The world is obsessed about golf, no question about it. Golf is a sport full of surprises, possibilities, and challenges. Ask any golf fanatic why they love the sport and you’ll invoke passionate recollections of courses played and endless stories from seasoned golfers as they genuinely describe their passion for the sport. Relaxing, enjoyable, and ever-challenging, golf is a competition that induces camaraderie and promotes friendships in intense emotional cacophony. Golf as a sport has an outward appearance of serene domestication, yet bans and controversies created by golf and golf-related products continually surface around the globe.
New golf-oriented apps for mobile phones are the latest controversy and target of golf bans. Effective in 2006, the USGA and R&A began allowing distance-measuring devices (DMDs) when playing under Local Rule and defined DMDs as laser rangefinders and GPS satellite units. DMDs that have features other than measuring distance (calculate slope, weather, read greens, or select clubs) will get you disqualified whether they’re turned off or not (2012 USGA Rules of Golf, Rule 14-3). Going by the book, DMDs aren’t allowed in PGA Tours and most other professional tournaments.
Should distance measuring devices be permitted on the professional golf tours?
Bans on cell phones and other social media devices are easing up with bans originating from complaints by golfers that phones and cameras created distractions. South Korean golfer K.J. Choi chose to ban spectators from using cameras and phones during his 2011 K.J. Choi Invitational. Players at the 2006 British Open suffered similar distractions from mobile devices resulting in bans shared by tournament organizers and spectators alike at the 2007 British Open.
However, the PGA took a fresh look at social media in 2011 accepting that social media is a part of everyday life and is encouraging fans to interact via Twitter and Facebook with sexy new iPhone apps like Snap and Share and The Official PGA Tour app for real-time updates, fully customizable down to adding favorite players.
While sexy might sell in app markets, it didn’t sell in the Australian ladies’ golf market in 2006 where the “Top Shots: Women of Professional Golf 2007” calendar was banned by ANZ Ladies’ Masters and the Australian Women’s Open. The calendar was offered for sale to raise funds for breast cancer research, a scholarship fund for the LPGA of Australia, and to increase awareness of women’s golf. The calendar, created by golf pro Jenny Sevil, hyped sparsely-clad pro women golfers in a 13-month calendar format. Besides suffering an embargo on the calendar, Ms. Sevil lost a major breast cancer sponsor in the midst of a calendar print.
In 2009, pretty faces failed to open doors at Oxfordshire Golf Club in the United Kingdom where “Glamorous Caddies” coaxed club members to play 18 holes of golf with one of their models (for a fee). Golfers had their choice of glamorous caddies complete with basic golf skills. The pert caddies were trained to carry bags and rake bunkers then hang out for an hour afterward at the bar. Oxfordshire promptly banned the caddies citing the reason as damage to the reputation of golf as a whole.
It’s not just golf that has a reputation to keep up; national parks have reputations to keep up as well. In 2006, the Department of Conservation for Taupo and Tongaririo National Parks in New Zealand banned two hot air balloons during a weekend amateur golf event, “Long Drive World Cup.” The hot air balloons, complete with advertising slogans, did not meet regulations on advertising and promotion as outlined in the park’s management plan, much to the horror of the event planner. Even the Philippine National Police (PNP) have found it necessary to protect their reputation from time-to-time as it relates to golf. In 2010, the PNP barred police personnel from referencing PNP when hosting golf tournaments or seeking golf sponsorships and required that PNP personnel not include PNP on individual hosting and golf sponsorship events.
Venezuela's golfers react after Chavez says their sport is bourgeois and calls players lazy, as the government shuts down courses to build low-income housing.
Leaders of other countries suffered golf phobias of their own like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who in 2009 entertained hopes of banning golf because he viewed golf as, “a bourgeois sport, a lazy man’s sport, and waste of land.” China effectively banned the entire sport of golf for similar reasons up until 1984 dubbing golf as “a bourgeois rich man’s game.” China lifted its golf ban in 2004 and replaced it with a new ban on the development and construction of golf courses with the exception of the tourist area of Hainan Provence. It is debatable whether the ban on golf course development in China was ever effectively instituted.
Golf is causing employers troubles too. In 2010, police obsession with the sport of golf in the Philippines caused a memo to be issued nationwide by the PNP banning the play of golf during office hours. It appears that police were shirking duties and responsibilities in exchange for a friendly game of golf. In 2011, Vietnam government vehicles were being deployed on golfing expeditions and Vietnamese managers and senior officials were displaying poor job performance, so Vietnam’s Transport Minister issued a departmental golf ban. The ban was targeted at managers and senior officials with a promise to implement “secret measures” to monitor their activities. Participation by managers and senior officials in golf tournaments during office hours, off-hours, and holidays was forbidden.
Golf has sent as many a military man wayward as it has golf-enamored employees. In 1457, James II of Scotland banned golf due to golf’s interference with military training and archery practice. At the time, Scots were training for war against the English. The ban was reaffirmed in 1471 and again in 1491 and lifted in 1502 with the signing of the Treaty of Glasgow. The Kirks (the Church of Scotland) continued to hold strong convictions against golf on the Sabbath from 1580 to 1724. In 1618, King James VI proclaimed, since the Sabbath was the only day the masses had free time to play golf, that it was permissible to play golf on the Sabbath as long as golf wasn’t played during times of service.
Yes, golf is an obsession that has been dealt with through controversies and bans likely from inception, yet the silent intensity of the game during a tournament might convince one otherwise. Golf is, after all, a sport full of challenges, possibilities, and surprises which continue to surface throughout golf’s kingdom, and that’s exactly what’s created golf fanatics and their passion for the game.