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“Look, we’ve all made mistakes,” Greg Norman replied to questions about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and working for a lucrative new Saudi golf company.
Joe Bennett is an award-winning writer, columnist and playwright based in Lyttelton
OPINION: Sometimes, and without flinching, you have to ask yourself the big, difficult questions. So, let’s go and let the consequences be what they may be: does golf cause amorality? Or does the game just appeal to those who are already amoral?
Golf is the most corporate sport. It is played in civilian clothes and no one sweats. In America, to play golf is a verb, although a golf cart does the whole verb. It trails the broad rays of prosperity around manicured land where the grass is mowed by immigrant labor and the water is dyed to look pretty. It’s a corporate vision from heaven.
Golf is also expensive, of course, and therefore exclusive, which is part of its appeal. It is associated with country clubs whose members are old white men with new white teeth. Inevitably, then, Trump plays golf. But the same goes for all American presidents, even the occasional good guy. Golf’s connection to power and money and the status quo is forged in steel. This is the game of the haves. He votes Republican, dislikes taxes and thrives on economic apartheid. Golf, in other words, is founded on a waterlogged moral foundation. If it sank further, perhaps we should not be surprised.
Around the world, golf and capitalism go hand in hand. The Japanese are fanatics of both. Just having a tee time in Japan is synonymous with success. Golf is also popular in the Middle East, where they are blessed with two of golf’s main ingredients, silver and sand. Which brings us to today’s story.
* Another Phil Mickelson mistake as Tiger Woods beats him with $11.8m bonus
* Khashoggi kids get houses, big Saudi blood money payouts
* Golf in the eye of the Saudi storm but we’re all tarred with hypocrisy
* Trudeau: Canadian intelligence services heard recordings of Jamal Khashoggi’s death
* The world economy is addicted to Saudi money
Professional golf is controlled by the Professional Golfers Association. But a challenger to this monopoly has arisen, a proposed new circuit of professional golf tournaments. Healthy competition, one might think, and just the sort of thing the most capitalistic of games would approve of. But the money for this new venture was put together by Saudi Arabia.
Yes, that Saudi Arabia, the place now ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He’s the man who high-fived a smiling Putin and gave Trump’s son-in-law $2 billion. Most notoriously, he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was a journalist who had criticized the Saudi regime. He was lured into a Saudi embassy to retrieve papers and was greeted by a team of 15 butchers with a tourniquet and bone saws. His remains have never been found. The Saudis first denied he was murdered, then claimed it was an accident, then tried and sentenced a few underlings in secret. Meanwhile, an international investigation concluded that it all happened at the behest of the Crown Prince.
So, using a technique that dates back to the games of ancient Rome, Saudi Arabia funds the sport to improve its image. To help things along, Saudi has hired well-known golfers, like Greg Norman.
You have to feel a little sorry for Mr. Norman. He’s 67, so he’s been in professional golf for half a century. It’s a half-century of polo shirts and dress pants, bent putts and American spectators shouting “get in the hole.” It’s half a century of thinking about the importance of golf. You wouldn’t wish such a life on your enemies. It would be remarkable if it hadn’t had at least some effect on him.
Journalists asked him to work for the Saudis. Specifically, they asked him what he thought about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. To which Mr. Norman replied, and I quote: “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.
And so I return to my opening question: Did golf corrupt Greg Norman? Or is it an amoral man who plays golf by chance?