National / Sports / September 30, 2010

How the death of golf is good and bad

According to an NPR poll from 2008, 41 percent of golfers do not believe in global warming. Likewise, they are 43 percent more likely to be Republicans. Back-of-the-napkin math: golfers are 93 percent likely to be white males.

I am a white male – but college-aged. Customarily, I eschew unnecessary plastic wrapping, bottled water, paper plates, Dole fruit products and Fox News – all of this to avoid the fact that I am a white male.

I am a white male who plays golf, which only complicates things further. Over 1.3 million acres of perfectly viable, American green space is dedicated to golf courses. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tons of chemicals like potash, phosphate and nitrogen are dumped on the foreign grasses that populate golf courses across America.

These dens of bourgeois recreation have been fast expanding since a non-white male, Tiger Woods, put golf back in the American psyche in the late 1990s. This was oddly timed, of course, as the Professional Golf Association (PGA) attempted to spread the game to the inner city, using Woods as the face of their “First Tee” program.

With the economy in shambles, however, bringing new golfers to the game is less of a priority. Instead, the PGA would rather keep people interested, even those green-minded white males like myself.

Just as department stores like Target peddle their cheap, plastic products that promote “greenness,” the PGA has partnered with the National Audubon Society in order to promote sustainable golf, whatever that means. Of the 16,000 golf courses in America, only one is completely organic: Vineyard Golf Club, located (of all places) on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Back-of-the-napkin math: population is 99 percent white males.

And golf is dying. Each year, more courses close than open, and in 2009 140 courses closed while only 50 opened. Of the 50 new ones, most are of the Wal-Mart Superstore variety: giant tracts of land, surrounded by new, architecturally abhorrent mansions, and too expensive for most golfers to play. These courses often close within a year or two of opening, due to inactivity and poor planning.

That, I don’t mind. The fact that the rich white males who build gigantic, unnatural behemoth golf courses lose money on their investments is not a problem for me. I’ll toast to that any day. The more of these courses die, the better.

But there’s another category of golf course that’s suffering: the small, local golf courses; those built in the 1950s, during the pre-Tiger Woods, post-Gene Sarazen expansion of the game. These courses don’t have GPS-capable carts or expensive dining rooms or exotic grass or young, spiky-haired instructors. They are often publicly financed and run by old white men – the charming kind – who retired from their factory jobs 20 years ago but were forced back into working by the scarcity of their retirement funds or the dearth of things to do at home. The best part about these men is that they can’t wait to tell you all about themselves.

I grew up on a course like this. I played barefoot a lot of the time, unaware of the phosphate and the potash and the nitrogen. It was called Atwood Homestead; it didn’t sound like a golf course, more like a youth camp where I might learn how to kayak or find coyote tracks or live off rabbit droppings and berries.

The consummate old guy was Sandy; he was a prick. He complained about women playing golf, how he didn’t make any money, how he hated the weather, how he drove an old car, how I drove a new car (I didn’t), how I was young, how he was old, etc. But he was part of the experience. His wife worked at the concession stand. She would fix me a hot dog at the turn, a snack that I would gobble up (without washing my hands – again, unaware of the potash) in no time.

I have no connection to Atwood anymore. Last time I was there, Sandy was gone. He probably quit, moved down to Florida, shaved his salt and pepper moustache and got a job at a newer golf course – one whose name ended with “Winds” or “Run.”

Last I heard, Atwood was closing down; the county doesn’t have any money, and instead of cutting jobs, it made more sense to close a golf course. I can’t argue with that logic.

In the grand scheme of things, I guess that’s okay – to close a golf course – to stop wasting money and water and to stop dumping chemicals.

But it’s sad. My fondest memories of my childhood were not at home, where my father listened to rich, white men like Rush Limbaugh, laughing loudly each time he said “feminazi!” or referred to Tiger Woods in a terrible mix of Asian and African-American stereotypes. No, they were on the golf course, at Atwood Homestead – the rich, white man’s haven – where I would spend my mornings and afternoons, and after I could drive, my early evenings.

If Atwood closes, that’s one less place for tons of potash, phosphate and nitrogen. But it’s also one less place for a young, white male to escape his old, white father and his rich, white political radio – even if it means playing the rich, white man’s game.

Kevin Morris


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