Is it required that an older white man take up golf? I ask because I fit the demographic. And have for some time.
I’m retired (semi). Not unpleasantly. But I’m starting to worry that I’m not good at being, uh, elderly. Never have I taken a metal detector on a beach stroll. I do not own white shoes, and certainly not a white belt. Moving to Florida, replacing dinner with the midafternoon Early Bird Special, is out of the question.
Shuffleboard? Nah. Gardening? I mow; that’s enough. Crafts? Don’t think so.
Maybe golf could be part of acting my age. And — full disclosure — I did putter briefly with an easier version of the sport a few years ago, going a handful of rounds at the local Par 3 course, deploying three decidedly low-tech clubs. It hardly was torture. Fresh air. A little solitary time. The challenge of (relatively safe) target practice.
But it didn’t take. Maybe too many reminders of Mark Twain’s contention that golf “is a good walk spoiled.” Slices, hooks, balls lost in the water or woods.
It is entirely possible that I have tended to dismiss the activity based on clichés: That it is a rich person’s enterprise. That it so often has been associated with the exclusivity of country clubs — no blacks, no women and so on. There is an old story of how Groucho Marx, when he was advised that a club did not accept Jews and therefore could not allow his daughter into its swimming pool, responded, “She’s only half-Jewish. Can she wade in up to her knees?”
Just as unfair, probably, is my skepticism of the oft-voiced claim that golfers somehow are more morally upright than other sportsmen; that, whatever their failures on the links, they are absolutely faithful to the pickiest of rules, incapable of violating golf’s “honor code.”
But what to make of golf’s customary use of the Mulligan, that handy do-over that wipes a poor shot off the score card? What was it the late Paul Harvey, conservative radio commentator famous for his “rest of the story” postscripts, said? “You yell ‘fore,’ shoot ‘six’ and write down ‘five.’ ”
OK. Numbers. Statistics clearly insist that golf is a pastime for mature male folks such as me. Much is made of the fact that the sport provides exercise, but nothing too strenuous for us graybeards. (Especially when touring the course in an electric cart.) According to the golf demographics from Americangolf.com, of the 29 million golfers in the United States, 77.5 percent are male and 61 percent are more than 50 years old. I’m 100 percent both. Author Malcolm Gladwell seemed to have those figures in mind when he declared the game to be “crack cocaine for old white guys.”
There are, of course, good arguments for the benign addiction of mental relaxation. The way humorist Will Rogers put it, “There is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you get so sore at yourself you forget to hate your enemies.”
An interesting concept, that. If a sport can precipitate better human relationships, if it can compel enhanced character traits such as personal humility and empathy for fellow duffers, what’s to disparage?
Still, I worry about metaphorical traps. In a 2010 book, “Golf, the Game of Lessening Failures,” Bob Glanville wrote, “An amateur golfer is one who plays golf for pleasure. A golf analyst is a psychiatric specialist who treats individuals suffering from the delusion that playing golf is a form of pleasure.”
Also, just when I was wondering if I ought to give the sport another try, I read comedian Joe Zimmerman’s recent lament that a certain (part-time) resident of Washington, D.C., is giving golf — and golfers — a bad name. Golf had been “so close,” Zimmerman wrote, to shaking off the “image of a rich, old, unathletic white guy making sexist jokes and trading real estate tips.” And then that fellow began dominating the news between incessant rounds on the links.
I know plenty of thoroughly decent citizens who are fervent devotees to golf. So that one poor example shouldn’t be the deciding factor here.
But maybe I’ll wait till I’m older.