#AskAlan: Is the PGA Tour ready to be the first major American sport back?

Hand sanitizer station near putting green

A hand sanitizer station near the putting green at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

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In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about the PGA Tour’s return, what Tiger’s future playing schedule might look like, how to encourage more diversity on Tour, the current vibe at Bandon Dunes, and more.

Have any Colonial entrants indicated an intention to kneel either before or during play in support of police reform?
—@Lou_TireWorld

How cool would it be if some PGA Tour pros got grass-stains on their lily-white trousers? To show solidarity with the protesters (and athletes from so many other sports) would be quite a statement from a game that has usually lagged decades behind any social movement. Peter Malnati back in 2016 and Harold Varner much more recently have been eloquent voices on the issue of social justice. Only Varner will be at Colonial, and it doesn’t feel fair to make the only African-American in the field be the lone golfer who takes a knee. It would be awesome if some of his colleagues did it, too, to support Varner and the millions of other Americans who have been protesting racial injustice.

Is the PGA Tour equipped for the spotlight of being the first major American sport back? They’re going to find out very quickly how robust their policies are to manage the spread of coronavirus. I don’t see them getting the guinea pig benefit of doubt.
—@m_shrives

Professional golf is vastly more complicated than any other sport because the playing field has to change every week or we’ll be bored to tears. The only other option would be to take over Bandon Dunes, like the NBA will do to Disney World, and rotate tournaments across the five excellent courses. I would have loved that but after, say, the third rotation, even the wonders of Bandon would get stale. The Tour has no choice but to remain a movable feast, and that brings into play an incalculable number of complications. The czars of Ponte Vedra Beach have come up with a good plan. It’s not perfect because that standard is unattainable. Hopefully the Tour gets lucky and there is no outbreak of Covid. If a dozen players/caddies test positive and they have to shut things down for a while, so be it. I’m glad they’re being ambitious and trying to make this happen. Fingers crossed that it works.

Since you been covering golf has a professional golfer displayed any form or protest during an event for any issue? #AskAlan
—@GoranBarnes

Well, Forrest Fezzler wore shorts for one hole at the U.S. Open to protest the USGA’s dress code. Phil Mickelson raked a putt to protest the USGA’s setup at Shinnecock. Rory Sabbatini teed off while Ben Crane was putting-out on the previous hole to protest Crane’s tedious pace of play. Some members of the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team protested Bill Clinton’s very existence by threatening to not go to the White House. Otherwise, not so much.

My question: at which tournament is Eldrick “Tiger” Woods mostly likely to make is post-COVID-19 debut? —@AnthonyPioppi

Harbour Town is attractive because he can stay on his yacht and enjoy a shotmaker’s course which has never really been a possibility because Tiger is exhausted the week after the Masters, when the Tour traditionally visits Hilton Head. Travelers does a great job recruiting players and River Highlands is a fun course so that’s a possibility, too. It gets interesting after that. You would think Tiger has to play Memorial, right? He doesn’t want to snub Jack, who just turned 80, reminding us all of his mortality. But I’m sure a big part of Tiger would *love* to play the week before, in the fan-free serenity of the tournament at Muirfield Village that is replacing the Deere. Then he could skip the actual Memorial, play the following week in Minnesota, take another week off (thus avoiding the draining sweat-fest of Memphis) and roll into the PGA Championship with the right mix of preparation and recovery time. But as always, Tiger’s back will determine his schedule and the rest of us just have to roll with it.

Given what is going on in the U.S., how do you think the PGA Tour will react? What steps do you think they’ll take to bring diversity to the Tour? —@ramon_ware

The Tour’s mandate has always been to conduct the biggest and best tournaments and provide a feeder system for players to advance to the big leagues. It hasn’t been in the business of helping individual players blossom. This is the moment to reflect and reassess. Professional golf likes to bill itself as the ultimate meritocracy but that’s a fallacy. Every dev tour player will tell you it takes $40-50K a year to chase the dream. Players from well-to-do families, or with connections to private clubs brimming with deep-pocketed sponsors, obviously have a monumental advantage. It would be awesome if the Tour put aside a couple million dollars to stake minority golfers. They still have to shoot the scores but at least these players would have the financial resources to make a go of it on the minor-league tours in Canada or Latin America or China, each of which can be a portal to the Korn Ferry and beyond. And I would also love to see each KFT tournament set aside an exemption or two for minority players, to give them a toehold. Professional golf spent a century actively discriminating against minorities so it will take some direct intervention to help level the playing field.

Which player are you most excited to see playing professional golf again? —@Sam_Beishuizen

Literally all of them.

How was the dining and bar “vibe” at Bandon compared to years past due to COVID restrictions?!  #AskAlan —@CDubGolf

Definitely tamer. The only bar that is open right now is within McKee’s and it is allowing only a couple of customers at a time. The fire pit outside isn’t being lit. Only a couple of restaurants are available for dine-in; the tables are well-spaced and, with fewer of them, there is often a wait, or simply no availability. We had lunch most days in the main clubhouse and it felt pretty normal but every breakfast was take-out and I ate it on the go or in my car. Every dinner we had delivered to the cottage. That was actually kind of nice — instead of a long, boozy meals at the end of long, 36-hole days it felt nice to take a quick shower and walk around in my jammies, waiting for the food to arrive. So, the socializing has certainly changed, making for a mellower, more intimate vibe.

