NEW YORK, NY. As the Presidential campaign heads to its crescendo moment on election day November 8 — three U.S. Senators signed a letter to the attention of the United States Golf Association (USGA) asking the group to move the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National in Bedminster to another location, according to a USA Today report. The event was selected by the USGA in May 2012 and is slated for July 13-16next year. The brewing storm has escalated during the Presidential campaign given the various comments Donald J. Trump has made concerning minorities and, more recently, on an audio tape that was leaked that included Trump making various crude remarks about women.
The three senators included Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Interestingly, not one of the two NJ U.S. Senators signed the letter in question.
The letter was addressed to USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and emphasizes that an association based on opening doors to all groups to the game of golf cannot in good conscience have its flagship women’s event staged at a location in which the host has taken clear stances through strident positions that undermine such expansion efforts.
When Trump made comments concerning Mexicans early in ’16 — the USGA, along with the other key golf groups in America such as the PGA of America and LPGA, took a unified position against such comments. While the USGA’s position against Trump’s comments is clear — what is equally clear is the association’s decision to remain in Bedminster for the women’s championship.
Whether Trump wins the election or not — the USGA will be asked countless questions leading up to and including when the event commences. The focus will shift from the players and the quality of the course — which is considerable — to whether the mere playing of an event owned by a person who has made such inappropriate comments is consistent with its position in the game.
A similar situation occurred in ’16 when The Women’s Open was held at Trump’s Turnberry Resort in Scotland. The R&A, organizers of the event, opted to keep the event there and much of that decision rested on logistics in getting a replacement site ready. The R&A was not especially thrilled when Trump made a grandiose appearance via his helicopter during the event and with it drew attention away from the event itself.
In addition to the USGA situation — the PGA of America faces a comparable issue when staging it’s ’17 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow GC in Charlotte, NC. The State of North Carolina passed an Anti-Transgender bill and that action prompted the National Basketball Association (NBA) in moving its planned All-Star game for that year to another location. No action has been taken by the PGA of America and the rationale given is that since the PGA Championship is being staged on private property the provisions of the law itself do not cover those who attending the event. You can be sure that such questions will arise when that event comes near and is being played. Those questions were asked of Augusta National Golf Club – host for the annual Masters event — until the club decided to open its doors to two females — Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore in 2012.
On the flip side Trump’s involvement with golf has been a positive force in terms of taking underperforming key properties and bringing them back to life. The most notable situations are Doral in Miami and Turnberry in Scotland. In the former’s case the Florida facility was created in the 1960’s and much of the property had developed a tired and dated look to it. Trump bought the property — hired one golf’s most talented architects in Gil Hanse — the man who designed the staging site for golf in the Summer Olympics — and brought back to the forefront the qualities of the famed Blue Monster course.
Despite Trump’s successful efforts — the PGA Tour opted not to continue the relationship with Trump / Doral and moved the World Golf Championship (WGC) to of all places Mexico. How ironic is that given Trumps earlier comments about the impact of Mexicans who come to America illegally? Clearly, the PGA Tour saw the continued connection to Trump as a liability to its brand and while the losing of such a long standing connection to Doral is regrettable the Tour believes the mere association with Trump can only serve to divert attention from its events and players and the spillover that can cause with other tournament sponsors.
Trump did a similar upgrade to Turnberry and was keen to hire a most able architect in Martin Hawtree and permit him to take a well-respected course and make it even more spectacular with new holes that work the coastline in a magical manner. No decision has been made by the R&A concerning what host role, if any, Turnberry will have in the near term regarding a possible Open Championship. The door has not been closed — but no Open for Turnberry has been awarded either.
There is little question from even his detractors that Trump’s passion for golf is very real and deep. He’s an avid player and his involvement with a range of properties — albeit under his banner — has brought a much needed infusion of money and organization so that the respective properties can once again flourish.
The USGA is not the only group feeling the pressure. The LPGA, the world’s foremost association of women playing professionals, will no doubt feel increased pressure to comment beyond what it has to date. Can the most talented female golf professionals simply look away from the comments Trump has made and carry on with their participation at his property and not feel the least bit awkward given the inconsistency of saying one think and doing the exact opposite?
The strategy to date has been one of denouncing the comments but not going ahead with any boycott in actually playing. Should some of the key players opt to state that they will not play in next year’s U.S. Women’s Open — a very bold action for generally conservative thinking golfers — it would only elevate the pressure on the USGA to reconsider its position in having the event held at Trump’s facility.
The USGA has clearly taken steps to show that is more inclusive. There have been minority members on its Executive Committee and earlier this year the Association selected its second woman — Diana Murphy — to serve as the Association’s second female president. The USGA has stated that none of its national championships are held at clubs that have membership policies that discriminate against women and other minorities. The clubs under the Trump banner do not do that but it is the uncertainty of comments from Donald J. Trump — both past and possibly future — that cause clear palpitations for any group staging its events with his ownership connection. Cutting ties to Trump only gets more difficult as time lapses — getting another facility to host such an important event would not be easy but could be done. The issue for the USGA is also about trying to show that it did not cave to outside pressure in the manner by which it stages its various national championships.
In regards to the letter from the three U.S. Senators the USGA has not offered any comment thus far. That’s a smart decision — for now — given the elevated attention the current Presidential election is going through until its conclusion on election day November 8.
The USGA, along with other golf organizations globally, will need to think very long and hard about what it sees as its role. Saying one thing and actually doing another does little long term good for a game that has long tried to remove itself from the days where outright hostility to all non-favored groups was common practice. It’s interesting to note that exactly 100 years ago clear actions were underway to secure women the right to vote in America. One would have thought much has been learned since then. Or has it?