Played through for suckers by golf’s elite

Played through for suckers by golf’s elite

Mush for brains. That’s the most charitable way to characterize a state government effort “to step up” with your money to assist the wealthy barons of professional golf.

You’ll recall that this month, and with much gushing and gee-whizzzzzing in the media, the United States Golf Association (USGA) said it would bring nine – Count ‘em, nine, gee-whiz and golly-jeeper-wompers! – golf opens for men and women to the Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh and the Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia over the next three decades.

Mere days after the announcement, an apparent quid pro quo – that’s nod-nod, wink-winkin’ in regular parlance — was revealed: In return for tournaments, “The State,” with taxpayer dollars, will offer some kind of direct or in-kind financial assistance to the effort.

And then the rationalizations began.

To PennLive.com, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican, characterized the financial agreement as “more of a handshake right now.”

“There’s no commitment of dollars or contracts, or anything like that,” Corman said. “But, now that the USGA has agreed and has committed to putting on all these types of events here in Pennsylvania … we as a commonwealth have said, ‘Look, we want to step up and be part of this,’ because obviously there’s (a) tremendous amount of economic activity that comes when you bring hundreds of thousands of people to one site.”

Which begs a few questions:

If these events are such grand economic generators, why is financial assistance needed?

If these events are the be-all and end-all for economic activity, would not “The State” reap more dollar rewards by not offering subsidies? That is, ATR – TPS = MMFTC. Oh, not familiar with that theory? That’s Ancillary Tax Receipts minus Taxpayer Subsidies equals More Money for Taxpayer Coffers.

But the most important question here is this:

What is the propriety of subsidizing a private group playing at a private country club — one that charges hundreds of dollars to attend — that annually – and in association with the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) — through television broadcast revenue and sponsorships, channels millions of dollars to professional athletes?

There is no propriety in such a thing.

PennLive reports that John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director for championships, says one of its requests could be for money to build a new pedestrian bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Oakmont.

After all, the course is split by the highway with 11 holes on one side and seven on the other.

But that’s not taxpayers’ responsibility. If the USGA wants a new bridge, it and Oakmont should be responsible. Solely. And it’s not as if that’s without precedent.

Oakmont first was bisected by a railroad line. A bridge was built, privately. Then came the Pennsylvania Turnpike, following the same railroad right of way. When an original pedestrian bridge was deemed insufficient, a country club member ponied up the half-million dollars to build a new bridge.

The USGA also says it and Oakmont might seek public subsidies to build permanent foundations for the temporary spectator grandstands that are erected during major tournaments.

But, again, that’s not a taxpayer responsibility; it’s a capital cost that Oakmont and the USGA alone should bear.  

Any such appropriations would have to be approved by the state Legislature. But, at this point, that appears to be a mere formality. And taxpayers will be played through for suckers once again.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).