Martin Dempster: Don’t let PGA Tour players set rules

US Open champion Webb Simpson is among the belly putter users on the PGA Tour. Picture: Getty Images
US Open champion Webb Simpson is among the belly putter users on the PGA Tour. Picture: Getty Images
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AS A youngster, I used to like watching boxing on Sportsnight, the BBC’s excellent but long gone midweek programme.

It was in the days of John H Stracey, Alan Minter, John Conteh and Dave “Boy” Green and there were some good old scraps. The moment the sport became fragmented, however, and we found ourselves with four different people who could claim they were a “world champion” at the same weight, my interest soon waned.

I now have the same worry for golf after the announcement by Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, that his organisation is opposing the proposed ban on anchoring, which is currently the subject of a 90-day consultation period that is due to end on Thursday. Sunday’s public declaration by Fincham on behalf of his members – it was made live on television during the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – was no real surprise.

Ever since the game’s two rulesmaking bodies, the R&A and the USGA, announced the proposed ban, which is due to come into effect in 2016, the spoilt brats on Finchem’s circuit have been whining like babies. Not just them either. Officials of the PGA of America have also been at it and the Golf Course Owners Association, too. Both those organisations are also against the disappearance of anchoring from the game.

In contrast, there has been little, if any, opposition on this side of the Atlantic. Early on in the aforementioned consultation phase, George O’Grady, Finchem’s counterpart on the European Tour, pinned his colours firmly to the R&A and USGA mast on this particular matter. “Speaking personally on behalf of the Tour, one of our great facets is that we are connected to the game that every amateur can play as well,” he said “We could go separately, but I would urge the Tour to follow the rules as laid down by the governing bodies.”

The PGA in Britain share that view. “We did not survey our membership like the PGA of America, but we have discussed it at board level,” said Sandy Jones, The Belfry-based organisation’s Scottish chief executive “Our view was that (we) don’t think it makes much difference to the growth of the game in the United Kingdom if the stroke is banned.”

Colin Montgomerie offered his view during a stint commentating on Sky Sports at the weekend. “The R&A and USGA have served the game of golf for a long, long time and long may that continue,” he said. “This has opened up a whole new can of worms. It’s a very dangerous situation we are getting ourselves into and I do hope they can sort this out very, very quickly.”

According to Finchem, he has seen data that indicates “20 per cent of amateurs” use either long or belly putters. That is hard to believe and, even if it is correct, that has to be in America because in Scotland that figure is probably around two per cent and, more likely, 0.2 per cent. Honestly, I could count on one hand the number of club golfers I’ve seen using such implements.

Over here, therefore, it is nonsense for anyone to suggest that, whatever decision the R&A and USGA take, is going to be detrimental to the sport’s future in terms of golf club membership. Yes, the game is struggling more than ever in terms of numbers, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with long putters and anyone that suggests otherwise is kidding themselves.

In truth, anchoring should have been banned long ago and, though no fault, probably, of the people now at the helm of those organisations, that is one of the main problems with a matter that is extremely thorny. However, that doesn’t mean to say that, over one issue, the whole structure of a great game – its ethos, too – should be in danger of having the guts ripped out of it.

Sure, the R&A can be a pompous bunch at times – I can’t speak for the USGA as it is one organisation I’ve not really had any dealings with over the years – but it was scandalous for Joe Ogilvie, a PGA Tour journeyman, to suggest golf was being governed by “amateur organisations”. Even though we might not agree with everything they do or say, the R&A and USGA are both run professionally and the rules set by them have been imperative to its tradition and standing in the sporting arena.

Consider this as a possible scenario. The R&A and USGA push ahead with the ban and The Masters, an independently-run event, agrees with that decision. That would see anchoring being prohibited at three of the four majors from 2016 onwards, provided, of course, the PGA of America sticks to its guns and allows their use at the USPGA Championship.

It would be damaging for golf to become fragmented the way boxing has but, if Finchem wants to allow his rich boys to start dictating let them get on with it on their own Tour. If they want to try and win the titles that separate the wheat from the chaff, however, and not just be content with making pots of money, they will need to abide by the rules set down by the R&A and USGA and, if that means having to ditch their long putters for conventional ones at least three times in the year, then so be it.

Clubs thinking out of box in bid to deliver dough

As the west of Edinburgh continues to experience a frenzy caused by an American doughnut company opening up its first outlet in Scotland, the scene at many golf clubs around Scotland is increasingly becoming a stark contrast.

It is why more clubs are coming up with special membership offers, two of the latest being Scotscraig, which proudly trumpets being the “world’s 13th oldest club”, and Glencorse, which has produced the likes of George Macgregor, Colin Brooks and David Inglis over the years.

At Scotscraig, the Fife club is offering a trial membership for £200, which covers golf and the use of clubhouse from 1 March to 30 June as well as two free lessons from the club’s PGA pro, Craig Mackie.

On the outskirts of Edinburgh, Glencorse is trying to entice new blood by offering a full membership for £250 with each round of golf being played on the Milton Bridge course then costing just £10.

“One price fitting all doesn’t work any more,” said Glencorse club professional Cliffe Jones, a former SPGA captain. “What used to be tried and tested isn’t working now so you have to give potential members a menu.

“Clubs have to cater for people who want to play 20 rounds, 50 rounds or the serious golfer who plays two or three times a week.”

There’s no guarantee that either of these schemes will have the desired effect at a time when, in the words of Jones, a lot of clubs are “going nowhere fast”, but they should still be applauded for coming up with something out of the ordinary in these difficult times.