Pelley’s organisation has firm rules. Any tour member or “related personnel” – including management, caddie, spouse, partner as accredited for an event – is forbidden from betting or instructing someone else to bet on “any professional or elite amateur golf tournament anywhere in the world”.
While the policy appears stringent on paper, you need not go far at a European Tour event to source betting by “related personnel”. The wider debate relates to whether that is actually problematic. Sporadically, betting trends in golf leap out; immediately before Ryder Cup wildcards are picked being a prime example. But would the use of insider knowledge be seriously harmful?
This week, the R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers, swatted away the suggestion that golf’s oldest major could bow to commerce and permit on-site betting.
“We have the Wi-Fi system that allows the online betting,” Slumbers said. “We just don’t particularly want to have bookmakers in the Open Championship in the golf course. People can absolutely do it outside the course, they can do it across their Wi-Fi with their online accounts but we just don’t want to have it inside the ropes.”
This sounded suspiciously like: “We don’t want that sort here.”
Slumbers added: “I think there’s danger in all sport of inappropriate betting. I’d hate to see crowds getting overly involved in their enthusiasm for a particular player or hole or shot because of their betting position. I think that would be detrimental.
“For the very first time in 2016, we actually became part of a sports monitoring service that was looking at all the betting that’s going on around the Open and monitoring any potential dangers, which there weren’t any. We just didn’t feel it was appropriate to have it inside the ropes. We think it detracts from the overall position of what we’re trying to do.”
Slumbers’ stance is not without flaws. By his own admission, fans could very easily become “overly involved” from a “betting position” as made via mobile phone. Where they place the bet is irrelevant. The R&A also cannot turn into moral beacons over this; alcohol is sold by the gallon at the Open and commonly taken to excess, so we are not dealing with an angelic form of spectator sport here.
Maybe golf has absolutely nothing to worry about. Maybe the caution of Slumbers is to be applauded. It appears, though, that golf is rather fumbling around for the appropriate way to develop a relationship with a market that could undermine sporting integrity, just as it has elsewhere.