Newsletter 66: Holding Onto a Lifelong Resistance to Golf

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from August 2017, about how I dislike golf and think it’s a waste of land. Ironically, this newsletter ended up getting me published in The Golfers Journal — about the same topic — which has led a monthly column in GOLF Magazine starting with the February issue. I still don’t like golf. Happy New Year.

When I first moved to Georgia more than four years ago now, I made a wager with my friend Tommy Craggs. (You should read this excellent story from yesterday about Craggs’ thwarted attempt to unionize the staff at Slate, by the way.) Craggs, always suspicious that I am not adequately dedicated to the cause, joked that in five years, I’d be a “Reagan Bush 84” T-shirt wearing, dockers-sporting, country club-joining Southern boy. I was less concerned about this — if 13 years in New York didn’t scrub off any of the Mattoon schmutz, Athens wouldn’t have much of a chance either — and told him so. “You’ll be playing golf every weekend within a year,” he said. “In a decade you’ll have your own cart.”

This sort of slander would not stand, so I made Craggs a wager. If I played golf five times or more in my first five years in Athens, I would owe him $200. If I played less, he would owe me the same.

I have 10 months left on this bet, and I feel confident I am going to collect. I haven’t played golf once since I got here, and I’m fairly certain I’m gonna make it another five years without, easy. My feelings about golf are well-documented, but I will get them on the record here:

  • I think it’s an exclusionary game that’s less about the activity itself and more about having a place you can go to that others cannot.
  • I think golf courses are a waste of valuable land. Think of all the things you could do with the land we reserve for golf courses. Parks. Public housing. Youth recreation. Shooting range.
  • I think the sport itself is dull, both to play and to watch. You hit a ball. You walk — or ride! — to go chase it. Then you hit it again.
  • I think it’s strange to follow a sport where you are following and cheering for individuals rather than teams. Cheering for any third party is inherently illogical, I’ll grant, but it does feel a little different to say, “Go TEAM THAT REPRESENTS A COMMUNITY AND HAS BEEN IN YOUR FAMILY FOR GENERATIONS” than it does to say, “Go RANDOM RICH WHITE DUDE.” (This goes for all individual sports, with the possible exception of Serena Williams.)
  • I think it’s really all about the exclusion, and the land.

I’ve made my peace with this, and with the fact that I live in a place where most people enjoy playing golf. I have friends who golf regularly, and it’s fine. I don’t have any clubs, I have no desire to play, I’m probably going to make some snide, unnecessary comment every time golf comes up. I’m not a golf guy. Others are. It is spoken of in hushed whispers, like a disability we all have to work around. That’s Will … he doesn’t even own clubs.

Which leads me to this weekend. School starts Wednesday down here, so we’re sneaking in a little trip up to the north Georgia mountains up here in Clayton, Georgia. It’s lovely. We went boating yesterday, we’re hiking this afternoon, the boys have a TV in their room, it’s a dream little jaunt for them. We are staying in a little lake house, with a gazebo that would be more charming were it not 43 percent bird excrement. It’s a nice trip.

Our lake house, as it turns out, is right next to a public golf course. I’ve sat out on the porch and waved to the golfers, resisting the temptation to yell “Hey!!!” right when they’re about to putt. There is something calming about watching other people play golf. It’s like sitting in a huge easy chair; you’re perpetually just about to nod off.

But I ran into an issue yesterday. After I write in the morning, I always go for a run. One of the best parts of traveling for me is finding new places to run on the road. (Best running cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver. Worst running cities: Cleveland, Kansas City, Tampa.) We’re up in the mountains here, which makes it difficult. I can run uphill for a while, but I don’t really feel like climbing a mountain before 10 a.m. So I was looking for some flat land.

I found it … on the golf course. Specifically, the golf cart path alongside the course. It’s the one flat area up here, and with a couple of loops and turnarounds, it’s about 4 1/2 miles, a solid vacation run. It’s pleasant and it’s flat and it’s sunny. It’s pretty much all you want from a run. I ran it Thursday and Friday, pausing for players to shoot and waving to them as I went by.

Yesterday, some friends met us to go on a boat, one of whom is a golfer. “Hey, I saw you running on the course when we pulled in today,” he said, as friendly as usual. He chuckled. “I bet those players didn’t like that!”

After I protested — and protested and protested; it’s a personality flaw that I have a hard time letting these sort of potential social faux pas go even after everyone else is long since tired of talking about them — he explained that it is, in fact, frowned upon to have anyone jogging on a golf cart track. (He put it in a most amusing way: “Oh, there’s no exercising on the golf course.”) These players who I was jogging past, it turns out, were likely muttering at me under their breath as I dumbly waved and smiled. Golf is for golf, apparently, and intruders are not to be encouraged.

I tried to make my case, and I think it’s a good one.

  • This is not a private club. I didn’t sneak in and tromping across their course.
  • I paid to be here just like they did.
  • I was very considerate while running. Anytime anyone was setting up a shot, or even walking up to their ball, I not only got out of the way, I would even hide behind a tree so they wouldn’t be distracted.
  • I didn’t touch the fairways or the greens. My feet never once touched anything but the cart pathway.
  • Seriously, we’re outside, it’s a beautiful day, why aren’t you running?

My friend just shrugged. People golf not just to golf, but to get away from everything: To have the peace of an open course. A runner gets in the way of that, whether or not he or she has the right to be there, whether or not he or she is trying to be considerate. I tried to argue my case further, but I sensed my friend already exhausting of the discussion and, frankly, regretting that he ever brought it up in the first place. (Seriously: I need to get better at letting things go.) I’m not sure the issue ever quite got resolved.

As soon as I finish this newsletter, I’m going to head out for a run. I’m going to probably go on the golf cart path again. But I doubt the experience will be freeing, in the way a good run can be, in the way a good day on the golf course (I presume) can be. I’m all worried I’m offending people, and I’m also all defiant that I have a right to be there, and that’s all I’m going to be thinking about the whole run. I think they should get over their little private, exclusionary game … and I think I should probably get over being so stubborn about golf, and those who play it. I think it’s just another thing in this current climate where opposite sides will never meet. Where we just assume those who think differently than us are simply wrong, and that’s all there is to it.

I also, sheesh, think school needs to get going again. Vacation trips always turn out a little more stressful than you think they’re going to be. At least I know I’m gonna collect from Craggs.

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Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021.

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