Note: Ordinarily I would never involve anything political in what is and shall remain a golf blog and this entry is one where I have tried to leave politics out of things and focus on something golf-specific. I have thought about this issue for several months, and the case I’m going to make is solely based on the best interests of the game. I’ve written three different drafts about this and thrown them away because I didn’t like the tenor. This isn’t about me; it’s about the message it sends to the best female golfers in the world and the simple fact that they deserve the greatest stage possible for this country’s national championship (and not the optics and distraction that holding this event would bring). My larger issue was, is, and remains the thought process with the USGA who simply cannot allow a national championship to be held at venues owned by people who clearly do not welcome and value women. This has nothing to do with what happens on November 8th but everything about not forcing athletes to have to play a major championship at a course named by someone who has made reprehensible comments about women on a regular, ongoing, and pervasive basis.
The USGA, which is the governing body for golf in the United States, has made a raft of terrible decisions in the last several years (I’ve tried to chronicle them with evidence). While many of them cannot be changed, one decision that they must make is the moving of the 2017 US Women’s Open away from Trump National GC in New Jersey. It should have never been awarded, and even if removing it means writing a check, it has to be done sooner than later rather than have this fiasco occur. Below I’ve listed each reason with an explanation.
1) Unlike Augusta National (which is a private course that can sustain itself without certain revenue sources), the USGA needs advertising revenue and the money they get from Fox. When Augusta National was protested by Martha Burk in 2003 and 2004, they simply canceled advertising and ran the tournament commercial-free, which kept sponsors out of hot water. To the club’s credit, their membership has become more diverse with the addition of at least two women (including Stanford President Condozoleeza Rice). The USGA does not have this luxury. They need TV sponsors and they need the ad revenue. So go ahead and find sponsors who are willing to deal with the inevitable optics that are forthcoming (if you’re a member of one of these companies PR teams, might want to stock up on Red Bull now).
2) It’s unfair to the players. If this is the National Championship, then the USGA has a duty to conduct a championship free of distractions. You’re putting players in a terribly awkward position (and I will freely admit that opinions of the players will be all over the board; I’ll also freely admit that several players will have well-crafted responses that say nothing about this budding controversy and I’m sure you’d find multiple players who will have voted for the individual in question). The USGA already has a policy about not using courses that discriminate based on gender and race. You’ll turn this tournament into a sideshow that will make the 1990 PGA Championship (more on that later) look like fun times. You can pick a dozen courses that would easily hold this tournament without controversy. It’s an unnecessary distraction. The US Open is hard enough.
3) The USGA talks about growing the game. So why patronize someone who considers golf to be a game only for the rich (which runs counter to the USGA’s message)? My larger issue is that why would you have ever gone to this individual in the first place? To their credit the USGA has tried to push the men’s Open to more public courses (some have gone better than others, but it’s still a noble idea). If you’re going to use private courses, why not ones that aren’t a PR nightmare? Off the top of my head, I’d LOVE to see the USGA let the women have a crack at Bethpage Black (I’m sure the women would relish the opportunity), and Christina Kim’s love of Oakmont (and its rich history) makes it a no-brainer. What about Riviera in Los Angeles, or Torrey Pines in San Diego (both classic, worthy tests that the women have yet to see in a major)? Or Pebble Beach? The women deserve the right to play these classic tracks; Fox would love it because they’re not trying to deal with an unknown course (plus, by going West you take thunderstorms out of the equation). What about Kiawah Island or Harbour Town? Heck, bring it to the local area and play it at Congressional!
4) Back to the 1990 USPGA Championship at Shoal Creek. The club president (Hal Thompson) was asked about why they didn’t have any African-American members, and he responded with “that’s just not done here” which meant that all anyone remembers about that tournament was the controversy (Wayne Grady won if you’re curious). The PGA of America could have, and should have, moved the event. They didn’t. Every single day that the USGA sits around and doesn’t move the event makes it that much harder to move. If they want to wait until after the election, then fine…but make the call and make it defiantly. The US Women’s Open should be about (as the USGA likes to say) identifying the best player and not about 2 weeks of controversy over why they chose the venue that they did (and everything the course’s namesake has said will come tumbling out). This isn’t fair to the 156 women who will tee it up.
5) Messaging and sportsmanship. The comments made about women by the man whose name is on the course are uniformly deplorable. I’ve never heard Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or anyone in the game talk like that. To put the world best female golfers in a place whose namesake speaks the way he does simply cannot be allowed to happen. The point of golf is this- it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your faith is. On Thursday of the tournament everyone starts at the same spot and whoever is the best over the 4 days wins. That’s the beauty of sports. You don’t get a head start because you’re from a specific part of the world, nor do you get penalized for your beliefs or your orientation. The best player wins. That’s one of the things I love about the sport; how you’ll see a scene like last summer when so many of his fellow pros congratulated Dustin Johnson either at the course or on Twitter. He played fantastic and deserved to win. Or how so many LPGA pros congratulated Brittany Lang on her win at CordeValle but all felt terrible at how the USGA completely mishandled a penalty to Anna Nordqvist. It’s what makes golf unique. Their athletic abilities are what we should be celebrating, not their looks on a 1-10 scale. Your clubs, the ball, and the course don’t care if you’re a model or not, or if you’re thin or not. Not how, but how many.
So move the tournament. Do it now. For the good of the game.