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Golf-Turmoil in pro game changes nothing in golf’s spiritual home

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By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) – The suggestion that professional golf was locked in a battle for the “soul of the game” before last week’s shock merger announcement raises a laugh at one of Scotland’s oldest courses.

At grassroots level in the sport’s spiritual home, where balls have been struck on coastal links since the 15th century, the PGA and DP World Tours calling a truce with Saudi-backed rivals LIV changes nothing.

David Roy, secretary manager of the Crail Golfing Society, told Reuters in a telephone interview that the situation was “an absolute sidebar conversation and largely of little real interest.

“Rich people fighting about how to become richer,” he laughed. “It’s got nothing to do with the soul of the game. Absolutely nothing.”

Those who want to experience the authentic soul of the sport do not have to look far in Scotland, starting with the oldest of them all, the famed Old Course at St Andrews, and taking in Crail, 10 miles down the coast.

A golfing gem, whose Balcomie course was first laid out by the ‘Grandfather of Golf’ Old Tom Morris in 1895, the club was founded in 1786 and its first trophy, the Lindesay Medal, dates from 1830.

A round of Balcomie costs 135 pounds during the high-season, compared to the 295 pound green fee at the Old Course, and visitors are welcome.

St Andrews itself has seven links courses and anyone with a handicap can play the Old Course for a fee and with success in a ballot.

Kinghorn, above the town of Burntisland in Fife, is another Old Tom Morris course with spectacular views.

“Last time I played it, Sunday afternoon, it was like about 12 pounds. Total bargain,” said Roy, who suggested clubs such as his had a greater influence on culture and society than the Tours and LIV.

“It’s us volunteers and industry professionals who are the ones that rear the young golfers. We’re the ones that teach them how to behave on a golf course,” he said.

“There’s almost nothing that any of the tours do that grow the game… the four majors, they are the organisations that actually support the game. The rest of it is just entertainment, isn’t it?”

SAUDI MONEY

The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.

“Will the Saudi money make any difference? No. It won’t make any difference to the way people behave or the culture of honesty and so on,” said Roy.

“It’s such a strong embedded culture that it’s going to take more than a few wealthy sheiks to change things.”

Scotland has more than 550 courses and attracts around 220,000 golfing visitors annually, according to Visit Scotland. The industry as a whole is worth 1 billion pounds ($1.26 billion) to the local economy.

Some 90% of golf tourism involves around 75 facilities on the coasts and some notable inland courses such as Blairgowrie and Gleneagles.

There are Donald Trump’s lavish Balmedie and Turnberry courses, the former making headlines in the early stages when the former U.S. president found his money counted for very little against an angry local farmer who told him to ‘shove it’.

At the other literal extreme there is Reay, a club of 160 members, on the far north coast where an honesty box is available for payment of green fees when the course is unattended, an occurrence that is not unusual.

“More often than not you can have the course to yourself. This is where you can experience golf as it was intended. A game for everybody,” says the club website.

The honesty box system is also widespread across the highlands and islands.

As eight times major winner and world number one Tom Watson famously observed: “Golf is a game of ego, but it is also a game of integrity.

“The most important thing is you do what is right when no one is looking.”

($1 = 0.7956 pounds)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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