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With new HOF process, golf has created another exclusive club

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Full disclosure, golf writers moaning about the diminished role of golf writers is akin to a PGA Tour player complaining about the speed of the greens after a three-putt.

But as officials walked ever so slowly through the new selection criteria for the World Golf Hall of Fame on Sunday at Bay Hill, one was pelted by the reality that we have taken what is arguably the game’s most inclusive element and created yet another exclusive club.

Golf writers made up a large portion of the voting body along with members of the Hall of Fame and various golf administrators. Now only three writers will be included in the new 16-member selection committee.

This process – again, the most democratic element in a largely authoritarian sport – has been supplanted by commissions and sub-committees, which is suit and tie speak for cloak and dagger stuff.

The selection committee will make the ultimate “Hall call,” with inductees needing 75 percent of the vote total to be admitted. That’s 12 of 16 votes, a cool dozen deciding the merits between good and great.

A dozen voices – albeit a group that includes the heady likes of current Hall of Fame members Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez – versus the old model, some 300 votes from virtually every walk of golf life.

Hall of Fame chief operating officer Jack Peter called the old way “unwieldy.” Player went a step further, “When you have hundreds of people voting I don’t think you can come to the right conclusion.”

So, that would mean Cooperstown – the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame which is considered by some the benchmark hall in sports – has it all wrong. For Peter & Co., 300 votes are too much, but somehow baseball’s hall managed to tally 571 ballots last year.

Some of the changes golf’s Hall of Fame initiated seemed to be steps in the right direction, like increasing the minimum for male players to 15 victories or two majors (which includes The Players, but that’s a column for another day) and shifting the selection process to a biennial cycle.

Reducing the number of voices involved in the selection process, however, is all at once shortsighted and seriously flawed. It seems the elitist game has drifted even further into skull and bones territory.

“The Hall of Fame will never be finished (evolving),” Peter said.

Let’s hope not.