Sunday, January 3, 2010

The future of golf is good - with or without Tiger

Golf has been around for hundreds of years, and all the so-called experts who have rung the sport's death knell because of Tiger Woods need to check their history.

It's true that 2009 was bad for golf. It was bad for many sports. But that had more to do with the economy that Tiger Woods, still the world's No. 1 golfer. Real estate prices at golf communities tumbled; advertising and sponsorship dollars dwindled; and play across the country declined.

Woods missed the first part of the 2009 PGA Tour season while he recovered from knee surgery, but I think that had little effect on the overall picture of golf. And by the time news of his infidelity spread like wildfire, the season was over.

The point is that golf - and any sport for that matter - will survive even through the most heinous scandal.

Pete Rose didn't take down baseball. Michael Vick won't be the end of football. Tim Donaghy's gambling and organized crime ties can't stop basketball.

And Tiger Woods will not hurt golf - whether he plays or not.

My prediction is that he'll return to professional golf, and the sport will blossom again. But I don't think of that as a cause and effect issue. One has little to do with the other.

In fact, I feel more confident in predicting a better year for golf than I do about Woods' return to professional play.

The economy has started to rebound, meaning purse strings will loosen for fans, advertisers, sponsors, real estate developers and casual players.

Woods has been playing professional golf for less than 15 years. Yes, he's the greatest golfer of this past decade, and The Associated Press recently named him top athlete of the past 10 years.

But athletes come and go in the world of sports. In golf, after Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, there was Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. And now, there's Tiger Woods.

No, there wasn't the controversy surrounding those past greats like there has been with Woods. But they stepped away from playing professionally just the same.

Many blog posts, news reports and magazine articles that have jumped on this Tiger Woods circus have pretty much decided it's time to take golf off its life support system and let it die - especially if Woods walks away forever. But I think most of these people know Woods as a celebrity, not a golfer.

Woods might not ever hold the celebrity status he once held when he was on the top of the golf world and the realm of celebrities. But those are two different arenas. And Woods still is on the golf summit.

Now again, I believe Tiger will return.

But if he doesn't, golf will continue - and it will prosper.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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