Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Golf should do right thing, cut all ties with Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on March 10, 2015.
Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on March 10, 2015. AP

Golf, the country club sport that for so much of its history was as white as the dimpled ball on the tee, has an enormous opportunity now to do the right thing — and to surprise us by doing so. Golf has a chance to pick principle over Donald Trump’s billions, borrow his own catchphrase and tell him, “You’re fired.”

Trump’s outrageous, broad-swipe comments disparaging Mexicans should have this sport disassociating itself from his name and brand. That means no longer staging tournaments at any course he owns, including Trump National Doral, whose Blue Monster hosts one of the PGA Tour’s World Golf Championships events every March.

The city of Doral, a quick trip west of downtown Miami, finds itself one of the hubs of the Trump controversy.

A short walk from the golf resort Trump bought from bankruptcy in 2012 you’d find the studios and production facilities of Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish-language television giant that recently severed ties with Trump over his racist comments.

NBC, Macy’s, NASCAR, Serta (the mattress company) and others also have aborted business ties with Trump.

Many by now know that, in announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination last month, Trump said of Mexican immigrants in the United States:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Condescendingly, he added, “and some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump, who does not do contrition, has since declined opportunities to apologize, to “clarify,” to backtrack in any way.

Donald Sterling made similarly prejudicial, disparaging remarks about black people, and it swiftly cost him ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers — expulsion from the NBA.

What if Trump had said what he said referring to black people?

But it’s OK to insult Mexicans?

Golf has been slow to tell him it isn’t.

See, Trump has become a sugar daddy for the sport. He began to invest in golf five or six years ago, when the sport’s economic struggles made it ripe for his involvement. He bought Doral Resort & Spa, immediately rebranding it with his own famous name, and today has a “portfolio” of 17 golf clubs, about half of them involved in prominently hosting PGA Tour or other tournaments.

“I’ve been very loyal to golf,” The Donald told The New York Times this week. “We will see whether or not golf is loyal to me.”

Loyal to a bigot espousing a divisive, fear-inciting, “us-against-them” mind-set at a time when inclusion (such as the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage) speaks more loudly and broadly for what America means to stand for?

Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the United States and Mexicans are the largest subset of the group.

That makes what Trump said dumb from both political and business vantages, but wrong is wrong, whether your tone-deaf prejudice aims at a large group or a small one.

Golf at least has distanced itself from Trump in a joint statement from the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, PGA of America and U.S. Golf Association saying his remarks “do not reflect the views of our organizations.”

Finally, though, on Tuesday, golf began to react in a substantive way. The fissures in the support for Trump began to tangibly show when the Palm Beach Gardens-based PGA of America said it was moving its fall Grand Slam of Golf event from Trump’s course in Los Angeles, a city that leads the nation in most residents of Mexican descent.

Notably, though, the infamously litigious Trump agreed to the decision, which surely wouldn’t be the case if his properties continued to lose major events.

Moving the event out of L.A. was done to avert protests that surely would have awaited the tournament there. The thing is, Trump’s outlandish comments about Mexicans — words appealing to the worst in us, words inflaming prejudice — should offend Americans in general, not just those specifically insulted.

That is why the PGA Tour and other entities should follow this lead and also remove themselves from Trump-owned courses, even if threatened by lawsuits, or see their events hijacked by the controversy.

Quality courses eager for major-tournament ties are not in short supply. If the PGA Tour left Trump National Doral, for example, there would be every reason to hope the WGC event might remain in the Miami area.

PGA Tour director of communications Chris Reimer told us Wednesday, “With respect to PGA Tour-sanctioned events held at Trump golf courses, we are continuing to monitor the situation.” That’s mildly encouraging, at least.

The out-front, attention-loving Trump wants to be the centerpiece of any tournament he hosts. Golf fans arriving at the WGC event in Doral each year walk past his conspicuously parked helicopter. No sport or tournament right now should want the face of its event to be Trump’s.

This isn’t a free speech issue, by the way, except to remind that free speech has its consequences. Trump had every right to say what he did, to express his views. Make that clear. But others have the right to find those remarks repugnant and respond in kind.

(Similarly, you are free to upbraid your boss in a profane tirade at the company picnic. And to then seek other employment.)

I spoke Wednesday to Butch Buchholz, tournament chairman of the WGC event at Trump National Doral, but he reminded, “The Tour has made it very clear we are not to speak about this.”

Another official at Doral not authorized to speak to the media told us, “I don’t think anybody really knows what will happen. If the PGA Tour decides to leave [Trump properties], it could start snowballing. But we also know that with Donald if there’s someone he can sue, he’ll sue. So we’ll see how this plays out.”

For now, the PGA of America pulling out of that L.A. event scheduled for a Trump course is not insignificant.

“The first shoe fell,” as our Doral source put it.

May others follow.