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Turf MD: Morality intersects with the game of golf

By |  June 14, 2022 0 Comments

Hurricanes originate as small storms off the coast of Africa, building in size and intensity as they move across the Atlantic Ocean and reach landfall in the United States. Like a growing hurricane, LIV Golf is set to be a disruptive force in professional golf.

LIV Golf — I did not even know what LIV stood for until I began writing this column — is offering mind-boggling guaranteed contracts to prominent professional golfers. For your information, LIV is the Roman numeral that stands for 54, which is the number of golfers in each of the new tournaments. There is speculation Phil Mickelson signed a contract for $200 million while some reports say Dustin Johnson will be making $125 million. This is more money than either player made in total earnings during their career on the PGA Tour.

Since the PGA Tour has initiated player suspensions and some sponsors are backing away, “taking the money and run” has become complicated. Of the issues that have risen from LIV Golf, I find the moral issue the most intriguing. Saudi Arabian government funds provide financial support for LIV Golf.

This wealth supplies staggering money for contracts, providing incentives, astronomical prize money and other guaranteed payouts. In response to this backing, the notorious human rights abuses and brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist, have come into focus. Critics say because of the human rights abuses, Saudi Arabia is “sportswashing,” or redoing its global image through sports, specifically golf. 

Desire vs. duty

From books written and classes taught on morality, right versus wrong is straightforward, but the process is often complex. One simple aspect of a moral strategy is to look at duty and desires. In the case of LIV Golf, you could look at the desire vs. duty as “I want the money” versus “I ought to condemn human rights abuses.”

As a personal example, and similar to what LIV Golf faces, but without the money, I had the opportunity in the 1980s to travel and speak in South Africa. The advantage of this speaking engagement was twofold, 1) to increase my own knowledge of turf and 2) to build an international reputation. The international reputation was what I wanted or desired.

At the time, the South African government had a repulsive policy of apartheid. Looking at morality from the two components previously mentioned, my duty was “I ought to not go.” My first visit to South Africa did not occur until apartheid was struck down.

Morality and ethics can change over time. I use two examples that I think show change and perception over time. I was invited to Japan to speak and visit some of the country’s golf courses. Japan is an amazing country with a rich history and vibrant golf industry and, it’s an honor to go. When I mentioned the trip to my dad, he told me to enjoy the trip, but he did not have any interest in returning to that part of the world. My dad fought in the Philippines and Okinawa during World War II.

I graduated from high school in 1973, and several of my friends and classmates fought in the Vietnam War. Vietnam is a golf and tourist destination for many living throughout southeast Asia. I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam, and when I mentioned it to a few friends, the reply was, “the beaches are the most beautiful in the world, but I do not have any interest in going back.” 

Professional golfers have the right to make as much money as possible. Most of us would too. Competitive tours provide opportunities for more golfers. Given that, I wish the trade-off wasn’t a moral one. Money versus human rights abuses does not seem to be an issue that is good for golf. Maybe this is not the time yet for LIV Golf as currently constructed. 



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