I just came across this picture, which was taken at Sherwood Country Club, in Thousand Oaks, California, about month after my 50th birthday. I had been golfing less than four years at the time. I was not scheduled to play in this tournament. In fact, I was actually working as a volunteer.
My job was to stand at the gated entrance to the club to see who had arrived, as they would have to check in with the guard before they could proceed. I would then radio ahead so people could have all the correct names of who was arriving and could both address them properly and provide them with name tags and goodie bags. Toward the end of the arrivals I got a call on the radio.
“Rick. Did you bring your clubs with you?”
“Of course I did. I always have my clubs in my car.”
“Well . . . you might have to play. Hang on and I’ll get back to you.”
Might HAVE to play? Oh, please, please don’t throw me in that briar patch! I knew the base fee for this tournament (it was a fund-raiser) was $750, which was a major reason I hadn’t even considered for a pico-second picking up a club. Never mind Sherwood is a rather exclusive club and I’m hardly an exclusive person. I was beyond excited.
Shortly afterward I got the call. Come on down. We need you to fill out a foursome. Needless to say, I hightailed it to the clubhouse, prepared to play a course I had never even dreamed of playing. When I arrived at the clubhouse I was told there were no more carts available and, rather than driving the course, I would have to walk. However, they replaced the cart with a caddy. Although I hadn’t been playing for all that long, I’d never considered having someone to carry my bags and help me decide on how to play the course.
Unfortunately for me, the guy I got was pretty new to the course and really didn’t know it that well. If I recall correctly, he even cost me a stroke or two because he didn’t know what wasn’t visible on one of the holes. But, he also carried my bag and raked traps, etc. Regardless, I got to play one of the more exclusive clubs in the world . . . for free!! And it included everything that came with a paid spot; loot bag, snacks (Dole played a major role in the food side of the tourney), and a damned good meal after playing. I think I shot in the low nineties, though I don’t remember perzackly. It was, after all, over 22 years ago.
It’s no secret I have a complicated relationship with the game of golf. Not so much with actually playing it (though that’s a bit of an issue as well, having to do with injury and becoming a father) but more with the history and cultural positioning of the game and its adherents.
Golf has never been a game “of the people”. It can’t be played on the street on in a sandlot. There’s no such thing as a pickup game of golf. It takes up a lot of space; generally fairly expensive space as well. If you figure a starter can get out a foursome onto the course every fifteen minutes, then during the longest days of the year, it’s still only 256 golfers per day. Hardly a huge contingent of users. I’d wager an average-sized park, which likely takes up less than one-tenth of the acreage a golf course requires, provides recreation for more than that number.
So, let’s essentially agree golf is somewhat exclusive, even elite in some ways. And, rather than belabor the point, check out this article in Ebony magazine from 2016. It may still be fairly exclusive, but it’s also quite lucrative, considering how many people play.
However, all this is merely setup for my point, which I will now address. I was watching the final round of the 3M Open yesterday (I still record most golf tournaments in case I want to watch) and noticed something that has always amused me somewhat. I’m referring to the names of many of the players. There are a lot of them who have what I think of as rather strange, somewhat hoity-toity, names.
I’ve looked at the elite players of other sports and there just aren’t names like many of these. And, I think I’ve figured out what makes a lot of them stand out. Many players have first names that are generally used for last names, e.g. Johnson, Mackenzie, Davis, Grayson, etc. Here’s a list of the ones that stood out to me the most, taken from the PGA’s FedEx Cup rankings as of today.
What this has to do with race and class, I will leave to y’all to suss out. I’m not interested in making too fine a point here. I merely wanted to share this minor bit of trivia that has stood out for me. Besides, doing a truly good job of opining on diversity and economics would require more time than I’m willing to put in at this moment. Also, this is the first time I’ve tried to put some sense to it. It likely won’t be the last . . . as I’ll likely refine my thinking over time. I’d be happy to hear what you have to say.
PS – I only used American players (with—I think—one Canadian).
Below are some of the names I’ve noticed.
Beau Hossler Bronson Burgoon Brooks Koepka Bryson DeChambeau Charles Howell III Chase Wright Chesson Hadley Chez Reavie Cody Gribble Davis Love III Grayson Murray Harris English Hunter Mahan Johnson Wagner Keegan Bradley Kramer Hickok Mackenzie Hughes Morgan Hoffmann Patton Kizzire Smylie Kaufman Webb Simpson Wyndham Clark Xander Schauffele
Tomorrow, Steve (my former colleague, great friend, and gym partner) and I are heading up North for the final day of the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, California. We’re going to head out a little after noon and hightail it up to either Santa Nella or Gustine, CA, both of which are East and a wee tad North of the Monterey Peninsula.
I have been to Pebble Beach once before, about 18 years ago. We went to the AT&T and stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where I purchased a boar bristle shaving brush that is as lush and comfortable to use today as it was when I first purchased it. Wasn’t cheap, but I have no doubt it will last another twenty years, which is probably longer than I’m going to last, as I’ll be 92 by then!
I’ve seen a few nice courses in my life; even played a few of them, but I’ve never played Pebble. It is, however, surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth. One of my enduring—and moderately painful—memories of that tournament has to do with the pictures we took. Upon returning, we took our photos to Costco for processing. Back then photos were all just left in their envelopes in a big box on the counter and people were free to rummage through the box and find their own photos. Unfortunately for us, someone found, and took, our photos. They never returned them. I’m hopeful I can get a few pics this time around, though there are plenty of wonderful pictures available, so it’s no longer terribly important to me to have photos . . . unless it’s a selfie with Tiger or Phil in the background.
