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Does Malcom Gladwell Hate Golf?

Does Malcom Gladwell Hate Golf?

With this one podcast, Gladwell irked golfers everywhere

Erik Most

“I hate golf, and hopefully by the end of this episode you’ll hate golf too.”

-Malcolm Gladwell

The voice through your headphones belongs to Malcolm Gladwell, full of his idiosyncratic pauses and exclamations. A couple years ago in his podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell pulled no punches when describing his disdain for the sport we love so much. According to Gladwell, golf is “an addiction–a self destructive habit,” and “crack cocaine for rich white guys.” He details all of this in his episode entitled, “A Good Walk Spoiled.” A good walk spoiled?! My internal golf defense attorney rises up within me–you know the guy, the same lawyer that has lost Husband v Wife the last 15 trials straight? That’s the one.

How could golf SPOIL a walk? How about enhance? Electrify? Invigorate? Enrapture! With this one podcast, Gladwell irked golfers everywhere. But did he really mean it? Is that truly the case? Was it golf specifically that Gladwell abhors, or was golf a casualty in a bigger war against a larger enemy?

In ensuing interviews and follow up podcasts with various hosts, Gladwell’s tone and
target seems to shift a bit. It seems the recurring theme of Gladwell’s disdain is his inability to use private country clubs as public property–spaces he believes the taxpayers are entitled to due to apparent loopholes in tax structures. He even went so far as to say in many parts of the podcast his “tongue was planted firmly in his cheek.” In other words, he laid down some incendiary audible clickbait at the beginning of the podcast only to steer towards other root causes later. As you sift through his convictions it seems like Gladwell is really taking aim at exclusive high brows who sector themselves off from the rest of society. He thinks golf is composed entirely of Judge Smailses when in reality the best golf includes the Al Czerviks of the world. Gladwell also takes aim at the wastefulness of swaths of land only available to a small group of people. He may have a point here, but he also could broaden his view of golf outside LA and consider the multipurpose courses in the UK, even the most prestigious ones such as St. Andrews.

What would it be like if we walked the Old Course with Malcolm on a Sunday, when it’s closed? I wonder if he would see a different side of golf. He might see a more inclusive and relational one as he interacted with families and locals wandering the course. He would see frisbees being thrown, and perhaps picnics. He’d see plenty of joggers, some with dogs trotting alongside their owners. Children might be frolicking in the fairways. You see, as Old Tom Morris once said, “even if the golfers don’t need a rest, the course does.” So as the home of golf takes its Sunday sabbath, all are welcome on the course, except golfers.

Golf isn’t perfect, but it’s what we have. Maybe Malcolm was right in highlighting some of the negatives, but for those of us who have been around the game long enough it’s up to us to highlight and embody the overwhelming positives. So maybe it’s not golf in general that Gladwell is criticizing but a specific kind of person that happens to play golf. Golf, in this sense, was a hostage of Gladwell’s main target: snooty upper class individualism. So how do we prove it? Lets get Malcolm involved in the next RGC meetup. Maybe we need to get him out on the first tee of a local muni with a group of 30 people of varying races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and skill levels. This way he can really talk to strangers! Maybe Malcolm needs to feel that tuning fork of a well struck 7 iron resound in his loins as he walks among beauty and gets to know someone. Dollars to donuts his slice off the first tee isn’t as wayward as his take on golf.

See Also
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View Comments (10)
  • We don’t win by defending the game to Gladwell. We win by welcoming people to the game and proving that it isn’t a white upperclass game but rather a game that should and can be played by all. One that you not only play your whole life, but you learn about your life too.

  • This is awesome! Malcolm, is great, but I think it’s high time he provided some clarity around his misguided golf take. We should definitely invite him to the next RGC meetup and introduce him to golf at its finest.

  • Loved your insights in this essay. Gladwell should love the RGC concept, since both he and RGC are seeking to deflate “snooty upper class individualism.” Even the quote, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” has a tongue-in-cheek origin. It’s often attributed to Mark Twain — 40 years after he died — but apparently had other origins. So maybe this metaphor for golf needs to also follow Mr. Twain to the grave.

  • Great take. I love me some Malcom Gladwell and RH podcast but I too was sad to hear such a narrow view of the game — a straw man easy to take down. I would love to be there on the first tee with him. When it comes to golf, to take his moniker from the podcast, it’s Gladwell who has “misunderstood” it’s enchantment.

  • Malcolm clearly has never heard of the open lands laws in Scotland where everyone has rights. Neither does he know that The Old Course and even other famed courses like Muirfield are courses played by multiple Golf Clubs (like R&A or Old Course Club etc. or Honorable Golfers) . His vision of golf is only one of the elite private courses in America, a very American thing not one which came from the homes of golf. It may also be fun to have another author like Tom Coyne join and have a writers hash out mediated by EAL!!

  • Malcolm self-admittedly makes polarizing statements that he might not fully agree with in order to make a point to bring about change in a certain sphere. Probably what he was doing here. As you’ve stated, I’m sure some his concerns with golf are valid and shared by others who occupy urban environments containing stretches of coveted private green space. Hopefully his shots at golf could move country clubs and courses to be more accommodating to non-golfers and non-members. Would love to get him on the pod and hear more of his opinion and see if Erik can possible seduce him with a pure taste of the game as it was meant to be! 🙂

  • I listened to “a good walk spoiled” podcast before reading and I couldn’t agree more with this articles analysis. Gladwell was hoping to enrage and promote clicks when in the beginning he says (and I am paraphrasing) that he hates golf and that others should too. He hates that there are many private courses that offer no accessibility to the public and I can understand this sentiment. I am a young college student who has only played golf for just about a year. It would be awesome if once a week the private courses would allow non-members to play a round. I definitely think that the private course is kind of outdated but I’m not upset about multimillionaires spending their money on memberships. They worked hard and have every right to use their money the ways they want too. That’s where I disagree with Gladwell the most. Overall his view on golf only represents a small picture of what this sport actually is. I have met some of the kindest and most generous people playing golf. ( I was gifted a full set of clubs) This is the version of golf I love and believe in.

  • I ran into Malcolm today in upstate NY and asked him to go on the podcast! Probably won’t make the difference, but he was very nice about it. Hopefully we’ll be able to hear that conversation with Malcolm and Erik.

  • I don’t know which is worse. Gladwell stealing the title of the book, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” to title his podcast or the author not acknowledging one of the best books in Golf.

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