"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 June 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Golf War Syndrome



Nothing says "upper-class contempt" like golf. The sport oozes tasseled-shoe snobbery — a reassuring feeling, deep down inside, of knowing you're not one of the coupon-clipping untouchables (which, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing). The very word conjures visions of those sleek-haired Aryans in the Ralph Lauren Polo ads, wearing the White Man's Burden as a fashion statement — the sort of people who say, "Kir Royales all around," high on a smug sense of entitlement.

Literal entitlement: Golf courses and golf communities for the leisure class are gobbling up huge tracts of land — approximately 1.2 million hectares to date. In Hawaii, Florida and Southeast Asia, developers are bulldozing virgin forests and filling wetlands to make room for fumigated, TV-picture-perfect golf greens — a mortician's idea of the great outdoors.

These are times that try golf loathers' souls. The sport's popularity is at an all-time high; between 1990 and '95, a new course opened almost every day. Tiger Woods has been elevated to the status of a household deity, a shining example for Cablinasian youth everywhere. (Nevertheless, the fact that Cablinasians are still more likely to enter a private club through the servants' entrance than the front gate notwithstanding). Fox recently launched Maximum Golf, a wild 'n' crazy blend of Maxim and golf that should come with a scratch 'n' sniff hit of Paco Rabanne. In between profiles of rad golf dudes like Tommy Lee, the magazine features "fast cars and smooth cigars, and lest we forget, the Cart Girl of the Month." Bookstore shelves are groaning under the weight of recent golf titles, from tour memoirs to how-to guides, wacky humor books, and inspirational tracts. One publisher's catalogue ballyhooed golf as "America's favorite weekend sport."



Which begs the question: Which America? Woods may have made the fairway safe for buppies in Tommy Hilfiger, but golf remains the diversion of the white-guy power elite it has been since Scotland's King James IV made the first recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs in 1502.

Everyone knows that golf is the preferred pastime of the privileged, its members-only clubs historically barred to Jews, blacks, and other representatives of what Rudyard Kipling called "the lesser breed without the law." Still, it comes as something of a shock to learn that it has only been 30 years since the signs reading "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews" came down at the Baltimore Country Club, a bastion of WASP power in rural Maryland; shocking to learn, as well, that the club's ban on Jews remains in full effect, despite the removal of the offending sign.

Ironically, it's golf's reputation as the sport of the manor-born that makes it so right for our age of the Long Boom, happy days of turbo-capitalism and hyper-consumption. Golf offers instant status for instant millionaires, conferring on Wall Street and dot-com players the old-money respectability that SUVs, McMansions, and other steroidal emblems of success can't buy. The golf lifestyle draws an emphatic line in the sand trap between Us and Them, admitting the winners to a bubble world of unquestioned privilege, where the unchanging social order of the Age of Empire lives on. The hired help know their place and even nature has been brought to heel, landscaped and manicured into Disneyesque perfection.



A New York Times Magazine ad for Donald Trump's new Trump International Golf Club tries gamely to lure new-money arrivistes with the promise of pay-per-view access to old-money exclusivity. Situated in the tony Westchester town of Briarcliff Manor, the club is a collaboration between a "world class developer" and a "world class golf architect." The mantric repetition of the word "class" is intended to work its subliminal seductions on the reader (provided that the reader can disable his or her irony filter long enough to associate class with Trump, the poster boy for Hindenbergian ego bloat in most New Yorkers' eyes). The text wraps around an ornate heraldic crest, emblazoned with the name "Trump" — as embarrassing a monument to social insecurity as Michael Jackson's loony insistence on taking his self-styled "King of Pop" status literally, epaulets and all. The ad promises "an attentive staff that turns a round of golf into a world of luxury [and] the most exhilarating golfing experience within reach. Within reach, that is, of a select few." Ever tell you about the time I had to play on a public course, Brad? Simply ghastly. Duffers wouldn't have given me the right of way on the green if I hadn't given them a good thrashing with my mashie niblick. No breeding, these people.

Clearly, golf is a canker upon the mental and natural environments, turning what could be wildlife preserves or public parks into fortified playpens for the wealthy. So what to do about this B-movie Attack of the Pastel People in their floppy-tongued shoes and their little carts? On his album Jammin' in New York, George Carlin offers a hilarious final solution to the golf problem: Turn courses into housing for the homeless. By the comedian's estimate, golf courses occupy three million-plus acres of American real estate — room enough, he says, for "two Rhode Islands and a Delaware for the homeless."



The movie Falling Down offers an even more extreme strategy for stamping out golf blight: Take back the green. At gunpoint. Widely reviled as a revenge fantasy for angry white guys, the film, which stars Michael Douglas as a downsized working stiff who goes postal, also struck a responsive chord with the golf-loathing masses. In one black-comedic scene, the gun-toting Douglas wanders across a golf course and is nearly beaned when a fat old rich guy, incensed that a trespasser is interrupting his game, sends a ball whistling past Douglas' head. Enraged, Douglas answers with a burp of gunfire, terrifying the golfer into cardiac arrest. Lecturing the wheezing, fear-crazed man on the insanity of nearly killing someone because he interrupts your game — a game of fucking golf, goddamit — Douglas froths, "And now you're going to die with that stupid little hat on!" Class war begins on the green.

courtesy of Mark Dery
picturesTerry Colon