PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Golf begrudgingly joined the new world of sport Thursday when leaders from its most influential organizations signed off on an anti-doping policy with hopes of proving its players are clean.
Drug testing could begin as early as next spring, although details such as when to test and any penalties are still being worked out.
“But for the problems in other sports, I doubt we would be at this point,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a conference call with the leaders of six major golf organizations. “We are where we are given the way of the world. And I think it’s a positive day for golf because we are together (and) we are spending a lot of energy to do it right.”
It was a universal effort from the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, U.S. Golf Association, Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America, meaning the policy ultimately would cover golf at the highest level all over the world, including the four major championships.
Drug testing at the Masters likely would not start next year. Augusta National executive director Jim Armstrong said the Masters would watch what the other tours do before deciding how to proceed. Likewise, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the British Open would be treated like any other week on the European Tour.
Finchem said the other major golf tours, such as South Africa and Japan, have signed off on the list of banned substances and have agreed to go along with the second phase of the policy, which will include medical waivers, testing, punishment and making sure that any player caught cheating on one tour would face penalties on all of them.
The LPGA Tour was the first to announce a drug policy in professional golf, which begins next year.
In amateur golf, the R&A and USGA did a sample test at the World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa late last year, and all 12 golfers came back clean.
“The R&A has no reason to believe that golf is anything other than a clean sport,” Dawson said. “But we’ve been supportive of a coordinated international effort in golf to test for drugs so that we can demonstrate that our sport is clean and we can keep it that way.”
The policy will be coordinated by the World Golf Foundation, comprised of leaders from major golf organizations.
Officials released a list of 10 classes of drugs that will be banned, which range from anabolic steroids to hormones to narcotics to beta blockers. PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said HGH was on the banned list. He said the entire list of banned drugs would not be released until the tour showed it to the players.
Two substances from the World Anti-Doping Association list, which is used in the Olympics and other sports, was left off golf’s banned list because Finchem said it would cause an undue administrative burden and golf executives do not believe those substances – Glucocorticosteroids and Beta-2-Agonists – will enhance a golfer’s performance.
Finchem has resisted drug testing since the question was first posed at the start of the decade, saying there was no evidence of performance-enhancing drugs for golf or anyone using them. Even if that were the case, he suggested that golf could get by on its centuries-old honor code of players calling penalties on themselves.
But as doping began to surface in baseball and cycling and several other sports, golf came under increasing pressure to develop a policy.
And it made headlines in golf at the British Open this summer when nine-time major champion Gary Player said he knew for a fact that some golfers were using steroids and that one had confessed to him. Player didn’t identify the player, saying he had promised not to tell.
“Certainly, the problems in other sports have created a growing perception among fans that athletes … utilize substances that in other sports are banned,” Finchem said. He also mentioned that the European and LPGA tours hold tournaments in countries where drug testing is required by the government, such as France.
“All of those things argue for moving forward,” he said.
Finchem said proposals for testing and punishment would be reviewed by the PGA Tour policy board at the Nov. 12 meeting. The next step is to make sure its players know what’s on the banned list, how to seek a medical waiver and what the punishment would be if a test came back positive.
He said there would be up to eight meetings over the first three months of 2008, along with a 24-hour consultation line for players, agents and fitness trainers.
“We are not going to just have a player meeting and 30 players come and call it a day,” he said. “We will be out sitting down with players aggressively, and we will have a lot of people involved in that process. We’re just not going to leaving anything to chance.”
Each tour would be responsible for administering its own policy.
Finchem estimated the cost to the PGA Tour at about $1.5 million a year, but only as it relates to testing.
“No sport has gotten into testing without litigation arising in some fashion or form, and that’s a whole other level of cost,” he said. “But we’re not worrying about that right now.”