THESE are farcical times. In fact, things are so farcical, everyday life on these isles should be accompanied by the Yakety Sax music from The Benny Hill Show and piped in through industrial-sized speakers strategically positioned at various points throughout the land.

Lies, deceit, rule-breaking, scandal, corruption, incompetence? And that was just the feedback I got from HMRC after submitting my self-assessment tax return. 

I genuinely thought that BYOB was my code for the financial year. So, before Sue Gray gets lumbered with investigating these opening few paragraphs, let’s crack on.

At last, the rebranded European Tour – now known as the DP World Tour – will get going this week in Abu Dhabi after enduring the kind of calamitous inauguration that was a bigger letdown than the launch of the inflatable dartboard.

The surge of the Omicron variant, of course, plunged a mighty spanner into the works. The first event of the 2022 campaign, the Joburg Open back in November, descended into chaos with a raft of players, mainly from GB&I, withdrawing after round one and racing to the airport as South Africa was suddenly flung on to the red list.

The tournament itself was reduced to 36-holes due to bad weather while the next two scheduled events were scrapped and the whole DP World bonanza went as flat as an unfinished bottle of Prosecco at No 10.

At the very top level, which features virtually non-stop, wraparound schedules and gaps of about 30 minutes between one season finishing and another starting, a break of some seven weeks on the tour feels like an eternity. Footage of Thursday’s opening round at Yas Links will probably begin with a covering of stoor being wiped off the camera lens.

Finally, though, the tour’s new era will really swing into life as a star-studded field, headlined by the likes of Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, assembles in the desert.  Even the redoubtable Colin Montgomerie, at a sprightly 58, is making a guest appearance to mark his 35th year as a tour member.

This will be the first of four Middle East events over the next month or so. Well, there’s five actually but February’s Saudi International, once part of the old European Tour, is now the flagship of the rival Asian Tour. It continues to grab both major headlines and major players.

There had been talk of both the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour officials effectively banning their players from competing in the Saudi showpiece as tensions mounted in golf’s well-documented arms race. That hasn’t materialised, however, and a glittering array of global campaigners are heading to Jeddah to pick up the kind of hefty appearance fee that would capsize a galleon.

Over the last few days, the spotlight has again been beamed down on Saudi’s sporting portfolio and brand building. It was revealed that Scotland’s tennis knight of the realm, Andy Murray, had turned down a mighty fee to play an exhibition match due to his concerns over the Kingdom’s grisly human rights violations

Prior to that news emerging, all-round golfing good guy Shane Lowry was explaining his decision to compete in the Saudi International. “I’m not a politician, I’m a professional golfer,” said the 2019 Open champion.

While Murray’s actions were lauded, Lowry was criticised for trotting out a trite response and taking refuge in the old falsehood that sport and politics don’t mix. He’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to fall foul of that.

In addition, Lowry stated that, “I earn a living for myself and my family and try and take care of those, and this (playing in Saudi) is just a part of that.”

Lowry may already be a multi-millionaire but why stop there? Golf is his business and the cold, harsh reality of business means that money tends to trump ethical concerns. At least the Irishman was honest enough to admit that he is, essentially, going for the cash.

Golf bodies and individual golfers may justify their arrival in Saudi Arabia on the grounds that they are there as agents of change and, as the popular platitude goes, to “grow the game.” That may be true to an extent but, by and large, it’s about money changing hands not changing the world.

When the last putt drops on the shores of the Red Sea next month, the circus will swiftly move on and a number of rich players will leave a fair bit richer. Meanwhile, the money-no-object process of repackaging Saudi Arabia as a normal country where normal things like sport take place will go on. The public beheadings and brutal repressions will go on as normal too.

Golf, and all the other sports lured by these untold riches, continues to explore this complex moral maze.

And Another Thing . . . 

A press release dropped in yesterday and you’ll all be delighted to know that the 2023 Ryder Cup now has an official cruise line partner. Or you probably couldn’t give a poop-deck to be honest.

The transatlantic tussle has always had a rich nautical history, of course. In the days before the combined fleet of Team Europe, for instance, GB&I’s regular trouncings left the contest as lop-sided as a drunken sailor on a sinking ship...