Ordinarily I don't linger over the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, but in late January it got my attention, leading off with a photo of the eighteenth hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews. The picture illustrated a story about how golf, in Jack Abramoff's wake, has become "risky business" for politicians, and stretched across the image were two strands of yellow police "caution" tape.
Oh, the hilarity!
The story began with a lawyer's opening remarks at an "ethics training session" for FBI agents about inappropriate methods of influence. "Let me give you an all-encompassing rule," the lawyer opined. "Golf is bad."
I'll spare you the rest. The fact that this argument was being made in the styles section of the paper—not the news, business or even sports pages—pretty much says it all.
Still, when golf—particularly golf travel—is challenged, I feel obligated to respond. So, for the record: Golf is not bad. Golf is good. Politicians bought and paid for by special interests are bad, whether the bums are purchased with cash, yachts, tennis rackets, tin whistles or tee times. But golf—especially golf travel—is good.
Golf is, as it happens, on balance a powerful force for social good. What other sport has donated $1 billion to charity?What other sport has honesty and integrity as its cornerstones?What other sport lures free-spending tourists like you and me all around the world?
No, golf isn't pure. It certainly earned its reputation as elitist, at least in this country. But today, for every club with a $500,000 initiation fee there are hundreds of public courses with greens fees of $25 or less—in fact, the median price for eighteen holes in the U.S. is just $34. Through innovations in turf science and reclamation of waste sites, the game is even remaking a spotty environmental record. I could go on.
But to tar the game because it was misused as payola by some bad actors is like damning single malt scotch because Paris Hilton once chugged a glass of it.
Pass the Glenmorangie, friend. Then I'll see you on the tee.