, why is the bunker sand so inconsistent, and the like.

Anyway, the wind is howling across the famed Dornoch links, the Dornoch Firth has a herd of white horses galloping across its surface, the Championship and Struie Courses are in superb condition and the second rounds of both Senior Amateurs Championships have been suspended because strong winds are moving balls on some greens. Proper golf.

A sign on the first tee reminds me that golf is a game #foreveryone, not just the .1% who can hit it 350 yards and command exorbitant sums of money. So, I’m heading out to walk one of Scotland’s greatest links, soak in the atmosphere exuding from the Dornoch Firth, let the wind brush back my hair. It’s a world away from the toxicity that seems to be pervading the Renaissance Club.

I know where I’d rather be.

#JustSaying: “The payment of appearance fees in events that purport to be ‘championships’, where everyone starts on an even footing, has forever been an embarrassment. … It is demeaning.” Peter Thomson

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