tiger woods.pngThere has been no end of snobbery over the years that makes fun of the conservatism of golf: so much space to serve so few athletes, the cost to the environment, the exclusivity of the private clubs, and so on.

But this fascinating New York Times article made clear to me that in one respect, golf is far more democratic – and open to just outcomes – than many other sports. Its dispute resolution is also more like the kind of deliberative and open minded approach we tend to look for in our justice system. Namely, the idea that the testimony of credible witnesses should be admitted as evidence to be weighed by a finder of fact.

For an investigator who tells clients every day that talking to more people gets you closer to the truth than talking to fewer people or nobody, this was nice to see. We’ve written extensively about the power of interviews in Talk Isn’t Cheap Even When Offline  and Good Investigations: A Second Opinion on Almost Everything.

By now, sports fans know what happened at this weekend’s Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Tiger Woods broke a rule about where he was allowed to replace a ball that had fallen into the water, but officials missed it. But since this is golf, Woods was penalized after a television viewer alerted Club officials that Woods had broken a rule. A review of television footage confirmed that the viewer was correct.

If a professional hockey player trips an opponent and this isn’t seen by a referee, there is no penalty. A perfect baseball game pitched in 2010 by Armando Galarraga was spoiled because an umpire, Jim Joyce,  made an incorrect decision that was not appealable (even though Joyce knew after watching a replay that he had blown the call).

The “sentence” given to Woods (two strokes instead of disqualification) was criticized as being too lenient, just as civil and criminal penalties can be seen to lack sufficient deterrent effect.

Still, the fact that many people may contribute to gathering evidence should makes golf a little more palatable to those who think it an outdated game with little redeeming value.