Confession: I love golf.
I took up the sport when I started business school, complying with the “white guys make deals on the golf course” trope, but also because it seemed like a really complex sport, physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.
I started watching men’s golf on TV really consistently when I was working at my old job in NYC. Every Sunday afternoon, anxiety would paralyze me to the point where all I could do was sleep. So I turned on golf to keep me company (my spouse was usually working). Since it was relatively quiet, I found it relaxing and it helped soothe me a little bit.
Watching the sport every weekend became a habit, one I’ve kept up since then because golf is, by far, the most fascinating sport on the planet. Let me explain:
Golf is widely known as the “gentleman’s sport.” It’s a game of politeness, rules, order, and snazzy dressing. When you play on a course, there’s a dress code and clear way of comporting yourself—most places require a collared shirt (at least for men) and for you to play in a certain amount of time, to be respectful of those behind you. [Further example, if you’re going slowly on a hole and a group comes up behind you, it’s custom to allow them to go ahead of you, to “play through.”]
Of course, golf is also known as the whitest sport imaginable. I can’t think of another activity that encapsulates every race and class problem in the world than this very sport. Golf clubs are insanely expensive, even the cheap ones. On top of that, it costs at minimum $25 per person just to play the game on a terrible course, and greens fees on nice courses can be well over $100. (And that’s on a public course, not a private club, where greens fees are even higher, but seem lower because of the thousands of dollars one is paying for club membership. But anyway…) On top of that, courses are usually in places not all that accessible by public transportation, making playing an even more expensive venture for those who live in the city.
The combination of these two things—its gentlemanly veneer and its unabashed white privilege—is what fascinate me about golf. They allow for instant conflict and tension!
The male players have historically touted themselves as family men who live squeaky-clean, boring lives (a la Phil Mickelson), but that’s literally never been true. Phil, allegedly, had a gambling problem for years.
Tiger Woods blew through as the Black guy who would be the best ever to play the sport. I loved that he was knocking down barriers and didn’t even care to knock them down because he just wanted to win. He was a clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Banks, and when I was in middle school, he gave me hope that my male counterpart existed, that there were more clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Bankses out there and that I would find one and that he would love me. When Tiger became the poster child for the “good on the outside, icky on the inside” thing that every white male golfer had always been, it was extra hurtful to me. I didn’t care that he wasn’t who he’d made himself out to be to the world; it felt that he’d lied to me personally and tried to shatter my dream of love.
Everything about the sport of golf ultimately sets itself up for failure—the gentleman’s game that supports racism, sexism, and classism, none of which are at all honorable, as the definition of “gentleman” denotes.
For example, while my spouse and I were playing on a course in the Dominican Republic while we were on vacation a few years ago, I hit my best drive ever, WATCH:
I saw where my Callaway Solaire ball landed, a little to the right, but on the fairway. An older white couple came up behind us, and we let them play through, first the woman (who hit a sweet-ass drive) and then her husband. Her husband hit his ball off to the right, into the palm trees. He went in that direction to hit his second stroke, but then he stopped—he stopped at my ball. He hit my ball. HE HIT MY BEST DRIVE EVER BALL because he was an entitled old white man who figured he could never hit a ball off to the right, into the palm trees. I was livid. But all I could do was drop my ball around the same area and move on.
Clearly, the sport mimics a lot of the themes of real life.
To me, golf is a literary writer’s gold mine for narrative tension and character dynamism. I’m working on two short stories involving it in some way. For my Black women protagonists, this world should be inaccessible to them and to me, and that’s why it’s so intriguing. Stay tuned to find out how they turn out!
And congrats to Tiger on PGA win #80. Only needs 3 more to officially be the greatest golfer of all time. Let’s see about that…