I hate golf. In my teens and twenties I played it dozens and dozens of times. I took a number of lessons; was the recipient of reams of unsolicited, compassionately offered, woefully conflicting advice and golf tips. I kept at it for many years, hoping against hope time would overcome my innate inability to grasp the game.
After all that money and time, I still sucked. So I abandoned it, partly out of frustration, mostly out of humiliation. Screw you golf. Screw. You.
The abandonment has left me in a dicey social situation as I enter my mid-forties. Where I live, most men of my age play golf for leisure and exercise.
The fact that I am abysmal at the sport is easy enough to overcome. Practice more, right? Except, I have other pathological reasons I can’t bring myself to spend the time to get better at the game. So I stand on the outside looking in on what I’m told are a host of lost, stellar networking opportunities.
I’ve always been a little wary of golf’s alleged economic utility as a “business networking opportunity.” It seems like a great excuse for executives to slough off work and family while looking as though they are working. It’s in the same category of bald-faced lie I’d tell my mother when I was a kid as she stomped her foot awaiting my arrival at three-thirty in the morning. “Sorry ma, I was the only sober one and had to drive all my drunk friends home.”
Lofty, my good man. Dare I say, even noble of you. But still, total bullshit.
As a black kid who grew up in a fairly well-heeled, white establishment family – in other words, at the country club – I grew up around golf and those who played it. There was not much captain-of-industry behaviour on evidence, even though most folks there were, in fact, captains of industry.
Instead there was tons of problem-drinking, conspicuous consumption, and ostentatious displays of wealth. There were golf-widows sloshed at the clubhouse bitching about their ‘help’, parading exquisite wardrobes to fuel the outward pretense of happiness, and feigning jet-lagged exhaustion after returning from Third World getaways, where the people were so quaint in their inferiority and all-around poverty.
I learned every slur in existence for every non-white person imaginable; and some for white people who apparently weren’t quite white enough for the WASPs who golfed in my town. Irish people, Italians, and Jews seemed white to me, but noo-ooo they were much more than that; they were also mick, paddy, dago, kike, cheapskates.
Every single important member of the local establishment made a constant presence. These were all white guys with high-end cars glistening in the parking lot, and price tags that collectively could feed a large city in Nepal for a year. The golf course seemed the perfect refuge for rich white men to escape the persecution of corporate underlings, wives, families, poor people, insider-trading investigators, union thugs, and tax regulators.
The dinner conversations were scintillating for their lack of diversity and banal predictability: corporate types bashing unions, socialist politicians, and civil servants for being lazy, leeching pricks. Self-aggrandizing boasts about their latest property acquisition or appointment to some Board of Directors; braggadocio about the purchase of a yacht in Miami or a catamaran in the Bahamas.
There was never any self-reflection about the so-called profitability of their lavish paycheques being loafed away at the country club. There was genuine belief in the specious proposition that their trickle-down wealth was a boon for the masses, evinced as much by their stock options as by their unceasing commitment to golf as their chosen high-end pastime.
How naive I was to assume high falutin’ people like neurosurgeons or heads of banks, industrial magnates, and food manufacturers would not have five hours three times a week to spare chasing a ball around a beautifully landscaped field. I’m a white-collar government worker – or, in golf-corporate-guy-speak, a lazy, good-for-nothing tax-wasting leech – and I have never, ever had time to shirk my job on a Thursday afternoon for even half a round of golf. I barely have time to eat my lunch away from my desk. No matter, I am not making this country economically amazing by sheer force of my corporate essence.
But still. I do wonder, how the fuck does a CEO running a billion dollar company acquire a 2-handicap?
A shit-load of golf, that’s how. That’s a lot of *cough* *sniffle* sick days. Or, a lot of blowing off work and “delegating” it to minions. Or, a lot of cocaine so you can work your ass off and play enough golf to make the PGA tour, all of which can only be achieved if you sleep no more than two hours a night.
Herein lies the pathos from which my little poison tree of hate for golf springs. The country club is a throwback to a bygone era of monarchy and aristocracy that is now occupied by the corporate elite. It is extremely well-paid leisure, the modern-day salon for those of a certain hierarchical rank; a place of exclusivity to reward for sacrifices of time, energy, and commitment to a single cause: personal and corporate wealth accumulation. Once achieved the real work of soaking up the good life begins without pestering by underlings, and other quaint riff-raff elements of regular society.
But the exclusive golf country club is also a vital social space for the monied elite to collectively consolidate and perpetuate the power and influence their wealth affords them. It is a milieu like no other to allay misgivings the rare progressive-minded members of the group may harbour about the moral illegitimacy of their exorbitant wealth. Such trifles easily vanish among peers of similar status; those who, by comparison, render the perverse extremes of their charmed existence perfectly rational and normal.
