When I was working at Golf Magazine in the 1980s and ‘90s, a time concurrent with the last “golf boom,” I reveled in finding references to the game in non-sports media. It was in business magazines because golf courses were as popular as boardrooms for making deals; it was in the celebrity/entertainment rags because the game had status among the Hollywood elite (Nicholson, Eastwood, Douglas/Zeta-Jones, even Wahlberg); and it was in international news as a popular way for undeveloped countries to promote tourism (e.g., Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia).
Unfortunately, golf isn’t as hot, or cool, as it once was and as a result, the non-sports coverage trends a little more negative. Now we read about the game’s environmental impact, bankers taking big shots to fancy golf resorts while also taking Federal bailout money, and the downside of development on some of those same undeveloped countries (such as the New York Times article on Vietnam cited a few posts below).
Here’s the latest “golf is bad” story. The Obama White House is being compared to a “frat house” in which the boys make decisions and the girls make tea. Despite a nearly 50-50 gender split in senior administration posts, the President, it is said, relies too much on male advisors while the female staff is treated like second-class citizens. What’s the proof of all this? The all-boy basketball games and the all-male rounds of golf.
Here is the key golf-related paragraph in today’s NYTimes story:
Ben Finkenbinder, a junior press aide and scratch golfer, was recently invited into a foursome with Mr. Obama. (In records kept by Mark Knoller of CBS, the president has played 23 rounds of golf since taking office, none of which have included women, though Mr. Knoller allows that the press office does not always release the names of every player. A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said Friday that Mr. Obama planned to play this weekend with Ms. [domestic-policy advisor Melody] Barnes.)
This is not a political issue. I don’t care if you think Mr. Obama is the messiah or a foreign-born interloper. If you are a golfer, you know that there are basically two forms of recreational (non-tournament) golf: client golf and fun golf. In Mr. Obama’s case, client golf would be going out with a fellow politician to twist his/her arm about upcoming legislation, something not uncommon in Presidential history. But Mr. Obama seems to primarily view golf as an escape, an attitude even more prevalent among Presidents going back to William Howard Taft (I wrote about Presidential golf history for The Met Golfer earlier this year; access that story here). He plays it on vacation and as a release from the pressures of the job. As a result, he likes to play—not very well, from all accounts—with people he can relax with, although there have been a few big contributor-types and corporate titans along for the cart rides, as well.
I say leave him alone. Let the President play with whomever he likes. Do you like being told who to play with?
Yes, it would be nice if more of his rounds included women with whom he is comfortable enough to shank, sclaff, and talk trash. And after this tempest in a tee box, I’ll bet we’ll see more women in the First Golfer’s foursome.
Therefore, I suggest he use his golf as a “teachable moment” and play with some LPGA players. This shouldn’t be done simply to address any “women problem” but to see, up-close, a game that is a realistic archetype for many male amateurs: Watching how most women pros manage their way about the course would be a great lesson for the President as well as the rest of us men.
It might also be a safe way to get an earful from a generally conservative clique (pro golfers, the men for sure, are predominantly Republican). And maybe Mr. Obama has some candidates in mind for the next LPGA Commissioner: What’s Christine Todd Whitman doing these days? Sandra Day O’Connor? Wanda Sykes?
Maybe some of the women who work in the White House should take up the game. I have no idea if any of them play: Hillary? I doubt it, but ask Bill; Judge Sotomayor? Breaking her foot a few months ago can’t have helped her game, if she has one. But if the boss plays golf perhaps learning the game is a smart career move.
Wait a second. That’s it! Let’s get Mr. Obama to use his staff, male and female, as the trendsetters to launch a national “take up the game” campaign. His America—young/old; male/female; in all colors—needs golf, a game that is competitive but not bellicose, gets people outdoors, calls for thinking as well as hitting, can be played in teams or individually, and when it’s over ends with a few beers and a lot of laughs.
And don’t forget the kids. You think young America would notice if Sasha and Malia took up the game?
Maybe like Ike in the ‘50s, Obama in the early 21st-century can give golf a big boost. Now that’s something both red states and blue states can agree on.