Does Golf Have a Social Obligation?

I had planned to write in this space about my recent visit to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. It seemed busy and as usual, I saw old friends and met new ones in our wonderful yet sometimes challenging industry. I heard the usual statistics about participation and programs to grow the game and viewed golf training aids and the new club offerings from major manufacturers.

However, I decided to write about this morning’s discussion on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” program where host Brandel Chamblee took a very strong position condemning participation in next week’s Saudi International event in Saudi Arabia.

4 of the 5 top ranked players in the world will be playing in Saudi Arabia, and it’s widely presumed that significant appearance fees are paid to top players in this (and some other) European Tour events.

Chamblee contended that while players certainly have the right to pursue the financial rewards of their playing success he feels they are morally wrong for supporting events benefitting the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in light of their human rights violations, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Additionally, he notes the significant potential risk to their personal safety that participating players assume.

I think Chamblee has a point, not only from a moral perspective but also in the interest of growing the game. As we all know, golf participation is declining and the various programs developed to grow the game have yielded mixed results at best. Many in the industry see the TopGolf phenomenon as a “feeder” to the game. The problem is there are several fundamental disconnects between TopGolf and Golf.

TopGolf is entertainment. It’s a sports bar with a driving range attached. TopGolf offers instant gratification, which is an ever growing fundamental of our society. Golf is a long term reward activity. All one has to do is visit a TopGolf and then visit your local club or daily-fee golf course and it’s easy to see the difference in clientele. Not only does TopGolf boast greater cultural and gender diversity, but those turned off by golf’s and golf clubs’ numerous and sometimes onerous rules visit TopGolf wearing something other than khakis and white golf shirts. That segment of the population eschews the perceived stuffiness of many golf clubs, along with the often lacking accommodation for a family-friendly atmosphere which hinders golf’s growth potential.

Those same folks are the people Golf needs to embrace and include to grow. Often, they are more socially conscious than golf’s traditional market and seeing the most visible players in the world supporting an event at a venue associated with the issues prominent in Saudi Arabia will be a turnoff.

As a capitalist, I’d never advocate any type of ban on their participation. They have a right to make a living. However, “for the good of the game” it seems as though these leading players might have a moral and social responsibility to make a statement condemning what goes on in places like Saudi Arabia.

Watch Chamblee’s comments HERE.