The PGA of America cut ties to U.S. President Donald Trump when it voted Sunday to take the PGA Championship event away from his New Jersey golf course next year.
The vote comes four days after the Trump-fuelled riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was certifying the election victory of president-elect Joe Biden. This is the second time in just over five years the PGA of America removed one of its events from a Trump course.
PGA President Jim Richerson says the board voted to exercise its right to “terminate the agreement” with Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.
“We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making,” Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, said in a telephone interview. “We’re fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that?
“Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.”
The PGA of America, which has some 29,000 golf professionals who mostly teach the game, signed the deal with Trump National in 2014.
It cancelled the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2015 at Trump National Los Angeles Golf Club after Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants when he announced he was seeking the Republican nomination for president. The event was cancelled for good the following spring.
The shocking insurrection Wednesday rattled the U.S., and attention quickly focused in golf circles on whether the PGA of America would keep its premier championship — and one of golf’s four major championships — at Trump’s course in 2022.
“Our decision wasn’t about speed and timing,” Waugh said. “What matters most to our board and leadership is protecting our brand and reputation, and the ability for our members to lead the growth of the game, which they do through so many powerful programs in their communities.”
Trump had delivered a speech to his supporters in which he repeatedly made baseless claims that the election was stolen from him and urged them to “fight.”
They stormed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were in the process of certifying Biden’s victory. After forcing their way inside, the violent crowd ransacked the building and sent terrified staff and lawmakers into hiding. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died.
A new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 67 per cent of respondents said Trump deserves a “good amount” or a “great deal” of blame for the insurrection.
“This is not because of any pressures we feel. We’re not being forced into a decision,” Waugh said. “We had to make a business decision. It’s a perpetual institution. My job is to hand it off better than when I found it. One hundred years from now, we still want to be vibrant.”
He chose not to comment when asked if he expected any legal challenge from the Trump Organization.
Trump’s presence hinders sponsors
The PGA of America, which operates separately from the PGA Tour and its week-to-week tournaments, previously held the Senior PGA Championship at Trump’s course outside Washington in 2017. That was the same year the USGA staged the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in Bedminster.
Trump also owns Turnberry in Scotland, one of the most picturesque links in the British Open rotation most famous for the “Duel in Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in 1977, and most recently Henrik Stenson beating Phil Mickelson in 2016. The R&A, which determines the British Open rotation, has not returned to Turnberry since Trump took over.
He also owns Trump Doral outside Miami, for years a venerable stop on the PGA Tour schedule and most recently a World Golf Championship site. Trump’s presence made it difficult to find a corporate sponsor, and the tournament moved to Mexico in 2017.
Waugh said the PGA of America already had a team in place in New Jersey to start work on selling the events to the public and local sponsorship. Now it’s about finding a place to play the PGA Championship, which dates to 1916, for next year.
The PGA is at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in May.
“We’ve had a number of places reach out already,” he said. “We think we’ll have a bunch of options.”