Looking at golf as sport vs. game

By Charlie Blanchard

If you’ve been reading golf news lately, whether in print or online, you know that a golf “civil war” is raging between the Saudi Arabia-sponsored LIV Golf Tour and the long-established American PGA Tour.

Earlier this year, the PGA Tour suspended several players who signed up to LIV Golf because they knew they were violating PGA Tour rules. But the first real salvo that opened the war came less than three weeks ago, when a US District Court judge in Northern California ruled that three LIV golfers, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones, were not eligible for a restraining order Disposition (TRO) ) that would nullify their PGA Tour suspension and allow them to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Prior to this case, 11 former PGA Tour members and current LIV golfers, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, along with the three players named above, filed an antitrust lawsuit (with LIV’s paid attorney) in the same Northern California county, alleging the PGA was tour has established a professional golf monopoly. This case is scheduled to be heard sometime in August 2023.

Which brings me to the heart of this week’s writing: The legal maneuvering and machinations of big name, big money golfers who want a lot more big money has everything to do with professional golf and nothing to do with the fun game of golf that you and I do to play.

That’s a gargantuan difference, which on one hand I find really disturbing given what’s happening to the tsars and stars of men’s pro tour golf, which could ultimately change the landscape of professional golf.

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At the same time, I would be enjoying my weekly golf games just as much as I have been. In a way, this is the ultimate fork. I don’t need golf on TV to play and enjoy my game. When we watch golf on TV, also in other media variants (e.g. streaming), we are entertained. That’s what the professional field is all about: entertainment.

When we play our golf game, we enjoy recreation. There is one big difference. While we have to admit that the game and sport are linked, the fact of the matter is that professional sports rely on the game, not the other way around.

The recreational game of golf has been played for centuries – I’ll cover that history shortly here. We have only been following the professional sport of golf electronically for about six decades.

When it comes to separating the sport from the game, Tim Gavrich, writing for www.golfpass.com, says, “The sport of golf is what you see on TV. It can often be compelling… and lucrative for those directly involved. But at the end of the day, golf is a commercial product designed and calibrated to convert our ability to be entertained into ever-increasing tournament dollars, broadcast rights fees, advertising revenue, and board compensation.” When the TV sport of golf suddenly ceased to exist recreational golf would continue as it has for hundreds of years to come.

Let the record show that I do not demean professional golfers as a general group. I certainly think that the current crowd of golfers who have chosen Saudi money, probably to the exclusion of their golfing heritage, have made a huge mistake. As for the PGA Tour professional golfers, my heroes remain Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart and Tiger Woods.

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Neither of them, I emphatically assert, would have given up the American Professional Tour and its legacy for a LIV Golf robbery of cash.

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