Any group of enthusiasts becomes somewhat inward focused. First there is the act of distinguishing, or if you prefer, separating yourself from the rest of humanity by virtue of “getting into” something that a lot of other folks just don’t find all that compelling. Then there’s the communication issue. For some reason non-participants find enthusiasts’ discussion topics impossibly tedious (think equipment). In this regard virtually all of us are alike. We divide the universe into two categories: stuff we like and then everything else. My wife, for example, finds any account of a golf round unbelievably boring. It’s not that she’s completely uninterested, she just wants it netted out in terms of emotional and financial impact. (“How did you play? Did you win?”) But watch out if she and her friends from dance class get together and start talking about where people stand in class. Now that’s some fascinating stuff!
And to be fair so it is with us golfers. For some reason a world populated by people claiming to be our friends don’t really care to hear about the club selection process and altered grip we used to get up and down on number seven, or what club we hit into number thirteen en route to our third birdie of the day. It’s sad, isn’t it, to see how hypocritical and callous people can be.
As far as golf is concerned this would be merely one of those observations filed under Just The Way It Is were it not for one thing. In addition to not being interested in golf, a lot of people disdain the sport, and by extension, those who play it. And one of the major reasons for this is the scale of our venues. We don’t run back and forth on some small court that fits inside a city playground. You can’t confine us to a swimming pool, and we can’t pursue our passion on streets and trails as do runners and bicyclists. We need acreage, and lots of it. We take up space and that pisses people off.
The preceding post outlined the current battle over Sharp Park, a classic example of how golf can be portrayed as the bad guy. But defending the game requires that we golfers, in effect, turn away from each other and our inbred controversies and obsessions, and instead make a case for golf to a skeptical, non-golfing public. And in doing so we discover some things about the game that in our inward focus we have taken for granted and therefore overlooked.
One of the most important of these is the social interaction that our game provides. The arbitrary foursomes assembled in the proshops of munis across the country are one of those rare social phenomena these days in which people of different backgrounds and ages are thrown together for four hours and more. This ain’t sitting next to somebody on an airplane. This is playing golf and sharing that experience and golf is unique in enforcing some degree of contact between people who may not have met each other before.
Imagine if you will, approaching the trail head at some state park, all psyched up for your hike and being told by the ranger, “Okay, I’m going to have you go out with the Smith twosome.” (I know this may be a particularly challenging exercise for California residents since you have to imagine that not only is the park not closed because of budget cutbacks, but there’s actually a public employee on duty. But work with me on this one.) Of course this would never happen. In fact, one sure fire way to make sure a public employee does appear at the park would be for you to approach the aforementioned Smith twosome and suggest that you do join on them on their hike. You can be sure they’d be tapping out a 9-1-1 on their smartphone in no time.
So, converting a golf course like Sharp Park to open space does provide a valuable public resource, but one that provides limited opportunities for social interaction. A public golf course, on the other hand, is entirely another matter. Given the absurdly imbalanced ratio between time spent hitting the ball and time spent waiting to do so, golf presents, for better or worse, a unique chance to get know people very different from yourself. Imagine that. You could actually come to the realization that you share something in common with somebody whose background and beliefs are pretty alien to your own. Do you think there’s any value to that in this country these days?