The Last Word: Golf must end the hypocrisy before its halo slips totally

Men-only clubs, fried chicken jibes and much more – it's time to update to the 21st century

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Clever chaps, these golfers. They have solved the space-time continuum, and defied the tiresome conventions of geo- politics. In their world, Delhi, Durban and Shanghai are in Europe and 2013 began on 6 December 2012. They aspire to modernity but are still living in 1744.

That was the year in which The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers gathered at Muirfield to help formalise the rules of a game which consigned women to the kitchen or the dining room, where their betters knew which way to pass the port.

Little wonder golf is suddenly confronted by an identity crisis. Its cherished reputation as a platform for professional athletes who have unimpeachable ethical standards is being challenged. Its purity is being questioned and its principles are a matter of legitimate debate.

Perceptions of racism have overshadowed the European Tour's flagship event, this week's PGA Championship at Wentworth. The shadow of sexism hangs over the Open Championship, to be held in July at Muirfield, one of three men-only clubs on the rota, for the first time since 2002.

These issues, which shred the corporate-responsibility strategy of the omnipresent sponsors, have highlighted a vacuum in leadership, a paternalistic complacency and an absence of understanding of how the modern world works.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the game's all-male ruling body, claims that concern over Muirfield's sexual exclusivity is restricted to the "chattering classes". His platitudes include an insistence that "the temperature is changing".

He may care to invest in earplugs and asbestos undershorts. The "fried chicken" controversy, a demeaning by-product of Sergio Garcia's feud with the equally unattractive Tiger Woods, is about to come home to roost. Golf's anachronistic ways will be subjected to scorn and scrutiny until they are modified.

The game, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, has always been an easy target for political grandstanding. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, clad in military fatigues and combat boots, played a round in Cuba in 1959 to highlight the pretensions of a "bourgeois" hobby.

But even Augusta National, an institution populated by multi-millionaires who are conditioned to dismiss Genghis Khan as a lily- livered liberal, has acquired black and female members. There is an element of tokenism to such social engineering, but lip service has been paid to the 21st century.

Augusta staged a landmark occasion of sorts earlier this year when Woods was allowed to remain in the US Masters despite contravening at least the spirit of the rules. It smacked of commercial expedience and compromised golf's definitive values of modesty and self-regulation.

Since Woods was quite prepared to sanction the use of his late father in an artful advertising campaign designed to ease his rehabilitation following the lurid collapse of his marriage, his insincerity in citing golf's moral superiority in his support of the banning of so-called belly putters is unsurprising.

His fellow professionals are prepared to go to court to defend their right to use the witches' broomsticks. They have livelihoods to defend, even if the challenge to authority highlights golf's enslavement to the money list. No other sport characterises itself so starkly by the earnings of its participants.

Mediocrity is rewarded. Matt Kuchar earned nearly £4 million on the US Tour in 2011 – without winning a tournament. The payment of appearance money, in the form of "promotional service fees", is lavish and secretive.

The European Tour, who stage more than half of their events outside the continent, and started their 2013 schedule in Durban last December, is being used as an ATM. Only two of last year's triumphant European Ryder Cup team, Francesco Molinari and Paul Lawrie, have remained loyal to the Tour. The rest return under sufferance and, like Rory McIlroy, cannot wait to scuttle back to warmer climes. The halo is slipping, and the hypocrisy cannot continue.

Belles of injustice toll for crass FA

Ritual applause will break out in the 22nd minute of the women's FA Cup final between Arsenal and Bristol Academy at the Keepmoat Stadium today. It will signal support for Doncaster Belles, and highlight arbitrary injustice.

The Football Association, who happily use the women's game to embellish their equality agenda, relegated the Belles from the National Premier League for 2014, after one game of the 2013 season.

They dismissed 44 years' work in establishing a true community club in a 120-word statement and refused to enter a debate into their logic in replacing Doncaster with Manchester City, who are likely to finish in mid-table in the Second Division in this, their first season at national level.

The commercial connotations are obvious and damning. The Belles, formed in 1969 by raffle-ticket sellers from Doncaster Rovers' now defunct Belle Vue ground, are deemed unworthy, despite being the only ever-present team in the Premier League since their inception in 1991.

Women's football is at a critical stage of development and dependent on wider recognition for players of the quality of the Arsenal striker Kim Little. It can ill-afford such crass manipulation. A petition has been started, and an appeal against Doncaster's demotion deserves to succeed.

Saggy green

Cricket in Australia was condemned as "pale, male and stale" by a recent research document. With the Ashes squad also as thin as Shane Warne's latest hair-weave, we shouldn't laugh, but it would be a dereliction of duty not to.