HONOLULU — Gambling has been embedded into the fabric of golf for ages, from big-money matches at private clubs to the $2 Nassau among weekend hackers to the pocket-picking games during Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds on the PGA Tour and elsewhere in pro golf.
But such wagering was confined to the golf course and among the participants. In today’s digital age, that’s no longer the case, as betting on golf has become as widespread—and easily accessible—as for any other sport.
The potential for trouble was serious enough that the tour instituted an anti-gambling initiative that went into effect Jan. 1. The “Integrity Program,” announced in September, is intended to protect competitions on all six tours that the PGA Tour oversees from potential outside influences related to today’s big-time gaming environment.
The tour retained Genius Sports to help implement the program, which includes a bet-monitoring system and tracking potential on-site information sharing related to gaming. Genius Sports also created an educational tutorial that tour players or one or their representatives was required to watch by Dec. 31.
“It wasn’t about your wagers on the course on a Tuesday. It was about the influence gambling can have on the sport,” said veteran Ryan Armour, who watched the 15-minute video and completed the accompanying brief questionnaire before the Sentry Tournament of Champions. “It’s about fantasy golf stuff, the way they are using our data from ShotLink to make real-time bets. They just want us to be aware of what’s going on.
“Obviously,” Armour said, “there was a warning about being involved in any of it, but it was mainly informational.”
“I’ve never done any of that stuff anyways,” said Grayson Murray, who also has watched the video. “I don’t know anyone who has. The tour has their rules, and for a reason, I guess. They want to make it a clean sport. They don’t want any distractions. So it’s all good.”
Players could participate in the tutorial via a link through their password-protected access to their respective tour websites. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan (shown below) also has seen it, and though he joked that, “I don’t think it’s award winning,” he knows it’s part of a necessary undertaking to be proactive against the threat of betting-related corruption on any tour.
“In that world, you can operate not understanding what’s happening week in and week out, or you can assume that everybody, that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that’s not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Monahan explained. “And that’s what we have attempted to do, not with just the video but with all of our communication with our players, and we will continue to do that.”
While appreciating what the tour is attempting to accomplish, one longtime tour member said the issue could lead to unintended consequences.
“It’s all common-sense stuff, but it’s also kind of ridiculous some of it. There’s real problems this could cause,” the veteran player said, not wanting to be identified. “If I’m just talking among my friends about golf, and they ask me, ‘How is so-and-so playing?’ well, that might come back on me if they somehow try to use that information. Same thing for my caddie. I can’t talk about golf with my friends for fear of getting in trouble?
“What if I just talk to you [media]? I tell you I broke my driver on the range. I have to be careful about that now, apparently. You’re doing your job, but do I know what you’re going to do with that information? I get what they’re trying to do, and we absolutely have to do it, but there are potential pitfalls, too.”
Pardon the expression, but the tour has determined that that is worth the risk to ensure the integrity of the sport.