The US Women’s Open At Trump National Could Have Major Implications For The Future Of Golf
The culture war spills onto the golf course
There’s a minor storm brewing in the world of golf — some of golf’s governing bodies are turning a blind eye to misogyny, racism, and kleptocracy. Here’s a rundown of the issues at play.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) runs the US Women’s Open. The event is also sanctioned by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. A few years back, the USGA chose Trump National at Bedminster, NJ as the host venue for the US Women’s Open in July 2017. Given Trump’s long history of misogynistic and sexist comments, and the long list of sexual harassment allegations against Trump, it is rather disturbing that the premier women’s golf event is about to boost the wealth and reputation of a self-proclaimed sexual predator.
Most recently, Trump’s attitudes on sexual harassment were abundantly clear when he publicly came to Bill O’Reilly’s defense. In fact, the O’Reilly fallout forebodes what may be in store at the US Women’s Open, a sponsored event benefiting an unpopular President with a history of sexual misconduct.
This doesn’t have to be about politics. Nearly all of us have a close relative impacted by sexual abuse. Nearly every woman has dealt with sexist attitudes in the workplace. Regardless of political affiliation, most reasonable people can agree that a high-quality venue not owned by a misogynist is a hands-down better choice for the US Women’s Open than Trump National. Christine Brennan of USA Today and Ron Sirak of Golf Digest also clearly explains that the venue goes against golf’s purported message of inclusion and respect for women.
So how did we get to this point?
In spite of vocal opposition from within, the USGA execs decided in 2012 that Trump deserved a major women’s event. In 2015, after Trump tried to claim that the golf industry supported his controversial comments on Mexican immigrants, the major governing golf bodies, including the USGA and the LPGA, issued a joint statement to clarify their “strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf”.
But these words have not been backed by action from the USGA and LPGA. The poor messaging by these groups is highlighted after every Trump antic, most notably the Access Hollywood bombshell. Instead of swiftly acting to move the venue for the US Women’s Open, they have engaged in verbal jiu jitsu to frame the controversy as a political issue instead of a women’s rights issue. As if the USGA’s focus on conducting a “comprehensive test of golf” makes it ok to overlook misogyny and assault. As if deceptively conflating the venue with politics somehow makes them apolitical and virtuous.
The LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, went as far as to say that the LPGA “doesn’t have anything to prove about women’s rights.” Indeed, the women who founded the LPGA don’t have anything to prove on women’s rights. But Commissioner Whan, you are no Babe Zaharias. As an organization, being a women’s rights pioneer does not give the LPGA the license to hit modern speed bumps at reckless speeds. The women’s rights movement is not immune to backward steps. By playing at this course, the LPGA is not creating a new opportunity for its players; it is normalizing rape culture and disrespecting millions of women.
To be clear, moving the US Women’s Open venue is likely expensive for the USGA in the short term, especially if Trump demands his pound of flesh. This crass monetary argument seems to have prevailed over the moral argument. Unfortunately for these golf organizations, even their monetary calculations appear misguided. Several grassroots groups have successfully penalized businesses that directly or indirectly support Trump and his rhetoric. Shannon Coulter’s GrabYourWallet campaign has helped remove many Trump products from retail shelves. Sleeping Giants has helped steer away some of Breitbart’s ad revenue. Outrage on social media took down Bill O’Reilly by demanding that corporations not support a culture of sexual harassment.
Multiple grassroots groups (Wall of Us, UltraViolet, @Alt_USGA, @DIVEST_45, and Golfers Opposing Bigotry) are appealing to sponsors of the US Women’s Open to move the event. These sponsors — Lexus, American Express, Deloitte, and Rolex — have been largely silent. Lexus and American Express have responded with weak statements claiming zero control over the US Women’s Open venue. So we are being asked to believe that these brands have lost control of their brand image; they have handed the USGA a bag of cash so they can be helplessly paraded as supporters of misogyny.
The Trump controversy will likely damage the appeal of the USGA and their ability to attract future sponsors. Golf’s governing bodies can also expect some tough questions, stemming from their support of Trump, when golf is being considered for inclusion in future Olympics. Inaction by golf’s bodies today could hurt the game’s image, continue golf’s declining participation, and likely reduce future opportunities for players.
To many, the first thought that springs to mind is this: “Surely women golfers do not approve of this venue. They should boycott the event.” Martha Burk, who led the movement against all-male Augusta National in 2003, penned an op-ed last year that asks players to boycott the event. But for many professional golfers, the US Women’s Open is an opportunity to make sporting history; it also represents the largest purse of the year. Few may have the power, security, or willingness to skip the event or even be outspoken.
But even if they shy away from social advocacy, the players should all be concerned about the negative attention from and long-term financial consequences of entangling with Trump. They risk being collateral damage in the broader effort to fight misogyny and workplace harassment. Therefore, as a group, they must push to move the venue.
By hosting the US Women’s Open at Trump National, the USGA will cement golf’s reputation as a sport that turns its back on minorities and women.
The USGA would be well served to learn from the precedent set by the NBA in its choice of venue for the 2017 NBA All-Star game. The NBA Commissioner acted quickly and decisively in moving the venue from Charlotte to unequivocally depict the NBA’s stance on North Carolina’s transgender law of the time. That is how a vigilant sports governing body sends a clear message about its values and attracts the next generation of fans.
“For the good of the game,” the USGA must look for a new venue. They can pick a later date in the year if they have to. They can pick a site that has hosted big events in the past, or they can co-locate with an already scheduled men’s fall event to ease logistics. The sponsors, LPGA, players, and the public all need to do their part in pressuring the USGA. The clock is ticking…