News & Opinion

Players hold key to European Tour’s Mideast vision

Dubai golf skyline
The Dubai skyline provides an imposing backdrop for golf on the crown jewel of the European Tour’s annual Desert Swing in the Middle East. Competitors at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, face towering reminders that there’s a pot of gold on the horizon.

John Hawkins and Mike Purkey debate whether golfers ought to be playing the Desert Swing in a region mired in political conflict

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Given the danger and turmoil in the Middle East, should players avoid participating in European Tour events in that region?

Hawk’s take: Sports and politics mix worse than peanut butter and ketchup, but if safety is the primary issue here, I don’t recall anybody bailing on the Tour Championship because it’s played in a dicey neighborhood. Most of the world’s best golfers wouldn’t know an occupational hazard if it bit them on the nose. They live in sheltered environments and make obnoxious amounts of money, so if playing in scary territory concerns them, they shouldn’t make the trip. Nobody’s putting a gun to their head, so to speak.

I learned a long time ago not to tell tour pros where they should and shouldn’t play. It’s their business, not mine. The European Tour spends a month in the Middle East because there aren’t many places to stage tournaments in the dead of winter. Oh, and because there are tens of millions of dollars involved, underscoring the tour’s primary mission: to provide competitive opportunity for its membership.

You can question the wisdom of a 12-month schedule much easier than second-guessing where those events are played. I don’t have a problem with golf tournaments in the Middle East because it’s out of my journalistic jurisdiction. And everybody else’s, for that matter.

Purk’s take: It’s an ideal world where no intersection exists between sports and politics. They would travel on parallel tracks, if things were perfect.

But the world is nowhere near ideal or perfect.

If the European Tour was concerned with doing the right thing, it would stay out of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East because golf’s values aren’t aligned with the values of those countries. But let’s not blame the tour. It has many masters to satisfy, not the least of which are wealthy people in that part of the world who want to showcase their countries through golf.

Instead, the onus is on the players – especially the top players – to say no to playing in the Middle East. Like it or not, people pay attention to what athletes say and do, which is why traditional media and social media love golf so much.

The players’ claim that they are only doing their part to grow the game is beyond lame. They show up for the fat appearance fees, which, in all honesty, they could do without. Instead, they could stand up for the values of a free world that gives them such a lucrative living.

Believe it or not, some things really are more important than money.