Golf protest gone wrong at the Travelers Championship

No matter what side of the climate change argument or political aisle you reside, the message was worth hearing.

The problem was the execution and the venue. When five environmental activists stormed the 18th green during the final round of the Travelers Championship, they blew the opportunity to make a worthwhile statement for their cause. All they brought was chaos and fear.

“I mean, I was scared for my life,” said Akshay Bhatia, who was paired with Tom Kim and Scottie Scheffler during their duel. “I didn’t even really know what was happening. All of a sudden, four, five people come out running on the green. Yeah, I mean, it was kind of weird. But thankfully the cops were there and kept us safe, because that’s, you know, that’s just weird stuff.”

The five activists from Extinction Rebellion marked the green with a paint-like, powdery substance, but were immediately tackled and handcuffed by police. They’re probably proud that I’m writing this column about their message – “No Golf on a Dead Planet”. Instead I’m condemning their actions. The laws of this country allow for peaceful protest. Even if no one was injured and nothing was damaged, this wasn’t “peaceful”. It was reckless.

A climate change protester is handcuffed on the 18th green by police officers during the final round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It also could very well have derailed a career-defining moment for Tom Kim, who impressively holed a putt after the interruption to force a playoff with Scheffler. For the playoff, the hole had to be moved away from the markings on the green, so a new cup was cut closer to the front bunker by PGA TOUR officials. Kim eventually found that bunker and lost to Scheffler, who won for the sixth time this season.

Professional golfers are among the most exposed professional athletes in their “arenas” of competition. They play outside on a big venue hundreds of acres in size. There’s plenty of security at every tournament, but the players can’t help but feel exposed now and then to the whims of the crowd. Only a small rope and some volunteers stand between them and random strangers.

Tom Kim, Scottie Scheffler and Akshay Bhatia stand on the 18th green after climate protesters stormed the 18th green during the final round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

“When something like that happens, you don’t really know what’s happening, so it can kind of rattle you a little bit, just because there’s people running around the green and there’s police officers running around the green and you don’t know if they’re peaceful, you don’t know what they’re doing, you have no idea what’s going on, so it can be a bit stressful,” Scheffler recalled. “But fortunately, I was out there, and you could kind of see me and Akshay talking to each other for a minute, me and Tom talking to each other for a minute, basically just trying to calm down. That can be a stressful situation and you would hate for the tournament to end on something weird happening because of a situation like that, and so I felt like Tom and I both tried to calm each other down so we could give it our best shot there on 18.”

Golf becoming a target for environmental activists

Golf has become a popular target for protests. The same group protested outside the gates of the DP World Tour’s KLM Open Sunday in the Netherlands, delaying the final round by two hours. The group, Just Stop Oil, targeted both The Open at Royal Liverpool and AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath in 2023. Arrests were made at both tournaments, according to Golf Monthly.

A press release by Extinction Rebellion sent to media after the Travelers Championship went on the attack against golf and its environmental practices. It read: “Golf courses have long paid lip service to the need to reduce the game’s grave environmental costs, which include profligate use of water and carbon-intensive fertilizers, as well as wanton destruction of forestlands. However, the golf world’s minor interventions do not rise to the scale of the catastrophe. They are, in fact, a resounding failure.”

While I do agree that the world doesn’t need too many more golf courses – especially exclusive private ones that are just money-makers for the developers and playgrounds for the rich and elite – I’d say that the industry has done more to help environmental causes the past 10 years than many protesters realize.

Golf courses are using less water and fertilizer than ever before thanks to improvements in grasses and incentives to reduce turf in out-of-play areas. The United States Golf Association and R&A are rolling back the distance the ball flies so courses can thrive in a smaller footprint. Is there more golf could do? Absolutely, but the industry is trying harder than most.

I live in California where I worry every day about climate change. The winter storms are getting more violent and the wildfire season is longer and more deadly than ever. I just had my insurance company drop my home owner’s coverage. I’m personally connected to the warnings and message that the protesters are sending.

Just do better next time. Don’t rush the green and interrupt the players. Professional golf tournaments aren’t the time or place to champion the cause. Holding signs and marching outside of major corporations and Capitol Hill? Those are the most appropriate battle grounds.

Have an opinion on the incident at the Travelers Championship? Let us know in the comments below.

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