The Republican presidential candidates recent comments do not sit well with golfs attempts to be more all-inclusive but a solution may not be straightforward
Even months of shadowing his predecessor, Peter Dawson, cannot have prepared Martin Slumbers for the blizzard that engulfed him upon taking office as the chief executive of the R& A. Sympathy for Slumbers, who had hitherto enjoyed a successful corporate life in blissful anonymity, is legitimate.
If Donald Trumps 2014 purchase of Turnberry was regarded as controversial because of the rancour over the tycoons golf course development in Aberdeenshire, such dreads were overridden by hope. Turnberry had not worked under a series of previous owners, the Ailsa course was seriously in need of adjustment and here was person as welcomed by Dawson willing to put in necessary time and, most pertinently, cash. Few others have displayed a willingness to do likewise in recent times in the UK or Ireland.
One glance at Slumbers increasingly uncomfortable demeanor on Monday, however, represented the impact of the Trump/ Turnberry union. The issue here is straightforward; can the R& A retain the Ailsa course as an Open venue while Trump advocating blocking Mexicans, banning Muslims and causing widespread offence as part of his campaign to become president of the United States holds the keys? Surely the alliance is at best incongruous, at the worst impossible?
Slumbers seemed somewhat taken aback by the level of scrutiny afforded to this topic, offering a continual willingness to focus on the golf. Good luck with that, as the world and its uncle offer sentiment on what penalties or otherwise should be attached to Trumps vociferously stated opinions. The chief executive slipped down the disappointing and cliched road of being unwilling to publicly mix athletic and politics; not only is that crossover the very essence of this debate, it is ludicrous to insist the two never shall meet.
Just when the R& A stepped into something approaching modernity with the acceptance of female members, another monumental narrative with far-reaching implications landed at the door.
Yet through no flaw of his own, Slumbers finds himself in the impossible posture of trying to maintain the status of one of Britains finest courses, placate a loose-cannon owner and being watched to uphold the reputation of a sport that has constantly suffered because of a discriminatory past. Irrespective of how you break this scenario down, the R& A cannot win.
On the face of it, the R& A and its chief executive have two alternatives. It could instantly insist all ties will be severed with Turnberry and no major ever held there until such a point as Trump vacates the premises. Via this posture, golf while anxious to be as inclusive as possible could for once claim the moral high ground.
The alternative? One as advocated by Dawson, who claimed it absurd that remarks stimulated on the political trail in the United States could influence where the R& A chooses to host championships. Head down, plough on, continue to support Trumps rehabilitation of Turnberry the resort as well as the golf course and simply manage all the flak that comes with it.
The trouble is, both sets of approaches carry inherent dangers.
If the R& A temporarily casts Turnberry aside, it would be to the detriment of the Open Championship and an area of Scotland that benefits enormously in economic terms from the rare appearance of the Claret Jug. Trump wouldnt be the sole loser; golf would join him.
In the short term, Trump would unavoidably get by with bravado and wave upon wave of big-spending American guests but sooner or later the is a lack of the Open or, presumably, a women or seniors equivalent would bite. This wasnt in the script when Trump took Turnberry on, meaning quite how he would react to a snub from golfing officialdom is probably not an appealing idea. He is a hard-nosed industrialist who will play by hard-nosed rules.
In a wider context, there is debate to be had as to whether the political opinions of an owner or membership should actually identify where golf tournaments are held. It is hardly a leap of faith to infer that a significant proportion of those who control some of the other venues that stage the Open would not differ largely from Trump in terms of political allegiance. You need not wander far at some of the UKs top courses to meet with genuine cause for offence.
Under plan B, the R& A could shrug its shoulders and be as adamant as possible that Turnberry retains its status despite what Trump may or may not say. The public backlash for that would be as inevitable as it would be enormous. Golfs governing body would appear arrogant and out of touch, disregarding sensitive issues in the name of feeding the corporate animal that is the third major of the year. Slumbers would be ridiculed for undermining talk of inclusiveness by contradictory behaviour.
The scale with which Trump upstaged the Womens British Open last summertime at Turnberry was both appalling and an insult to the integrity of the tournament. One can only assume that an Open would be worse, with the R& A thereby existing in a state of fear and anxiety over what this individual may say when it is trying to showcase all that is good about golf.
The willingness of Slumbers to kick this issue securely into the tall grass until such a day as a Turnberry venue decision is absolutely necessary and it wont host the Open before 2022 might be infuriating. But it is understandable. Where the chief executive likely did go wrong this week was by not explaining precisely the scale of his predicament.
Next week in Miami, Trumps Blue Monster course at Doral will stage the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Noises have already been made about a fresh venue for the event, with the PGA Tour quoting a discrepancies between Trumps policies and a welcome environment for the game of golf. There are other factors at play here; a number of leading professionals are far from sold on Doral, which must be offset against commercial value besides issues of reputation. Thats the simple basis on which golf works, it would be naive to suppose otherwise.
Recent months have altered the backdrop to that Miami competition, perhaps for good. Turnberry is not yet in the same frame but this problem wont go away; affording Slumbers a headache that can surely only intensify.
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