Golf is a sport enjoyed by millions of people each and every weekend. What’s more, many people enjoy playing in a litany of different formats: Sixes, Nassau, Vegas, and bingo-bango-bongo, to name just a few. Even YouTube sensations, such as Good Good and Bob Does Sports have brought tremendous creativity to the sport, and with it interest in golf by inventing entirely new games that can be played on the course.
But for all the creativity that these people have brought to the game, the PGA Tour has stayed the course of playing traditional, four round, stroke play tournaments with the occasional match play tournament and the biannual team-based Ryder and Presidents Cups. This leaves a gap between the golf that people play on the weekends and the golf that people watch on the PGA Tour.
Enter the LIV Tour.
Instead of players wearing long pants and mostly-conservative tops, LIV players wear shorts and dress more colorfully. Instead of just being a game of seeing who among the field can shoot the lowest score, a team aspect exists in each tournament and over the course of the entire season, adding much needed strategy and tension to the game. Even the 54-hole format encourages more risk-taking than the PGA’s 72-hole format, which in turn creates more excitement for LIV spectators. And by streaming their tournaments online for free through their website and app, LIV ensures that anyone can watch its content live from any device.
These are all incredible developments for the game of golf.
The impulse to defend tradition is noble, but a conservative defense of tradition is not the same thing as stagnation. In its initial fanatical opposition to LIV—before merging amid a recognition that it could not outcompete the LIV—the PGA reacted the way any longtime monopoly might against the disruption caused by new competition. Monopolies often fear competition more than they fear government: You can lobby government for ongoing favoritism but in a free economy, you must compete.
In 1977, UCLA economist Armen Alchian wrote in The Wall Street Journal about why communist countries lacked interest in golf. He concluded that golf is more than a sport; it is “a manifestation of the essential human spirit.” Golf requires and promotes “self-reliance, independence, responsibility, integrity, and trust.” One could say exactly the same about trade in a free market. The free market is best not simply because it is the most efficient way to address scarcity, but because it arises out of the creativity, freedom, and social nature of the person, depending heavily on the integrity and trust of its participants.
Like markets, golf promotes, tests, relies on, and hopefully sharpens one’s virtue. P. G. Wodehouse, in one of his many golf stories, put it best: “The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.”
Indeed, no other game inculcates the four classical virtues like golf. Golf instills prudence by applying theory and strategy in practice and rewards fortitude, and temperance when players maintain composure through adversity and failure. It is especially conducive to the virtue of justice, because the good golfer must habituate and choose to apply the rules of golf in accord with his own conscience for his own good and the good of other players. There is, perhaps, no other sport more complementary to the life of the free citizen.
The future of professional golf is, like a good drive off the tee, up in the air. We can take heart, though, that golf was invented by the Scots, the same people who gave us Adam Smith 300 years ago this year. Competition and virtue remain the core of golf, just as they do the free enterprise system.