“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.
The tale of Harry Vardon turning in his golf clubs for a sword.
Erik is a writer and teacher from Fort Lauderdale, FL. When he's not trying to figure out ways to golf for free, he's usually hanging out with his wife and Rhodesian Ridgeback, Koa. You can find more of his work at punchbowlgolf.co