As the Sergio Garcia / Tiger Woods racism row escalates, we ask: is golf racist?

The sport needs to react decisively to Garcia's 'joke' if it's serious about changing locker room and stands from being a mostly white domain

The joke wasn't funny any more. It never was, of course, and the sense of revulsion felt by all in golf weighed heavily on Sergio Garcia. A throwaway line dressed up as banter had become a stain on Garcia's character that might never wash away. The talk should have been about golf, a celebration of the stellar talent on show over the next four days at the European Tour's flagship event. Instead Wentworth reeled beneath a racist pall cast by Garcia's ill-judged insult aimed at Tiger Woods.

The sarcastic offer to cook fried chicken for golf's ethnic totem not only pointed to a tolerance of casual racism in the individual, it did nothing to counter the deeply held prejudice that golf is a sport only for middle-class white folk. A sweep of Wentworth's polished lawns reveals precious few black faces. The field of 153 is overwhelmingly white, peppered only by the odd entry from Asia.

Golf is open to all but not all choose to take up the offer, which ought to be a concern for the game's stakeholders, who on days like this are open to the barb that they care more about the mechanics of the putting stroke than the exclusive demography of its constituents.

Garcia was suitably contrite, and as far as anyone can tell, sincere in his apology. He said sorry to the European Tour, his fellow professionals and, most importantly, to Woods, with whom he shares a rivalry that has never been anything but sour and which lately turned toxic. But this was different.

Garcia's remark expressed not outrage at a perceived slight but a dangerous and abhorrent attitude towards a competitor based on race. This is territory from which golf has galloped at a furious rate, yet without ever convincing the black community that sport is a game for them, too. Garcia understood the gravity of his position, claiming that it had kept him awake most of the night and prompted him to consider withdrawal from the BMW PGA Championship.

"As soon as I left the dinner I started to get a sick feeling in my body," he said. "I wasn't able to sleep at all. I felt like my heart was going to come out of my body and I've had a sick feeling all day. It has been difficult to hit a shot without thinking about it. Unfortunately I said it. The only thing I can do is say sorry."

It was hoped that Woods might be the great stereotype-buster to break a taboo that had lingered far too long. The idea that golf was a pastime for middle-class elites was historically reinforced by a divided society split overtly along racial lines. The race bar was lifted at America's most famous club, Augusta National, only 23 years ago when it admitted its first black member. But the county club scene remains predominantly a white domain.

Woods was first caught in the racist undertow after his record-breaking victory at the Masters in 1997 when Fuzzy Zoeller infamously advised: "You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

In November 2011 caddie Steve Williams triggered another racist controversy, referring to Woods as a black arsehole in what he thought was light-hearted banter. Both Zoeller and Williams apologised. Neither suffered official sanction but Zoeller was dropped by his sponsors Dunlop and K-Mart.

Garcia is under similar pressure from his sponsors TaylorMade-Adidas, who advised they are monitoring the situation. The European Tour has erred on the side of caution, noting the rapid apology made by Garcia on Tuesday night after he left the stage at the European Tour Awards dinner in London, and the more profound contrition. While this might be seen as reasonable on material grounds, it could be interpreted as a missed opportunity.

An audience of 500, including sponsors and other golf high rollers, winced during the interview conducted on the biggest night of the European Tour calendar. The game preaches inclusion and has extended its boundaries way beyond the European heartland to stay afloat with tournaments throughout Asia and China. It is difficult to see how a tolerance of Garcia's remarks is conducive to the promotion of golf in communities still to be persuaded of its charms.

It looks to outsiders that racism is OK as long as it comes with an apology. Football sees fit to impose an automatic penalty for racist offences. Is it not time for golf to make an example of offenders, however rare the episode, if it is ever to convince the doubters that it is serious about being a sport for all?

Garcia has apologised to Woods but what about the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American communities? The offence did not stop at Woods' door. It insulted all those who share his ethnicity and has no place in society, let alone golf.

Garcia is among friends today, playing alongside fellow Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Luke Donald. He hopes his apology will be enough. "Like I said, I was caught off guard by a funny question. I tried to give a funny answer that came out totally wrong. I want to make sure that everybody knows that I'm very, very sorry. I can't apologise enough."

Now golf must ask itself if an apology is enough.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions