Golf is enjoying a boom period in the mid-1990s, which is reflected both in higher attendance at pro golf tour events and in the increasing number of recreational golfers at public golf courses. Televised golf events are now ubiquitous. Still, few golfers seem to have fun while playing the game.
Golf has its interesting moments, but is it really a sport? All that gentle strolling in the fresh air. Or, worse, riding in carts. Your agent is newly returned from a golf tournament called the Liberty Mutual World Champions of Golf Pro-Am Classic, which took place over three days on the exquisitely manicured rolling hills of the King Valley Golf Club, a long tee shot beyond Toronto’s northwestern outskirts.
This was a Super Senior outing, mostly for persons no longer firm enough to compete on the more celebrated Senior Tour, which is open to geriatrics of 50 years and over. Super Senior goes 10 years deeper, 60 and over, and features such once-upon-a-timers as Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Doug Ford, Tommy Bolt and a lone Canadian, Al Balding, to name a handful. If the age limit continues to mount in these ongoing exhumations of golfing fauna, there may soon be tours for frisky dudes in their 90s.
Who can explain the relatively new fascination of the masses for this game? Not so long ago, only the occasional big-money tournament reached into a guy’s home on a weekend. Now, with the regular PGA Tour, the Senior Tour, the women’s tour and occasional Skins Games all getting television time, golf is hard to avoid on weekends practically around the calendar.
While baseball attendance withers, golf shimmers. While business pages writhe under reports of layoffs and cutbacks, the public golf courses are crawling with guys losing golf balls in the woods after plunking down $100 and more in green fees. Some of these madmen have paid $2,500 for a set of matched clubs and even laid out $350 for a driver called a metal wood, an oxymoron.
One of the more remarkable aspects of this stunning upsurge in golf’s popularity is that hardly anyone playing the game, from a leading professional such as Nick Faldo to a friend of mine, whom I will call Carl (his real name), seems to enjoy it. In postmortems, every last one of them groans about a bad hole or a missed putt. Nobody’s score is ever what it would have been, if only.
Has any reviewer ever seen Faldo smile? This grim Englishman with the golden-haired, overburdened, young woman caddy has won millions of dollars and some of the game’s most prestigious tournaments, but his face is as downcast as a hired mourner’s, and he’s always dashing off to consult with his golf guru, David Leadbetter. As for my friend Carl, he has been playing 18 holes or hitting hundreds of balls at the practice field every summer day since he joined the Brampton Golf Club four years ago, and when you ask him how’s his game, his normally sunny disposition turns sour and he utters unprintable oaths.
All of which brings new light to an ancient contention of mine that golf is not a sport, not in the true sense of athletic endeavor. For a pastime to be termed a sport, there ought to be a little sweat involved, a little stirring of the muscles and, certainly, a little genuine joy.
You don’t see much of this in golf, especially any outbursts of joy. The only time one of the deadpans of today brightens is when he picks up the winner’s cheque. He hugs his wife, pats his kids on their little round heads and pushes gloomily off for next week’s torture chamber. This is a sport?
Look, for instance, to the O. J. Simpson trial. The other day, a defense witness, Dr. Robert Huizenga, who gave O.J. a medical examination in June 1994, testified that, after four operations, the former football star had little of his left knee left. The doctor said that while O.J. could probably swing a bat, “he would essentially have to lope or walk” to first base. He could play golf only because golf was no more strenuous than sitting home playing the flute or painting a picture.
Moving right along, there is the saga of Dawn Coe-Jones, the blond star from British Columbia, who a couple of weeks ago in the United States Women’s Open toured the Colorado Springs course in maternity clothes. Six months pregnant, Dawn said it was her nightmare that she’d give birth in a bunker. Did her condition spoil her game? Not much: after two rounds she had a two-under-par score of 138, one stroke off the lead.
Meantime, at the King Valley Golf Club, Sam Snead was drawing a scattered gallery as he zoomed along in his golf cart, tottered from it on unsteady legs to make his fairway shots, and, upon reaching the greens, employed a crouched, between-the-legs putting technique like a guy pushing a croquet mallet. It was Sam’s name, not his game, that attracted the fans. And why not? On May 27, Sam turned 83.
So much for pregnant women and spry old guys. Golf for spectators is also a disaster and should not be considered a sport because it’s impossible to witness in the flesh. On television, OK: you sit there with your feet up, and, except for the nonstop talkers telling you the ball has gone into the cup after you have seen the ball go into the cup, televised golf has certain creature comforts. Such as a nearby icebox and not being at the golf course.
At the golf course, after you have paid roughly $94 to park in some farmer’s hay field a mile and a half from the course, you are not allowed to avail yourself of the indoor plumbing because, after paying roughly $112 to get into the grounds, you are not allowed into the clubhouse. You are permitted to squeeze into a telephone-booth-sized coffin with a hole in a seat called a Johnny-on-the-Spot out under the trees beside a fairway. If you get hungry you can buy a cold hotdog and a warm cold drink for around $18 each, and when you turn to watch the golfers you can’t find one for people crowded 15 deep in horseshoes around the tees and the greens with the tallest guys on the grounds in the front rows.
If you want to follow your favorite player, you are permitted to walk outside long strands of yellow plastic cord through thigh-high weeds and brush while two golfers, two caddies and one scorekeeper stroll down the middle of fairways wide enough to land a 747. You’re able to do this because the weekly ticket you bought for $4,700 has brought you safely past armed guards and starved police dogs at the entrance gate. Some fun. Some sport.