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Trump's remarks put golf's governing bodies in awkward position

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Donald Trump opened his speech to a group of PGA of America members last fall in his signature blunt style: “You don’t get good publicity.”

Trump, the keynote speaker at the PGA’s annual meeting in November, was referring to the ouster of Ted Bishop a month earlier following an insensitive tweet.

Bishop was removed from office as the association’s president and stripped of his status as a former president for calling Ian Poulter a “Lil Girl.”

We dredge up this episode only because the PGA, along with the PGA Tour, LPGA and USGA, have taken a much more light-handed approach when it comes to Trump’s recent comments regarding immigration.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems,” Trump said in his presidential campaign kickoff. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

On Monday NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, the parent company of Golf Channel, announced it was ending its business relationship with Trump.

Univision also announced it would not air Trump’s Miss USA pageant later this month, a move that prompted Trump to file a $500 million lawsuit against the network for dropping the pageant. On Wednesday, Macy’s announced it was cutting ties with Trump and immediately will begin to “phase-out” his collection of menswear.

After initially declining to comment on Trump’s statements, the Tour issued a joint statement with the PGA, LPGA and USGA on Wednesday.

“In response to Mr. Trump's comments about the golf industry ‘knowing he is right’ in regards to his recent statements about Mexican immigrants, we feel compelled to clarify that those remarks do not reflect the views of our organizations,” the statement read.

“While the LPGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA do not usually comment on Presidential politics, Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf.”

If golf’s response to Trump’s comments seems a bit more measured than say the move by Macy’s it is because the game’s relationship with the real estate magnate is extremely complicated.

Trump has become a bona fide power broker in golf in recent years, first on the Tour with two events – the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Puerto Rico Open – played on Trump-owned golf courses.

Last year the PGA announced the 2022 PGA Championship will be played at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Trump National in Washington, D.C., was also named the host site for the 2017 Senior PGA and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf is scheduled to be held at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles in October.

Trump also purchased the iconic Scottish links at Turnberry in 2014, which has been a part of the Open Championship rotation since 1977 but has not been selected to host the event again, and Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., will host the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.

In short, Trump has working relationships, to varying degrees, with nearly every major golf organization, a maze of agreements that leaves those same organizations in an awkward position given the current uproar over his comments.

On Tuesday, Trump tempered his comments however slightly telling Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte: “I have Mexicans and South Americans working for me all over the country and believe me, they love me and I love them. I think they’re great. I’ve had great support and I haven’t heard one negative thing and frankly I don’t expect to.”

How long that support endures likely depends on the political winds and how long the current controversy persists.

Trump’s properties are so ingrained in the upper echelon of golf that it would be problematic to sever ties completely. Consider that the Tour’s Miami-area stop has been played at Doral, which Trump purchased in 2012, since 1962 and finding a serviceable replacement in the area would be virtually impossible.

It would be an easier split for the PGA, which would have a few years to find replacement venues for the ’22 PGA and ’17 Senior PGA, and given the association’s handling of Bishop’s faux pas last year it also seems likely the PGA would be feeling the most pressure to respond to the current controversy considering the speed and conviction with which they handled the former president’s gaffe.

Wednesday’s joint response was predictably tempered given Trump’s extensive reach in the game, but as “The Don” himself might put it, golf’s decision makers are now inching dangerously close to a place where bad publicity comes from.