‘The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings’. These words have never been more pertinent than today, where organisational structures are constantly changing and methods of best-practise persistently adapting to improved technologies and global knowledge. As an increasingly vibrant dynamism dictates society, those who fail to keep pace and adjust to change will be mercilessly left behind. Worryingly, as an eerie sense of sameness and familiarity permeates the world of golf, the game risks falling into that unwanted position of becoming out-dated and losing significance. It is remaining stagnant and static at a time when expansion and evolution are the order of the day.
In the mid-1990s former world number one, Greg Norman, proposed the creation of a ‘World Golf Tour.’ A respected visionary and intellectual, Norman laid down the foundations for a global golfing circuit comprising of ten events played worldwide. With prospective venues ranging from Scotland, Spain, Canada and Japan, it was clear that Norman’s plans offered golf a platform to encapsulate a wider audience and showcase players’ array of skills on different styles of courses. Norman’s venture was providing golf with a mechanism for unlocking its excessive attachment to the USA and creating a more diverse player schedule in keeping with changing times and globalisation.
Whilst gaining the support of top players like Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price, Norman’s plans were shot down by the PGA Tour. Fearing it would diminish their product, the PGA Tour played hard-ball and threatened players who accepted membership of Norman’s circuit with expulsion. Whilst Norman’s circuit was merely designed to supplement the existing tours (it only comprised of a handful of tournaments), the stubborn and unequivocal reaction of golf’s authorities quashed his proposals before they were given a chance to gain traction. It is such narrow-minded, rigid attitudes which ensure, that twenty years later, leading golfers continue to almost exclusively confine their schedule to tournaments within the USA, and thus deprive golf fans of seeing their heroes take on different challenges around the world.
The need for change within the golfing calendar was encapsulated recently by the legendary South African golfer, Gary Player. Recognising that too many players operate within a comfort zone of playing almost entirely in North America, Player stated: ‘We must have world staged tournaments…where the players have got to travel. A man who can travel and win tournaments – that’s who the real champion is.’ In other words, Player is bemoaning how players can win tournaments on the PGA Tour without having to adapt their games because the courses they play each week bear an almost identical resemblance to one another. Were the top players forced to play more events worldwide, we would uncover truly world-class, multi-skilled golfers whose games can flourish on an array of courses. The top players must be encouraged to test their games in different countries, among new fans and alternative layouts. Wouldn’t it be great to see Jordan Spieth take on the magnificent links courses of Ireland? Or Dustin Johnson take on the nuanced Spanish challenge presented by the PGA Catalunya or Real Valderrama? At a time when golf’s popularity is declining, it simply must offer increased variety to its viewers and break up the mundanity of the weekly ‘target golf’ played in the US.
Interestingly in May of this year, exciting plans were announced to launch a ‘World Golf Series’ in 2021. The proposal details the creation of a global golfing circuit broadly based off Norman’s blueprint and has already attracted lucrative blue-chip sponsors subject to top players signing up. Once more, golf is being given the opportunity to diversify and bring high calibre tournaments to different countries and new venues. Disappointingly, yet unsurprisingly, the proposal has been greeted with trepidation by most, and with fear and anger by the PGA Tour. As viewing figures and participation levels in the sport plummet, it seems golf’s authorities remain unwilling to broaden their thinking and embrace new opportunities. Perhaps officials are correct in suggesting that the creation of new global tournaments will somewhat undermine existing events steeped in tradition and historical prestige. But it is only when old patterns are broken that new trends emerge. It is time the visionary plans of Greg Norman are revisited and his progressive foresight finally acted upon.
By Jack Stokes – Sports Editor