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#AskAlan: What was on the playlist for the drive to Bandon? Sheep Ranch: best hole? Best way for individual golfers to make the game more inclusive? #SorryInAdvance, I know that’s a lot… —@SandorOnSocial

Hip-hop, modern rock, a handful of golf podcasts and one old episode of “Call Her Daddy” just so I could understand what all the fuss was about. I also called every aunt, uncle and cousin I haven’t talked to in a while. Best hole is a toughie. Of course the ocean holes at Sheep Ranch will get all the attention but I’ll pick number 8, a long, tough par-4 that plays inland, back into the breeze. It’s a really cool drive, to a semi-blind fairway, with one of these evocative dead trees as the aiming point. The green has amazing contours and is nestled in front of a wall of trees, making for a picturesque and serene setting. It’s a classic half-par hole where making a 4 feels really, really good.

Per inclusivity, if you have a First Tee chapter nearby I’d highly recommend volunteering there. I’ve spent a lot of time around the First Tee of Monterey County and the kids have such great energy and the staff can always find use for an enthusiastic volunteer. Or find a school in an economically-depressed part of town and volunteer to help with the golf team. If there isn’t one, organize and coach it. (This is a big ask, but hey, now is the time to be ambitious.) Youth on Course is a fantastic organization that increases access for kids at courses nationwide, so a donation there can go a long way.

How unfair (1 to 10) to the players on other tours is the OWGR restarting with only the PGA Tour back in play among the main global tours? #AskAlan —@goufit

Zero. I understand the complaints of the players marooned in Europe, Asia, South Africa, Australia and elsewhere but look at how stacked the Colonial field is — how could there not be World Ranking points handed out? Yes, many international players don’t have a chance to earn points right now but they aren’t losing them either. Poor play over the next few weeks will lead to players sinking in the ranking, as it should be.

How is today’s movement/reaction from the golf community going to differ than post-Shoal Creek 1990? —@HFDC

Shoal Creek was a reckoning with golf’s shameful past. Real action was taken as all-white clubs around the country were forced to finally desegregate, breaking down one of the last invisible walls in America’s social hierarchy. This was driven by the mandate of powerful forces, namely the PGA Tour and USGA. Even mighty Augusta National had to bend the knee. It remains to be seen what will come of the current moment but public pressure and leadership by the game’s stewards has already worked once.

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#AskAlan I’m a beginner golfer, 5’11” male. I currently have a mixed bag of clubs that I’ve gathered at the local golf store but I’m looking for a complete set because I’m diving in, head first. Any suggestions for good “first” set of clubs? Thanks!
—@GolfBall

Soooo many options. Honestly, any of the big brands are making such good products they will all work for a beginner. You should find a golf mart where you can hit a variety of different clubs so you experience the different technologies and aesthetics. But definitely take the plunge on a real set, even if they’re used from eBay. Having decent clubs will make you feel more legit and demonstrate to playing partners that you’re serious about the game.

It’s 2 a.m. in Australia, my 3 week old son won’t settle, I want to know…..how does the Bandon experience compare to the King Island/Barnbougle experience? —@paddykopke

I have the deepest empathy and respect for your situation; I remember being delirious in the middle of the night with various little Ships while doing feedings and dreaming about faraway golf courses kept me going. Anyway, Barnbougle is as good a 1-2 punch as can be found on the planet, and the cozy lodging and easy dining adds to the experience, but it needs more of everything to compare to Bandon. The par-3 course currently being built there looks phenomenal and that will add another dimension to any visit. One more 18-hole course would take Barnbougle to the next level; there is certainly plenty of great land, it’s just a matter of convincing Richard Sattler to go for it. King Island is not one cohesive resort, like Barnbougle, as Cape Wickham is more than half an hour away from Ocean Dunes. There are a dozen rooms at Wickham — they’re spartan but have great views. Alas, there is no real clubhouse or gathering spot. King Island is a must-visit because Wickham is, quite simply, one of the greatest courses on the planet and Oceans Dunes is a wonderful complement — and the short, scruffy Golf & Bowling oozes charm — but it doesn’t have the infrastructure for a longer stay, whereas you can comfortably post up at Bandon for a full week.

The Game of Golf taps you to pen a letter of apology and welcoming to past, current, and future Black golfers. What do you say?
—@andrewjfleming

We are deeply sorry. We have done a tragic job bringing you into this great game and that changes now. We all love to talk about the values that golf teaches — fairness, honor, integrity — and this is the ultimate test: do you feel welcome at every golf course, among every golfer? The answer has to be yes, and we all have an obligation to make it so. Exclusion and discrimination is a cancer that has long sickened golf. The only cure is to stop letting race divide us and recognize that we are bound together by the most powerful of bonds: we are all golfers. What’s more universal than that?

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Alan Shipnuck

Golf.com

GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck writes longform features and a monthly column for GOLF Magazine and has his own vertical on GOLF.com entitled “The Knockdown,” which is home to podcasts, video vignettes, event coverage and his popular weekly mailbag #AskAlan. He is the author of five books on golf, including na­tional best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees and The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger). Shipnuck is very active on Twitter, with a following of 50,000.