PGA Tour Implementing Integrity Program in 2018

Gambling on golf is something of a double-edged sword for the PGA Tour. Fantasy golf has exploded in recent years, no doubt boosting ratings for Tour events as fans follow the exploits of their players. The Tour has even jumped on the fantasy bandwagon with its own fantasy site.

Of course, wagers on golf matches are as embedded in the lore of golf as mulligans. You won’t find a definition of “Five dollar Nassau” in the rule book, but perhaps there should be. And there is no secret that wagers abound during practice rounds on the Tour. An anonymous former player revealed that most wagers range from $100-300, but that it’s not unusual to see heavy hitters wager thousands on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or even to wager during competition when they’re non-factors in the tournament.

Yet golf prides itself as a game of integrity, and as gambling on various outcomes in golf events becomes more widespread, those charged with protecting the game are becoming more vigilant. If golf insiders are involved in betting, unseemly conduct could tarnish the game. For example, knowledge of an injury could influence betting outcomes. Such concerns could become more pronounced if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state of New Jersey in a case challenging a federal law that restricts legalized sports betting in the United States.

Recently, the Tour announced a comprehensive gambling policy that will become effective on January 1, 2018. The new Integrity Program will apply not only to players but to their support teams, tournament volunteers, and Tour employees. The Tour explained that “while the Tour has a longstanding policy prohibiting players from betting or related activities at Tour-related events, the new Integrity Program is more comprehensive.” The program is intended to “maintain integrity and prevent and mitigate betting-related corruption in PGA Tour competition.”

The Tour is not suggesting that corruption in golf betting is currently widespread, but is taking a proactive stance. “The bedrock of PGA Tour competition are the inherent values of golf and the honesty and integrity of our members,” said commissioner Jay Monahan. “We recognize, however, that no sport is fully immune from the potential influence of gambling. We think it’s the right thing to do when your brand is as strong as ours to really understand what the activities are and to be proactive.”

The Tour announced that it will work with Genius Sports, a sports data-technology service that can track betting patterns and spot suspicious betting trends. (MLB has a similar contract with Genius Sports.) The Integrity Program will also educate players about gambling so that they can identify, resist, and report incidents of potential gambling corruption.

Could match-fixing be happening in golf, like tennis? Geoff Ogilvy, a member of the Tour’s player advisory council, told Golf Digest that is plausible on lower-level tours. “No one in golf thinks that has happened to this point, but as these options (live betting) become more available there is more and more potential,” he said. “At the back of the field in a Web.com event, they’re not making much money anyway. It could be quite tempting.” The new policy will apply to all six tours overseen by the PGA Tour.

The Integrity Program may be the Tour’s effort to find some workable coexistence with gambling in golf. “Gambling brings a lot of positives to a sport. Football is just better with it,” Ogilvy commented. “But it brings negatives too.” Justin Thomas added: “It doesn’t affect most of us. But if people are out here trying to make money that way instead of playing good golf, then they deserve to be punished.”