Golf’s Moral & Cultural Dilemma AND Opportunity

Note: This post was originally published on January 8, 2021. On January 11, 2021, The PGA of America announced that the 104th PGA Championship would be relocated to an alternate venue. We applaud the PGA’s decision and look forward to the positive impact their statement will have on the game of golf at large.

In 2022 the 104th PGA Championship is scheduled to be held at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey. Given the harrowing events of this week in Washington, DC the game and industry of golf are confronted with a moral, cultural (and for the PGA of America) a financial dilemma and an opportunity.

Golf has always prided itself as “a gentleman’s game”. Unfortunately, as participation has declined steadily during the past 20 years golf course facilities have closed at an alarming rate. The game has failed to effectively reach out to and attract replacements for those leaving the game in favor of more culturally diverse activities. Golf is perceived by “The 3 M’s” (Millennials, Minorities and Moms) as a game for “rich white guys”. 4 years ago, when asked at the PGA Show why none of his friends played golf, my (then) 19 year old college freshman son replied “because of the suits upstairs”. This is a problem hindering the growth of golf. If they are mandated to wear khakis and white golf shirts, and leave their cell phones at home they’re not interested.

As we embark on the new year, some will say that golf had a great year in 2020. That’s true (to some degree). Rounds were up, many clubs reported increased membership and golf proved itself to be a compatible activity with social distancing in the COVID era. It was also still tough on many facilities who saw their ancillary revenues (Food & Beverage, Events, etc.) decline precipitously. Overall revenues in 2020 were mixed, despite the increases in play, based on a brief survey we took compared to 2019. We all only hope that the spike in participation is sustainable, saving some courses from becoming housing developments and spurring growth. Golf (like society) in 2020 saw increased scrutiny on the social sensitivities of club names and logos. This trend is not likely to subside.

As a self-described “gentleman’s game” one would think that the actions of Donald Trump earlier this week which clearly incited the violent insurrection at the US Capitol that the golf “establishment” would be quick to condemn his behavior. So far, “crickets”.

As I have written on numerous occasions about golf’s “culture”, I see now both a dilemma and opportunity for the game. The dilemma, at this point is mostly (but not entirely) focused on the PGA of America. Is it morally, socially or culturally intelligent, or even acceptable to hold one of golf’s four “major” championships at a venue owned by an individual who has not only incited violence on our institutions of democracy, but waged a 4 year war on just those segments of the population that golf needs to grow (The 3 M’s)? Donald Trump has stated that golf should be “aspirational”.

His behavior would discourage any of the groups we need to reach from pursuing the game. Off the course, he denigrates women, minorities and others. On the course, he’s known to cheat, abuse the golf course and completely disregard other players. Not very “gentlemanly”.

Golf’s (and the PGA’s) opportunity is to reject this behavior in favor of the long held traditions of the game we all hold so dear of sportsmanship and respect for other players and the golf course.

We are a game where players call penalties not so much on each other as we do on ourselves. We accept the results, shake hands (or fist bump) and go have a drink. One of the great images in professional golf is players remaining onsite to congratulate the winner. Donald Trump’s actions of late not only inciting violence but otherwise seeking to undermine a free and fair election, with no evidence of the fraud he claims are contrary to the culture of golf. The PGA of America, with a checkered past in areas of diversity says “we make golf a better game”. Prove it.

I join the broad call for the PGA of America to relocate the 2022 PGA Championship. Yes, it may cost them a few bucks, but the moral and cultural benefits would send a loud statement to those golf needs to reach for growth that we are a welcoming game for everyone. My mother always said “turn a lemon into lemonade”. This is golf’s opportunity. Like the USGA says, do it “for the good of the game”.