Donald Trump has ingratiated himself with the PGA Tour. He owns 18 golf courses, and many big name tournaments — like this weeks WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral — are played on some of the courses he owns. Daniel Roberts of Yahoo! Sports laid out an interesting piece bringing up the fact that Trump is so involved in the PGA Tour’s tournaments that it creates some challenging business issues this year. The problem is that the issues will carry on whether Trump wins the Republican nomination or not, and the PGA needs to create a strategy about how to address the upcoming challenges.
Before we address the issues one thing needs to be said: Trump is not going to relinquish his golf holdings even if he becomes president. Being Commander-in-chief is a maximum eight-year job, the courses and real estate holdings are a business asset that can be passed down to his children. The problem is that the PGA probably can’t avoid going to Trump owned venues. Doral is a PGA stronghold, the 2017 Senior PGA Championship is scheduled to be held at Bedminster and the 2022 PGA Championship will be held at the same course. — if you haven’t figured it out, Trump owns Bedminster. Sure the venue could change but that just brings up the fact that the Tour is deeply involved with the Donald.
The problem is really two-fold. Can the PGA Tour afford to be associated with Trump as it continues to try and grow the game — especially internationally — and will the Tour lose sponsors as Trump continues with his political aspirations?
Trump has had some questionable comments when speaking about other countries or religions. Even without getting political, Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the country and attacks on China aren’t good for the growth of the game if it is associated with Donald. Trump owns two golf courses in Dubai so his comments won’t help those courses either. Those two markets are key for golf moving forward.
The second issue is a challenge that golf has been facing for a while. Sponsorships and ROI for marketing partners is a tricky business. Golf has had issues with naming sponsors multiple times since 2000. It happened in 2008 with the financial crisis, and also in 2010. It happened again in 2012. Sponsorships of tournaments are beholden to economic conditions at the time. It’s a grind. Adding Trump to the mix just creates another issue. Say what you want about the support for Trump — and that support can’t be denied any longer — but that doesn’t mean brands will idly stand-by while they are associated with the Republican presidential candidate. Nothing is more important to major companies than their brand.
The problem is that this version of Trump isn’t going away. Even if he loses the GOP nomination, Trump is a good business man. He has seen that he resonates with a certain portion of the population, and he isn’t one to shy away from making money. Myriad politicians have taken their fame into the entertainment and media space — hello Sarah Palin — and often times their rhetoric is even more bombastic than when they were running. That means that the Trump problem isn’t only an issue while he’s running for President of the United States, it’s an on-going issue as long as he is associated with the game of golf.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.