No other setting is as instrumental as the golf club in cementing such a narrow, shared ethic among this group; one that postulates a singularly greedy, atavistic, heartless society that is collectively defended to the detriment of absolutely everyone; which undermines the democratic ideals that made their despicable wealth even possible.
It is at the country club where uber-rich, pale-faced men wring their hands of the graft and influence-peddling they routinely engage in on behalf of shareholders and themselves. It is where corporate mavens persuade politicians to stage military “interventions” in oil-rich places so their service companies can “re-build” those nations destroyed by the deployment of planes and munitions made in their weapons companies. This, for a massive, untendered, publicly funded fee that helped pay for the country club membership where they nefariously gloat.
A round of golf among plutocrats provides a spectacular setting to count their cash without fear of retribution and scorn; their media and lobbying companies having masterfully convinced scores of disenfranchised, ignorant, poor fellow whites that the piles of individual wealth and privilege they enjoy is their wealth too. At the same time, over cocktails at the nineteenth hole they scheme and cajole policy makers into eliminating their tax burden so those living on a diet of Doritos and microwave meals in trailer parks, who earn non-subsistence minimum wages are certain to have no affordable services as a safety net to guard their health and well-being from the perils of their shitty existence.
Even though these dirtbags propagated the trickle down bullshit that has stained our collective consciousness for three decades, they spend countless hours on the links making sure not a fucking cent of their amassed wealth actually trickles down. And as they proudly stroll the links they agree to pool their cash to ensure the poor schlubs for whom they’ve turned off the ‘trickle tap’ will never earn a decent living by buying off legislators to oppose any increases to their minimum wages. This, because the wage-increase threatens to diminish their ability to buy another yacht. Or palace. Or other country-club membership.
So, it seems I stand corrected. Business is getting done at the golf club. Mea culpa.
I’m told that this is apparently no longer a conspicuous aspect of golf. There are lots of public courses. There is golf around the world. It is “the people’s sport.”
There is Tiger Woods, too, after all. It struck me how quick folks in the industry were to demonize him for his philandering a few years back. The gaggle of frat boys getting their licks in – as if they really believed Tiger was the first golfer in the history of the PGA, the first rich celebrity, who took in a little extra-marital schtupping.
Tiger Woods is the only man of wealth and profile who didn’t keep his dick in his pants, eh? Give me a fucking break. I almost died from the sanctimony about how his salacious behaviour “had no place in golf.” No, but racist, sexist membership policies at country clubs is just fine, right?
The issue: Tiger was an uppity ‘nigra’ (as Strom Thurmond loved to call us) who was too dominating, and too dark, for the links. Plain and simple. The frat-boys just could not resist the first opportunity to give that boy, his long-overdue whippin’ for raising his head too high.
But let’s get real, Tiger Woods is one black ass in how many years of the game, among how many millions of blacks in the US? One. One!
Where are the Hispanic-Americans on the Tour? Why are Spaniards and Mexicans the closest thing we will get to seeing young Jesus Flores from San Antonio as the Hispanic household names we hear about in golf? Because in their countries the elite-filled country clubs simply could not ban Hispanics in the same way as US country clubs. That would have been weird and foolish in Spain and Mexico, one suspects.
I haven’t forgotten Vijay Singh. For the degree he was dominating the game at the time, his profile was extremely limited. If Phil Mickelson had been winning as much as Singh, I’d have seen his chubby pink face covering every nook and cranny of ad-space where people buy Wonder Bread and bologna.
Vijay Singh was an enigma to the game for years. You could tell folks in the industry and the legions of American fans in suburban gated communities were happy he mostly slipped back to his opulent bamboo hut in the South Pacific. It was a relief to no longer see this enigma who looked like Denzel Washington but spoke with an accent that made him sound like ‘those people’ who drive cab kicking Billy-Bob’s ass every weekend on the links.
So yeah, of course, there are a couple of token non-white folks excelling at the highest levels of golf. But there are like, six billion non-whites in the world compared to a few hundred million whites. There’s something not quite right about those PGA demographics, methinks.
Every time I open up some business magazine because there’s nothing else to read on the porcelain throne, I’m struck by the canard my non-white buddies implore me to dispense with about golf being a white corporate-guy ‘sport.’ And yet there it is, staring at me as I flush, the profile of yet another CEO spewing the same drivel about a passion for the exact same hobby the other 499 fortune 500 CEOs share: golf. Snooze.
How does that happen in a place as geographically and demographically vast and as ethnically diverse and populous as North America? Just once, I’d like to see some CEO say he’s into yoga, or Ultimate Frisbee, or triathlon. These are all hobbies that would take less time away from the office than golf, by the way. Why aren’t shareholders outraged by this fact?
And so there it is. The treatise of my psychological disdain for golf. It ain’t The Prison Notebooks but it’s how I see it.
All this with full awareness that there are lots of nice, non-rich, non-white people who play golf. There are public courses for the plebes who care to hit the links. There’s tiger, and those Korean guys. True, that.
