There aren’t many individuals or organizations with the power to check the president of the United States. Congress, the media, the NFL, social media — President Trump has met each one head-on, and if he hasn’t emerged victorious, it’s only because he’s continuing the fight.
But at least one organization still has the power to hold the president to account for his scathing “go back to” tweets from the weekend: the PGA of America.
Yes, an organization that oversees golf instruction has the ability to curb the leader of the free world. We can remark yet again on the strange times that we live in, or we can dig into the meat of the issue.
Over the weekend, Trump lit into four Democratic congresswomen with rhetoric that was both—in my opinion—racist and factually wrong, demanding they “go back to” their “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Facts matter: three of the four congresswomen were born in America; the fourth is a naturalized citizen. Condemnation flew, as it always does, and Trump doubled and tripled down on his initial remarks, as he always does.
Here’s where the PGA comes in. The Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey is slated to hold the PGA Championship in 2022, the result of a deal struck more than a year before Trump declared his candidacy for president.
Trump owns a vast golf portfolio, but he has never hosted any of the sport’s crown jewels: a men’s major championship. He appeared on track to do so in 2014 when he purchased the Turnberry resort in Scotland, the site of numerous Open Championships and a projected venue for 2020. He slapped his name onto the course—“Turnberry” became “Trump Turnberry”—then sat back and waited for his major.
He wouldn’t get it. In 2015, members of the R&A, the Open’s organizing body, announced that Turnberry was out of the Open venue rotation because of then-candidate Trump’s array of controversial campaign trail comments. “2020 will not happen here,” one R&A official said at the time. “Turnberry will be back. But perhaps not Trump Turnberry.”
So the 2022 PGA Championship, already on the books, represented Trump’s next, best chance to host a prestigious major. But in the wake of his tweets, the Washington Post’s David Farenthold reached out to the PGA for comment:
The @PGA, set to hold 2022 PGA Championship at @realdonaldTrump's Bedminster, on his racist tweets:
“As an organization, we are fully committed to Diversity and Inclusion, but we are not a political organization & simply don’t weigh in on statements made in the political arena."
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) July 16, 2019
“As an organization, we are fully committed to Diversity and Inclusion,” the PGA said in a statement, “but we are not a political organization & simply don’t weigh in on statements made in the political arena.” (Yahoo Sports has also reached out to the PGA for comment.)
That’s not only a craven dodge—diversity and inclusion are the very root of politics—it runs completely counter to golf’s recent history of factoring political considerations into tournament decisions.
Golf is a predominantly conservative sport, both in the political and attitudinal senses of the word. It skews white and upper-class, both traditionally Republican bases. While golf has an unspoken apolitical tradition—you won’t see many “Make America Great Again” hats in your average gallery—Trump, and the media that cover him, forces everyone with whom Trump does business to confront his politics and brand. With Trump or against Trump; he allows for no middle ground.
If the PGA cringes and hopes this storm blows over until the next crisis arrives — and with Trump, there’s always another crisis — well, that would be right in line with the dozens of senators and representatives who condemned the president right up until he rolled right over them.
But the PGA possesses a power that individual elected officials don’t. The PGA can remove its championship from Bedminster. Shaming Trump doesn’t work to change his behavior. But the PGA yanking that precious major away from him? That would hurt Trump in his most vulnerable spot: his boundless ego.
Plus, there’s precedent here. Back in 1990, the Shoal Creek Golf Club in Birmingham, Alabama was slated to hold that year’s PGA Championship. However, at the time Shoal Creek had exactly zero African-American members. On top of that, just weeks before the event, club founder Hall Thompson said the club would not be pressured to accept African-Americans, because “this is our home, and we pick and choose who we want.” Again: this was in 1990. “We don’t discriminate in every other area except blacks,” Thompson was quoted as saying, and even though he claimed he was misquoted, he nonetheless apologized.
The outcry came quickly, with major advertisers threatening to pull out of the broadcast. The PGA itself even flirted with the idea of yanking the entire championship. In the end, the PGA and the club hammered out a hasty compromise where the club admitted a single African-American member prior to the tournament, and that year’s PGA Championship went on as scheduled.
After Shoal Creek, the PGA, as well as the USGA and the PGA Tour, changed bylaws to mandate that any club receiving a major championship had to have inclusive membership requirements.
“I find it highly unlikely that you will see any championships held at all-white clubs anymore,” then-USGA commissioner David Fay said in the wake of Shoal Creek. “The change is inevitable. Sports has often been an instrument of social change. This is another example.”
Again: 1990. Politics and sports intertwining isn’t a Trump-era phenomenon.
There's also precedent involving Trump himself. Beyond the R&A’s decision to deny Trump an Open Championship because of his own words, multiple stateside tournaments have vacated Trump-owned properties because of the owner. Back in 2016, the PGA Tour — a separate organization from the PGA of America — pulled the WGC Championships from Trump’s Doral resort in Miami, after a half-century-long run. Everyone involved denied that Trump’s politics were a factor … but the Tour came right out and said that Trump’s brand was the issue.
"I know everybody's talking about politics, but it's actually not that, in my view," then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "I think it's more Donald Trump is a brand, a big brand, and when you're asking a company to invest millions of dollars in branding a tournament and they're going to share that brand with the host, it's a difficult conversation.”
Translation: Cadillac didn’t want to share the Trump brand, and neither did any other major sponsor. (After news broke that the tournament would move to Mexico City, Trump responded on Fox News that he hoped the PGA Tour had “kidnapping insurance.” No one involved with the PGA Tour has been kidnapped during the WGC event.)
Hell, the PGA itself has already yanked tournaments from Trump courses because of Trump. Back in 2015, shortly after Trump derided certain Mexican immigrants as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.,” the PGA removed the Grand Slam of Golf and the PGA Junior League Championship from Trump National Los Angeles. The move came as several major organizations, including NBC and Macy’s, severed ties with Trump.
Should a Shoal Creek scenario occur this time around—should sponsors declare that they’ll be skipping the 2022 PGA Championship and returning in 2023 for Oak Hill—that would give the PGA some cover for the decision. If the diversity-and-inclusion argument isn’t enough, the financial one surely would be.
Yes, if he lost the PGA Championship, Trump would roast the PGA on Twitter. Yes, his loyalists would scream and threaten boycotts and maybe even burn a golf shirt or two. No, Trump wouldn’t apologize or change his mind.
But so what? Moving the PGA Championship does no harm to anyone outside of Trump and Bedminster. Players aren’t going to skip the major if it’s moved. Global advertisers aren’t going to abandon the PGA Championship to stand in solidarity with Trump. For local fans, two other majors—the 2020 U.S. Open in Winged Foot and the 2023 PGA—would be within driving distance. The PGA Championship would proceed as normal, and by the time 2022 comes around, the vast majority of sports fans would forget there was even a controversy at all.
But the PGA would have its dignity intact. And it would demonstrate that its values are more than just a market-tested slogan.
If the PGA is truly committed to diversity and inclusion, it’ll pull the 2022 PGA Championship from Trump National Golf Club.
Otherwise, its words have all the power of a golf clap.
More from Yahoo Sports: