Malcolm Gladwell Hates Golf: Go Figure
When I first visited St. Andrews in Scotland to play the Old Course, I arrived late on a Saturday afternoon. Upon arriving I tried to book a round for the next morning. “Ye canna’”, my host told me. “Tha’ Ol’ Coorse is closed as a park for the bairn and their kin”.
Indeed, despite being the home of the Royal & Ancient, the spiritual home of golf to much of the world, the Old Course is a city park on Sundays for the use of the town’s citizens. People walk dogs and push prams where Jack Nicklaus strode. So I was shut out on Sunday (I did manage to fit in a round on the Saturday, crossing the Swilican Burn at 10:30 PM).
To many, this seems the idealized picture of golf courses— a mixed-use recreational facility shared by the community. A green space to ramble, jog and hit a laser-sharp iron.
But many of the world’s most famous golf courses are private facilities open to members only. And that has Canadian social critic Malcolm Gladwell mad as hell. In a recent podcast, Gladwell admits he’s not fond of the sport in the first place. “I hate golf… And hopefully by the end of this podcast, you’ll hate golf, too.”
What really piqued Gladwell was a recent jog he took in Los Angeles around the private Brentwood Country Club. While Gladwell was confined to crowded streets and sidewalks, the lush fairways of Brentwood were (in Gladwell's estimation) dreadfully underutilized. So he started a “quest to figure out why Brentwood Country Club isn’t just a big park that I can go running through.”
For some reason, golf is the only form of exercise that is subject to mockery in this age of heath consciousness. Lawn bowling doesn’t get this. Horse shoes isn’t subject to sarcasm. Water skiing isn’t pilloried. But golf as exercise has a target on its back.
Actually there’s an obvious reason. Golf is enjoyed by white people, especially white males of middle age. If there’s a cultural punching bag for society these days it’s the whole privilege thing about country clubs satirized in Caddyshack. The kind of kitschy bucolic splendour seen at the Masters each April. You can’t say enough bad things about Trumpworld.
Presidents as diverse as Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush have been taken to the woodshed for choosing golf as their leisure activity. The sneering when a president is photographed on a course makes one believe they must be drowning kittens.
Forget that active people reduce the health-care burden. Forget that the trees, grass and plants are the lungs of a congested city. Forget that the camaraderie of golf is exactly the social interplay we desire in society.
Gladwell, who prefers grinding his ankles into powder jogging on the asphalt streets of New York or L.A. to a four-hour amble on lush fairways, sees nothing redeeming in golf or its taxation status in many cities. The kind of people who are only happy when stoking resentments have landed upon the green-space grants many courses enjoy from municipalities where they’re located.
Gladwell and Co. consider this to be high crimes and misdemeanors. He goes on at length about the unfairness of having a private space being under-utilized when he could be turning his knees to jelly on his morning amble. And taxpayers being made to foot some sort of bill for it.
He quotes statistics and experts who say that, as a spur to business, a golf course is a poor workplace. He makes out that captains of industry spend as many as three or four days a week — a fib to serve his golf hate. He debunks the economic benefits ascribed to golf.
How many business people seal deals while bathed in sweat in a marathon is not discussed. Nor is the fact that these tax breaks are consistently supported by voters. Nor the healthy TV ratings for golf's majors.
The irony of Gladwell staying in an under-utilized pool house in L.A. that could, when empty, be shared with a Latino family is likewise not considered in his jeremiad against golf. When you live in cramped Manhattan, where every square inch must be accounted for, the wide open spaces of other places can be a bit dizzying.
Gladwell is no doubt encouraged by the decline in golf participation, as younger generations prefer the idling provided by their tablet or computer. Courses are closing, the sod and trees ripped up to provide housing. Private housing. Where Gladwell will also not be permitted to jog his skinny ass off.
We await the podcast decrying the tyranny of private housing from Mr. Outlier.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)