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 And Another Thing

There’s no keeping golf out of politics

A month or so ago, my wife and I went on holiday to Greece for a week. (Don’t worry: I’m not looking for sympathy here.) A mere 15-minutes taxi ride from the hotel was a golf course, Porto Carras, so one afternoon I went along for a game. By way of an example of how trusting and hospitable the natives are, when I offered to pay the green fee I was told that could wait until I’d played my round. For all they knew, I had a hire car and could have scarpered immediately after tearing up the course…er, my card. Mind you, that might have been noticed. There was only one other group there. (They were also British – obviously.)

In general, the course, while pleasant enough and worth my excursion, doesn’t seem to be much of a moneyspinner.

The Porto Carras Grand Resort was started in 1973. Among its amenities it has football pitches, basketball and tennis courts, a near- 500,000 squaremetre vineyard and a huge marina. But the golf course at least has evidently seen better days. Perhaps those would have been in 2003, when Porto Carras hosted the European Union Summit, during which the draft constitution of the EU was first presented.

It’s perhaps fair to suggest that today not all Greeks would recall that occasion with fondness.

What is it with golf and these political get-togethers? You may remember that it was in 2005 at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, host venue to the 2014 Ryder Cup, that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown et al spoke of making poverty history. That didn’t work out so well either. As I write this, the Bilderberg meeting of politicians and leading business figures from around the world (I think the form-guide means I have to use the word ‘clandestine’ somewhere in this sentence) was taking place at The Grove, near Watford, where Tiger Woods won the WGC/American Express Championship in 2006.

In a little over a week’s time – it will have already occurred by the time you might read this – the G8 return to the British Isles for the first time in eight years to convene at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. Like Porto Carras, Lough Erne is not short on the facilities front. It is renowned for angling and pretty much the full range of watersports, including being a past host of the World Waterski Championship. The Lough Erne resort was opened in October 2007. In May 2011, it was announced that the company which owned it had gone into administration. Apparently, the place is yours if you’ve got £10 million to spare. Maybe the summit will help bring about a sale.

The course at Lough Erne was designed by Nick Faldo, the six-times major champion who this July will play in the Open at Muirfield, where he has twice previously won the title. (Faldo, who turns 56 on the day of the first round, says it will be the last time he’ll enter the championship.) Muirfield and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, who organise the Open, have lately been getting intermittent grief over the fact that while women may play the course, this year’s host venue does not admit them as members.

Call that discriminatory? On a neighbouring peninsula to the location of our Greek holiday stands Mount Athos, a world heritage site. The Greeks refer to it as the Holy Mountain. Residents on the island must be men over 18 and only males are permitted to visit it. Honestly, what do these Greeks think they’re doing - running an exclusive and exclusionary golf club?

AS WELL AS THE G8 SUMMIT AT LOUGH ERNE, BY THE TIME this issue of Golf International is printed we will have witnessed the 113th playing of the US Open, the first time the event will have been held at the glorious Merion Golf Club since 1981.

I realise things change, time moves on, etc, but I was rather taken aback to see the draw sheet for the first two rounds: two-tee starts, using the 1st and 11th holes. Starting on the 11th hole at Merion! Having a player beginning his attempt to win one of golf’s great championships on the very hole where Bobby Jones completed the most historic achievement in the sport when he beat Gene Homans by 8&7 to win the 1930 US Amateur and thereby achieve the Grand Slam – winning four major championships in a calendar year.

I’m not saying this is sacrilegious but I do think it’s somewhat sad. I suggest that instead of implementing two-tee starts, the United States Golf Association starts giving some thought either to having smaller fields or encouraging – very strongly so – the participants in its championships to play a bit faster.

July 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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