From Donald Trump to course closures, golf and politics must mix

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Donald Trump at Doral
Donald Trump revamped the Doral course near Miami and is doing the same at Turnberry

They used to argue that sport and politics should not mix.

This was the reasoning used to defend the playing of events in apartheid South Africa or to attack the tit-for-tat US and Russian Olympic boycotts of the 1980s.

It was, of course, a notion naive in the extreme. The trivial pursuits of sport go hand in hand with the serious business of government all over the world, and golf is no exception.

Remember US president George W Bush standing on a golf course, as he urged the world to unite against terrorism, before imploring us: "Now, watch this drive," and, in carefree fashion, thrashing away his tee shot?

His successor Barack Obama is another avid golfer. And the man leading the Republican race to follow him into the White House, Donald Trump, is inextricably linked with the game.

Indeed, Trump's political beliefs provide golf with quite the headache at the moment. As the game strives to promote inclusivity, the presidential candidate provokes outrage by talking of banning Muslims from travelling to the US.

Golf has embraced Trump and his largesse but now it is starting to feel rather grubby by association.

The game delighted in his revamping of a tired Doral course near Miami and the £200m he is pouring into restoring what is now known as Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire.

Barack Obama and Tiger Woods
President Barack Obama is a keen golfer and a fan of former world number one Tiger Woods

In March the PGA Tour will play the usual WGC-Cadillac Championship event at Doral but thereafter it will review whether to continue its association with the place in the light of Trump's controversial campaign comments.

The R&A remains quiet over Turnberry's place on the Open rota but acknowledges it is a question that won't go away. Equally, Trump threatens to pull the plug on the project if he is banned from the UK for his comments, as debated by MPs on Monday.

This is the sort of topic that may cross the table of a new body that will further politicise the game following its inaugural meeting this week. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Golf meets for the first time at Westminster on Tuesday.

There are hundreds of these APPGs, which are made up of members of the Houses of Commons and Lords who meet and discuss a vast range of topics. I had a look at the list of groups and here is a sample: angling, antibiotics, bees, boxing, British property owners in Cyprus...

To be honest, life was too short to go beyond the Bs, but you get the idea.

It was about time golf joined that list.

The R&A clubhouse St Andrews
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Golf has already received the backing of the R&A

"It is a sport played by many and could be played by many more," the group's chairman Karl McCartney told BBC Sport. "It's a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone.

"Any perceived barriers to playing every sport, but particularly golf in this context, we need to make sure those perceptions are completely removed and are blown away."

McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln, is a big sports fan and occasional golfer. He wants the new group to give the game a louder voice in the corridors of power.

When public courses face closure from unsympathetic local authorities, golf's cause is often under-represented in council chambers. McCartney envisages the new parliamentary group being able to help make representations on the game's behalf, especially when it takes on municipal decision-makers.

"Definitely, there is so much to do," he said.

"Politicians per se have got no interest in golf at all, but actually most MPs should because if they haven't got a course in their constituency they'll have one near to them. And they will certainly have voters in their constituency who play golf or might want to play golf."

The group is not just open to politicians. Anyone with an interest can join as an associate member, attend meetings and events and have their say.

The group will occasionally sit outside Parliament as well.

"We all know there's a Westminster bubble," McCartney said. "If we can get out to different courses, speak to people on the ground, involved in golf day to day, then we are going to get out these messages about the economic and social good that they do."

At the first meeting the group will hear from Jackie Howe of the National Golf Clubs Advisory Association. With participation and membership numbers under pressure, there should be plenty to consider.

"The important thing is we have a discussion, a debate and conclusions from bringing somebody in to talk about a particular issue in the world of golf," McCartney added.

We can write to government ministers to get them to answer questions or discuss certain things and that's what the vehicle of the All Party Parliamentary Group is all about."

Already the new body has received the support of the R&A and it is reaching out to other organisations within the golf industry.

The formation of this group will not overnight change much in golf but it gives the game a chance to make that inevitable marriage between politics and sport more profitable.

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