December 8, 2009 4:00 PM ET
The Tiger Woods soap opera could not come at a worse time for Professional golf. Last year saw a significant shift in the climate of the golf industry as a result of the sullied global economy. The era of excess appears over. More golf courses are closing than opening. Golf course projects that Woods himself lent his name to are stalled and in question. Tournament sponsorship has become a significant challenge. The LPGA tour will have only 13 U.S. Tournaments this year. The PGA Tour is still looking for title sponsors this year and beyond.
The one leverage point the PGA Tour had was Woods. Yes, he swore, yes he threw clubs, and yes he twirled clubs and walked with a cocky walk, features the old school golf establishment abhors, but he won so much, and brought such big crowds, and made this old Scottish game so relevant in a hip hop sports world, that everyone kind of looked the other way. The brilliance and history and ratings trumped it all. Television ratings for Woods events and non Woods events were similar to the difference between Major League Baseball and Division 3 College Basketball games. Tiger was the man and he acted the part.
Now, everything has changed. Golf has always boasted, sometimes a bit arrogantly, that it was above the police blotter fray. "You don't see golfers on the front page!" That was one of golf's selling point to the corporate world that likes to spend and invests its millions with certainty and with conditions. This has changed.
Doug Barron, while an unknown, has been suspended for a full year after failing a drug test, becoming the first PGA Tour player to fail such a test since the tour instituted their drug policy in July 2008. John Daly. And now Woods.
Never before has golf been in the gossip columns and now gossip internet sites with such ferocity. The sport's #1 player is becoming, literally, a joke. Yes, on the old template of late night talk shows, but on the more dangerous and permanent world of the young, competitive, clever internet. This is where the world is turning. News travels faster and more openly than ever before. Now, the young see this everyday and are probably getting conditioned to such news and quickly moving past it. But the older generation of golf fan, the one that subscribes to golf monthlies or runs a major corporation, how will they feel? Has the game lost its idyllic charm?
Is this the end of the innocence?
Golf is a game of honor with the legend Bobby Jones as its rock. Players calls penalties on themselves, they have manners toward their opponents and they try to make the game better. That's the ideal. Yes, there are times players still cheat or skirt the rules. But for the most part your professional golfer honors the rules for better or worse. That is what kids are taught at a very young age about the game. This game is different. It is not like other sports. When we say may the best man win, we mean it. The fames architect Donald Ross once said, "Golf has never let me down." What would he say today?
Now, we aren't "judging" Tiger Woods. He is not the first person or professional golfer to carry on multiple affairs. He's probably not even the "king" of this behavior. But, it is what it is. The game's greatest player, it's corporate face, and star attraction has been placed in the Lindsay Lohan/Britney Spears/Jude Law/Hugh Grant/Jon and Kate/Alex Rodriguez gossip bin. And one has to wonder how golf fans, and the casual fan that Woods has brought to the game, will react upon his return. Will there be a numbness to his achievements in the future? And how will the corporate world view him? Will another major make it all go away? Will golf, already knocked down an economic notch, go down another financial step with this ongoing story?
And let us not forget this. The victims are Woods wife, Elin, and their two children. The wife has a hollow pain in her chest that probably feels like it will never go away. And the children will have this story on the archives of the internet forever.