When historians eventually tally the cost of the Donald Trump era, the manifold indecencies of which culminated in Wednesday’s sacking of the United States Capitol during a failed insurrection, golf will not be counted among its casualties.
The game will instead be portrayed as Trump’s refuge, something he did while ignoring a pandemic that has claimed 365,000 lives, refusing to acknowledge a resounding electoral defeat, and inciting feeble-minded fascists to violence that left five people dead at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
That’s the best case scenario.
The alternative? That a sport which prides itself on values like honesty, integrity and devotion to the rules will be characterized as a welcoming sanctuary for a brazen and amoral insurrectionist, a world in which a racist con man was never discomfited, even while taking a wrecking ball to the constitution and the rule of law.
Like the nation itself, golf has been measurably diminished by Donald Trump’s presence, and not merely in the optics of his choosing to play in times of great crisis and at taxpayer expense (though at least golf limited the damage he might otherwise have inflicted during the hours spent on the course). The damage golf sustained over the last handful of years is trivial by comparison to the country at large, but bears accounting nonetheless.
Two of the sport’s most iconic venues have become untouchable, at least for as long as his name remains above the door. The ‘Blue Monster’ course at Miami’s Doral Resort, which Trump bought in 2012, was home to a PGA Tour event for more than 50 years until the toxicity of his 2016 presidential campaign forced the Tour to relocate the tournament to Mexico City. Turnberry, on Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, is one of the finest venues on the Open Championship rota and has produced some of the most memorable finishes of the last 40-odd years. But the Open has stayed away since he bought it in 2014, and will likely do so for as long as he keeps it out of reach of the bailiffs.
Other major championships have felt his caress and withered. The 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, held at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey, was a painful spectacle as most players tried to ignore the groping elephant in the room. His Bedminster course is scheduled to host the 2022 PGA Championship, a fact that now has the PGA of America bunkered down under sustained criticism for a decision made in 2014. Such are the perils of assigning championship venues far in advance; you just never know when you’ve hitched your premier event to a sociopath. Though there was a hint back in 2015, when the PGA of America chose to kill the Grand Slam of Golf rather than play it at Trump’s Los Angeles course in the wake of his racist comments about Mexicans.
The odds that ’22’s PGA Championship will happen as scheduled in New Jersey are about as good as the chances of you or I winning it. Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s CEO, was a banker and has an alert eye for high-risk exposure. He knows that Trumpism is likely to be an equally incendiary force in the ’22 midterm elections and that any affiliation is poisonous. Waugh will be forced to move the event and face down a small but vocal faction of his membership who remain true believers. Moving its major from Trump National has been debated internally at the PGA for more than two years, but executives have been reluctant to antagonize a famously vindictive man who controls the Internal Revenue Service. Such concerns melt away in 10 days, if not sooner.
Reputations too have been left bruised in the eyes of many golf fans. Like those of Jack Nicklaus and Nancy Lopez, both of whom have long been celebrated for their character and rectitude. Both supported Trump in the waning days of the election campaign, despite clear signs he would not accept any result he didn’t like. Nicklaus and Lopez have a right to support whatever candidate they choose, but they are not exempt from scrutiny for a choice publicly stated. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s murderous riot in Washington, D.C., Lopez at least tweeted that she disagreed with Trump and was rooting for the country to unite under President Biden. Jack has remained silent as a sphinx.
Arguably even more sullied are the reputations of Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam, who attended the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the man who just one day earlier had incited the mob that killed a police officer. In an ideal world, the accomplishments for which Player and Sorenstam were being recognized with one of the nation’s highest civilian honors could be viewed independently of the administration conferring the honor, but like so many other norms that standard has been laid waste by Trump. Neither Player nor Sorenstam released photos from the ceremony. At least the third professional golfer “honored,” Babe Zaharias, doesn’t have to live with the shame, having died more than 60 years ago.
Bryson DeChambeau had shed the Trump Golf logo from his golf bag when he competed this week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Time will tell if others—like PGA Tour Champions regulars Rocco Mediate and Scott McCarron—do the same.
The notion that an association with the outgoing president might be cause for shame will trigger Trumpers in golf, who are accustomed to justifying his obscenities with whataboutery and conspiracy theories, who foam at the mouth when confronted with views alien to their echo chamber, and who can no longer distinguish the conservatism of old from the cult of today. They passionately (and rightly) celebrate Folds of Honor veterans yet defend Cadet Bone Spurs’ many calumnies against the military and their families. They mock (rightly) Bill Clinton’s audacious score-keeping, but turn a deaf ear when Trump demands officials “find” enough votes to flip a legitimate election in his favor. Golf no more belongs to that hypocritical cadre than does America itself.
Whatever the future holds for Donald Trump after the noon hour on January 20, the events of January 6 that left five people dead ought to make him a pariah everywhere. Including in golf. This game should not be the familiar bosom to which he can safely retreat while fending off indictments. He is finally and deservedly being expelled from civic life. He needs to be driven from golf, too.
Published at Golfweek.com, January 9, 2020.