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TPC Sawgrass

Does golf have a drugs problem? Now we might actually find out…

The PGA Tour have revised their drugs policy from the start of next season. What's involved and will it make any difference?
 

Does golf have a drugs problem? The issue has always been ‘how do we know?’

The PGA Tour have rarely seen fit to tell us.

That’s why their announcement they are to revise their anti-doping programme has to be welcomed – even if they are decades late to the party.

Commissioner Jay Monahan, arguing the move would “better substantiate the integrity of golf as a clean sport”, saw the tour match their list of prohibited substances with those of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

They will introduce blood testing next season, which will allow them to analyse samples for substances such as human growth hormone.

Urine testing will still be the prominent source of gathering samples.

But the big new development is that suspensions, which are handed out because of recreational drug use, will now be reported.

Previously these were kept confidential, and the only cases made public were those involving performance enhancing drugs.

Whether intended or not, this projected an image to the wider sports world – working hard to clamp down on the use of any illegal substances – that golf was soft on drugs.

PGA Tour

It allowed the easy accusation that decisions were made not on ethics but on how they might damage the image of the product, or the stars.

Players who ‘disappeared’ from action were subject to massive speculation and media frenzy. How could chiefs think that was a welcome outcome?

Key to all of this, of course, will be the PGA Tour administering more tests.

According to WADA, golf carried out the fewest number of drugs tests of major sports – just 417 – in 2015. Compare that with football, where 32,362 samples were analysed, or athletics with 30,308.

It seems pointless revising a policy without significantly increasing the number of tests you will do.

What difference will this make to the players? Those who transgress with recreational drugs know they now face being exposed to the same public sanctions any sportsperson must deal with when results are published.

Will that make them think again? Who knows?

But this move at least starts to bring golf in line with other Olympic sports – though it will be a surprise if it suddenly leads to a spirit of openness in another aspects of the PGA Tour’s disciplinary process.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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