I took up golf at the tender age of 46. My department at Rocketdyne was having a tournament and they needed bodies to fill up open slots. After a significant amount of badgering, I agreed to participate. To be fair, I had been introduced to golf when I was fifteen. My father had taken it up and he wanted me to enjoy it as he did. Unfortunately, he also wanted me to be right-handed. I’m not. He insisted I would be better off golfing right-handed and I tried, but it wasn’t to be. I felt incredibly awkward and didn’t want to put up with what I perceived to be an inordinately difficult effort to make the switch.
Couple that with the belief (this was back in 1962) that golf was primarily for old farts, and a strong desire to spend time surfing, and I didn’t last long at all. I guess, then, it’s not entirely correct to say I took it up at 46, despite the intervening 31 years before I handled a golf club again. Regardless, I played in the company tournament and spent a little time on the driving range and practice green in preparation. I was hooked—big time!
My uncle offered to have a friend make me a set of custom clubs for a very reasonable price, which I did. I quickly discovered, however, golf can be a very expensive sport, especially when you spend all your spare time hitting balls or playing. I could not afford to keep up the pace I was going at. In order to continue, I wrote and published a newsletter for the course I spent all my time at, Simi Hills. None of the articles were based on anything but my own fertile imagination and conjecture, but the General Manager of the course loved it and asked me to do it on a monthly basis, with real information this time.
In exchange for my efforts, he began allowing me to hit as many balls as I wished on the range and I took full advantage of it, frequently hitting hundreds of balls as I perfected my game. Soon I was invited to play with the head pro and the GM and, of course, it was as good as getting hours and hours of free lessons. I got my handicap down to 12 within a fairly short while, no mean feat for a man who was then pushing 50.
As I increased both my physical capabilities and my understanding of the game, I was soon approaching a single-digit handicap. It was then my wife and I decided to adopt. I wasn’t actually too keen on the idea at first, as I had visions of retirement, travel, and lots of golf. However, the desire to be a parent overcame my (very strong) desire to continue playing golf and, once the process began rolling along, it became harder and harder to play or practice. By the time we returned home with our oldest, in 2002, I was 55 and it became very difficult to fulfill my duties as a husband and father and still have time to play golf.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I still watch golf quite a bit and, lately, I’ve been playing a very realistic virtual game (World Golf Tour) online. Also, I have given a lot of thought to the role golf plays and how it jibes with my world view. I am aware there are numerous arguments for golf being a wasteful, indulgent sport of the rich. I am aware golf courses take up a lot of property for the use of, perhaps, not very many people. My best, somewhat informed, guesstimate is that the average full-size course is used by around 350 golfers a day. That’s not very many compared to the numbers using a municipal park or a National or State park. It surely explains why golf is so expensive, as it is a heavily tended and manicured environment.
Many courses, some suggest as many as 40% in the 1990s, were built as a part of a real estate development, and I’m not even going to get into the place Country Clubs play in terms of the exclusivity and expensiveness of golf. A large percentage of golfers are very well off. I suppose, comparatively, I am one of them. Certainly, when I was still employed in an excellent, well-paying job, I had the money to play a couple of times a month and practice several days a week when I wished.
There are, however, significant attempts to bring golf to the less-than-affluent, Tiger Woods’s “The First Tee” likely being the most prominent. Frankly, I don’t believe golf need be an “exclusive” sport. Furthermore, I think it has values to teach, as The First Tee does, that are difficult to find in today’s hyper-competitive environment found in many other sports. Inasmuch as I started so late in life, golf hasn’t taught me so much as it has reinforced in me many values I find important and useful, e.g. integrity, self-assurance, patience, calm deliberation, respect for others, etc. I also found on the golf course a place where everything else in my life melted away for a few hours. I was able to put my job and my responsibilities out of my head for a while; no mean feat for one such as I.
There’s one other thought I had – and this whole post (which is somewhat off the top of my head, though I’ve thought about it a lot) was begun with this thought in mind – that bothers/concerns me. The military has long had a close association with golf (see this USGA history) and I have no problem with this. It does, however, lend even more credence to the belief that golf is exclusive because, historically, it has been primarily the Officers who had the time and money to play. That may be changing, but my goal isn’t to analyze the development of golf inside the military. What I am interested in understanding is what it means that every golf tournament now seems to have members of the military ceremoniously tending at least one flag on the course – generally the 18th.
I find myself wondering if this doesn’t, in some small way, signify our becoming more and more a military culture and also, given our penchant for honoring our armed forces for serving, yet never questioning how and why we ask them to serve, if this isn’t a bit backwards. What does it say about us as a society that we don’t seem to question how our military is used, yet now (post-Vietnam) bend over backward to thank them for their service? How do we justify asking them to do what many believe is not in our best interests, yet feel a heartfelt “thank you for your service” is somehow enough to justify our cavalier attitude toward the forces behind their service and sacrifice?
This leads me to other questions, such as are we becoming a sort of Sparta by proxy? Are we a nation that uses its wealth to prosecute wars that are unnecessary and only serve the interests of the truly wealthy and powerful, simultaneously insulating the average citizen from the sacrifices and costs involved? Are we asking the members of our armed forces to kill, fight, and die for no other reason than to preserve our position as the world’s largest consumers of natural resources, then showering them with just enough pomp and circumstance to obfuscate the ugly and horrific reality?
This is where I find cognitive dissonance. As I watched the end of the Greenbrier Classic yesterday, there were two service members tending the pin on the 18th. I am pretty sure I’ve seen this at just about every tournament I’ve watched this year and it seems as though it’s been only recently this has happened regularly. I really love golf as a sport, though I do wonder where it fits in the overall cultural milieu I live in. I hate to see it used as a propaganda tool but, truth to tell, I’m not sure that is what’s happening. What do you think about this? Am I crazy; being too ideological; reading too much into a genuine expression of gratitude? The dissonance is killing me.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spend quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.