x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Traditional mindset stymies progress of golf

Sergio Garcia crack towards Tiger Woods and European Tour chief's gaffe proceeding it reinforces the not-incorrect notion that golf remains largely populated, and governed, by like-minded, affluent white guys who rarely mix with the hoi polloi.

Sergio Garcia, right, finished out of contention for the BMW PGA Championship. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
Sergio Garcia, right, finished out of contention for the BMW PGA Championship. Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

The week at Wentworth might have been worse, actually.

For instance, Sergio Garcia could have won the European Tour's flagship event, at which point some context-challenged analyst would have saluted him for his steely perseverance.

Which would have provided yet another stanza in golf's droning background-music theme, unofficially entitled, "two yards forward, two metres back".

During a year in which Augusta National finally read the cultural writing on the wall, opening the club to female members for the first time, the game last week took yet another wrong turn into the private gates of exclusion and discrimination.

First, Garcia made an off-colour crack about serving fried chicken to Tiger Woods, a stereotype that remains painful for Americans with black heritage, evoking a time when many restaurants, hotels and drinking fountains were labelled "coloured" only.

Which is exactly the antiquated term that the European Tour chief executive, George O'Grady, used a day later while attempting to deflect attention from Garcia's gaffe, noting that "most of Sergio's friends are coloured athletes in the United States".

It reinforces the not-incorrect notion that golf remains largely populated, and governed, by like-minded, affluent white guys who rarely mix with the hoi polloi.

Small wonder, then, that O'Grady elected not to fine Garcia for his verbal shank. It seems likely O'Grady was eager that his tour's biggest tournament not be interrupted by headlines about Garcia being sanctioned or suspended.

There is more hand-wringing and heat to come.

In July, the British Open will be played at Muirfield, one of three courses in the Open rotation that still clings to an all-male membership policy.

If men with money want to hang out together, so be it.

But as stages for public-access events like the oldest tournament in golf, the fact that women are not welcome in certain clubhouses is an anachronism.

Golf might be founded on tradition but, purely from an economic sense, it can ill afford to be running off customers, if not offending them.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which runs the British Open and is the rule-making body for the sport outside North America, still has no female members.

Since Augusta has finally waved its cultural flag of surrender, the R&A has become the last public vestige of an old-boy mind set that many still associate with the broader game itself.

The sad part is, as evidenced by the remarks of last week, those fans are not wrong.

Forget dragging golf into the 21st century.

At this point, reaching the 20th century would qualify as progress.

 

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