Brexit Fracturing Major Golf

The Open on a Collision Course with Brexit

We are only a few short weeks away from witnessing Britain float away from the continent in every conceivable way that is relevant to daily life as a European. Solutions do exist, but no convincing majority favors any of them, so opening one’s bumbershoot, holding one’s nose, and jumping off the cliff seems to be the preferred choice at this moment. May continues to ram into the unbreakable wall, and the opposition refuses to moderate itself despite the onrushing precipice. Most of us view the struggle in the context of nations and continents, but for Britain, these enormous tides will create difficulties down to the smallest decisions made between Britain and anyone else within earshot. Among the enterprises thrown into confusion is the European Golf Tour and the manner in which the Open, the “British” Open is to be managed this year.

The Open is scheduled for Royal Portrush , a splendid piece of rugged ocean-side real estate in Northern Ireland. The organizations that make the Open happen have 2,000 containers to ship in preparation. Should they send the shipments to Belfast or Dublin? Should they send everything now before the window closes? That is one of many concerns about the immediate future of Brexit.  It could be a no-deal, or “hard Brexit,” leaving many decisions and deciders in limbo.

Currently, the line between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a soft one, with no interrogations. As a North American who travels to Canada with some frequency, I very much appreciate the gentleness of the experience. Maybe an officer on one side or the other might say, “My dog says there are drugs in your car,” but they’re not going to say it to me, and I appreciate the status quo even more that they are awake to such realities. In Ireland, people have died over that North/South line since Michael Collins negotiated the deal a century ago. Some say it was an incremental Irish victory, while others say it was a colossal surrender. Either way, they’ve stopped the bleeding, and a hard Brexit threatens that. If they all could have played golf on their sumptuous coastal courses instead, many would be happier, and everyone’s handicap would be lower from the practice. But here they are. No one, absolutely no one wants to harden that border and risk it all again. Across the channel, Europe will allow no renegotiation to prevent it. They do, oddly enough, make a special exception for the Ryder Cup. Quite a few of the great European golfers are British, and Brussells won’t tolerate losing at golf to the big bad United States by sacrificing several of its best players.

British golf companies are accustomed to doing business within the EU. Now, they might have to erect offices on the continent, and at what price? I lived in Italy, where every official of every rank has a rubber stamp and thrills to using it. I’ve watched Italian port police refuse to allow a German freighter (with me on board) to depart until the Gucci-clad officer came out in his little boat three days later, complaining that the water had been too rough. I have seen rougher water in bathtubs, but old enemies love to create problems for each other through technical points. Just wait until an entire golf tour tries to do business after a golf Brexit. And what about currency exchange rates, shipping schedules and rules? There are places in Europe where next Friday means next October.

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As a final thought, I wonder what Scotland, the western birthplace of golf, feels about all of this. They like doing business in the EU, and have strained under the London leash for centuries. Are the difficulties to be encountered with the tour an example of the tensions that will drive Scotland out of the English alliance? If they do, what will happen to the “British” Open when it comes back to St. Andrews? Will there suddenly be a hard border along Hadrian’s Wall?  Brexit challenges all the best characteristics of golf, the relaxation, the absence of the day’s cares, the sense of comradeship, mutual appreciation and striving for one’s personal best. I’m not sure that will be allowed in Britain this year, not until someone loosens their collar and allows it.

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