But it’s still in large part an elitist sport because of those who flock to it, and for how many courses are organized as exclusive and private. It’s had a history of foreclosing its doors to folks who look like me; to others with a vagina; to those who think Jesus was a way awesome dude, but not THE DUDE.
These issues are top of mind as I consider the time and effort it would take to improve my game. I’d like to be able to seize the opportunity to spend a few hours getting to know some dudes on the links. I would love to have a reason to tell my boss I’m out “networking” for good of the organization and not have them laugh in my face as they tell me to get my black, tax-leeching ass back to my cubicle.
But my golf game really sucks. I’ve had terrible experiences as a hack that have prompted me to avoid the links until I do what it takes to play with some level of acceptable competency. I know enough golfers to realize there is no such thing as a no-humiliation round in golf. But then, an unlucky few have had to bear witness to the atrocity, to the crime against humanity, that was my golf game. I would die to achieve the rank of just a few humiliating spectacles in a round of golf. That would be a darned good day in my golf books.
I’ve nearly had fist-fights with course Marshalls who simply thought I was fucking with them in how bad I was playing; as if I was an acting out seven year old and wanted to slow down the play of the entire golf course.
“No, Mr. chain-gang supervising Marshall Man, I AM, in fact, that shitty. Now back off and be quiet, I’ve got a tee-shot to duff.”
And then *bam-pfft-pfft-pfft*. I duff the ball as predicted, and my second shot lies twenty feet from the tee box.
The Marshall says “Okay gents, let’s keep the game moving.”
Before I know it, my skin begins turning green and my clothes explode away from my body. I become apoplectic; the insults to my pride endured far too much in a single day for a thin-skinned black man who once believed himself athletic enough to pick up any sport, especially golf. Pffft.
“Damn you, Marshall. Don’t make me angry!”
Small children flee in fear, retired nuns – all of whom I watched out-drive me on the seventh tee – pray for my soul as they scatter; for the blasphemy of my golf game as much as for my profane, possessed lack of grace in the face of adversity.
I storm off the course having impaled my seven iron so hard into the earth from frustration that I could not pry it loose. I wake up confused in the bushes hours later, wondering what destruction I’ve caused this time, and how I’m going to convince police I’m not a perv when my balls and ass are visible through my shredded clothes.
That was nine years ago, the last time I golfed. I think the Marshall’s hectoring touched a nerve in my ancestral karmic DNA. It conjured up the angry, enslaved cotton-picker inside who I never knew existed. He was tired of being bossed around by the horse-riding, ass-whoopin’ minions of those mean, mean plantation owners.
Afterwards, I had to write a letter of apology to ensure my brainwashed golf-loving friends would be allowed back on the course. But I think my photo is still on the wall of banned individuals who’ve been caught sneaking on course to steal golf balls or who’ve been chased off by security guards after skinny dipping in the water hazards at night (in which case, there are day AND night photos of me on the wall-of-shame).
Dear golf course,
Please accept my seven-iron as a peace offering for my inexcusable conduct. You will need a decent back-hoe to extract it from the ground near the sand-trap on the front of the eleventh green. In the hands of a more accomplished player, I am certain it is a top-notch club. In my case it was an outstanding landscaping shovel.
Please also tell Sister Mabel and the ladies from the bridge club in her golfing party that I didn’t really mean what I said about old people being like human mould. It was raw emotion behind insensitive remarks about detesting them because they fart in elevators and drive in the middle of the road at a speed that allows those riding their bikes to pass. It’s sweet how they haggle at the grocery store for fifteen minutes over coupons meant for a different store. I always know I won’t get bilked by inattentive sixteen year-old cashiers after Sister Mabel’s given them a drubbing-down.
There is no excuse, but by way of explanation it was my seventeenth stroke on the hole where things went awry. I was feeling frustrated by the state of my round. Sister Mabel seemed to be gloating a trifle more than golf etiquette – and The Lord – would suggest is appropriate about having made the green in one. So she alleges, anyhow. Only she and her Maker really know.
It touched a nerve. She seems like a sweet little, old innocent nun, but on the course and she’s as gnarly a competitor as Beelzebub and could give Robin Thicke a run for his money as douche-of-the-year.
As it happens I was on pace to beat my personal best of 173 before I scuttled the game. So it is I who lost more than the small children and others traumatized by my descent into lunacy.
Edmund K. Saunders
P.S. Your course Marshall is as nutty as a Jay-bird in enforcing the pace of play.
I realize golf is just a game, after all. It should not matter if I am terrible and random white people get angry with me when my amateurish play slows things down. It shouldn’t matter if it is a pastime for every witless, morally repugnant oligarch in North America.
But it does.
So, my ostensible plutocrat golf-buddies, you are free to plot your schemes for world domination. And you can do so without having to endure the caustic musings and foul play of this ‘nigra’ to burst whatever delusional bubble sustains your entitlement to horde society’s wealth. Carry on, chaps.