John Craven, in his last column for Irish Golfer, pulls no punches as he reflects on a strange time to be leaving golf but how it’s helped him remember what brought him here in the first place
For my last column with Irish Golfer – at least for now as I set off on some travels before emigrating to Australia – I considered signing off on a light note, but that would be glossing over the sadness I feel about the oil money dripping into golf, and sport as whole; an epidemic that leaves me flushed with anger thinking about the levels of greed that have torn the soul from a game I love.
In all honestly, I should’ve seen this day coming. Golf, despite the virtues it extolls, is a sport rooted in racism, classism and sexism, and despite flashy pr campaigns driven by corporate agendas, there’s no doubt the door remains at best, ajar, and at worst slammed shut on countless people who find it impossibly inaccessible for a multitude of reasons.
I was always willing to overlook its seedy underbelly believing that the sport, or at least those in charge of it, were slowly moving on from the dark ages that blighted it, breaking down barriers as they say and growing the game – this force for good – and that through my writing, in some minute way I could help.
Then the Saudi International was held on the European Tour and all the real world issues I hoped to avoid by getting into golf journalism specifically, exploded into light.
And I hear you, why did this Saudi event suddenly rub me up the wrong way when the tour visits so many places where human rights abuses can reasonably be questioned, if not wholly condemned? And my answer is simple – Jamal Khassoghi.
Khassoghi was a journalist, just like me, only far more impressive, who was murdered, dismembered and reportedly dissolved in acid just for doing his job while his wife waited anxiously outside the Saudi consulate in Turkey praying she might see him again.
It was his murder, mere months prior to the Saudi tournament, a killing ordered from the very top of a State directly attempting to buy golf, that compelled me, simply out of solidarity for a fellow journalist, to give the tournament a swerve.
By dipping my toes into politics, I quickly realised that one cause isn’t enough to support these days. If you take a stand against Saudi, you must take a stand against everything else… from Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s successful sportswashing operations to PGA Tour stops in China, to Uber and Starbucks and Apple and so many more pies tainted by Saudi fingers, because naturally, they’re all the same thing.
Ah yes. Whataboutism. A fool’s defence when threatened by someone who could possibly think about anyone but themselves. The type of people who would’ve seen fit to interrupt Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech to say that’s all well and good for black and white children, Martin, but what about everyone else?
Label me a sanctimonious scribe but I’m comfortable believing that it’s better to stand for something than nothing at all. And if that means giving the once heralded PGA Tour a swerve too, so be it. The game existed long before America’s tour and it will thrive long after the oil runs out.
I’ll be honest, the last couple of years covering men’s professional golf have been tiring, much more than I ever expected golf journalism could be. They’ve unmasked people I once looked up to as role models and highlighted chasmic differences in the way I see the world compared to so many others.
Then again, I’m grateful for the clarity they’ve given me. Grateful that despite the insatiable greed that’s relegated a sport to a commodity up for sale to the highest bidder, they’ve helped me grasp why golf’s so important to me.
And it’s not about pro golf. Maybe it was when I was an impressionable child hunting golf balls on the 18th green at Irish Opens, in awe of players I put on pedestals with little concern for anything else. But I don’t care about any of that anymore, and yet I care for the game more than ever. This great escape from the screens and screams of life that can’t penetrate the forcefield of fairway calm no matter how hard they try.
Golf has been a blessing in my life. This powerful drug that hooked me in as a cackhanded kid and never let go. From recreating iconic putts for victory on the sitting room carpet to smashing drivers 60 yards on the pitch and putt before graduating to the big boy course and breaking 100, then 90, now 80, with 70 only a fantasy.
Oh, but I’ll think about it. All the time. Even when I’m not playing, I’m thinking about that one shot for days after a round. Forever chasing that one strike. Going through all 84 strokes until I finally fall asleep just to dream about them all over again.
As you’re reading this, I’m probably on the Copacabana, face full of freckles, swinging a beach umbrella in between the locals playing soccer and picturing a ball soaring over Christ the Redeemer’s head. The travel vaccines for South America never stood a chance against the golf bug. You’ve either got it or you don’t.
And I’m riddled.