Golf In The Time of Trump

Live sports came back last week in the form of a charity match at Seminole to raise money for the fight against the coronavirus. It went about as well as one can hope, especially for those of us who were a) desperate to watch golf b) willing to watch almost ANY live sports and c) really keen to see Seminole. Plus, it raised more than five million dollars!

That said, NBC Sports and GOLF Channel – like most golf broadcasts these days – seemed scared to death of ONLY showing the golf. This is a syndrome that plagues televised golf these days, which is even more stark when you watch tournaments from the past. Imagine a world where you would actually see guys in the fairway, practicing shots and hear them talking with their caddies, not just a slew of putts and ONLY their actual shots from the tee or fairway. And I won’t digress more than that, except to say that one of the “remedies” here was to bring in three guests to interview instead of letting us just listen to the golfers talk amongst themselves. 

They were all horrible. I love Bill Murray as an actor, I tolerate his antics at Pebble Beach each year and boy, I do not need to see him being interviewed on a diagonal Skype call ever again. Jon Rahm was fine if dull (and there to answer the question of, “Um, how did Matthew Wolff get in this event?”). And of course, sandwiched in the middle was an interview with President Trump that lasted for the majority of the ninth hole.

I recognize that a charity function for a global pandemic isn’t the weirdest place to interview the President of the United States. And while this particular president isn’t prone to lucid, thoughtful insights, it’s possible that he shared some of them during his interview. I honestly don’t know. Because I turned on the TV and took my dog for a walk. 

I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether or not you like President Trump. There actually IS a right answer to that, but if you fall on the other side of the discussion, there’s nothing I’m going to say that will convince you. In fact, you’ve probably already labelled this site as being fake news, part of the librul media and part of whatever the QAnon plot is supposedly about today.  

Remember “stick to sports” ..? You know, the phrase that emerges whenever a reporter, network or newspaper presents a non-conservative point of view, even if it’s literally printing a fact of what has transpired. Right leaning folks scream about how they watch [insert sport here] to “get away from politics” and that reporters have no business having their own opinion, even from their own Twitter account. However, when folks (like me) complained about Trump’s presence on the air on Sunday, they were met with a “you snowflakes get triggered so easily!” or “he’s the President, GET OVER IT” and utter hogshit like that. Look, hypocrisy in politics isn’t new or specific to folks who actually use the “word” MAGA unironically, but it was quite telling.

Opinion | Donald Trump Makes Golf Look Bad - The New York Times
I can’t let THIS be the public face (or body) of golf. I just … can’t.

But it highlights a bigger problem folks like me who like golf — Trump is impossible to get away from. (And not just because President Plump is “morbidly obese,” as many people have been saying.) Not only does he own a ton of courses, but quite clearly, golf leans more conservative than most sports. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a study of this, but I’d have to guess that only NASCAR would be likely to be more Republican and that’s as much of a fact of geography than anything else. I played the masterpiece that is the Ailsa Course at Turnberry in Scotland after some deep soul searching, and it ended up being my 3rd favorite course I’ve ever played. And what I said at the time is that if Trump ran and treated the country the way he does that golf course, I’d have waaaay fewer complaints about him. The place is majestic, if predictably garish inside the hotel in places, etc. And yes, like many high priced golf courses, it’s far from accessible and open in the way I’d like. But honestly? It’s a better vibe than Muirfield puts out to the general public. Plus, I made custom golf balls that I both intentionally and unintentionally left around the property – and our main man AC made his first hole-in-one using one!

My first customization was rejected for profanity. You do the math.

Is that keeping politics out of golf? Well … of course not, but it felt like all I could do as a protest.

I don’t even care about – or, more fairly, this complaint isn’t related to – the fact that as of this post, Trump has played golf up to 249 days of his administration, visiting one of his clubs once every FIVE days and costing the country $134,000,000 according to Trump Golf Count. It’s obnoxious and unseemly (especially for a guy who stated he’d be too busy to golf, and chided President Obama for playing a fraction of the above amount in his eight years in office), but it’s more how Trump has become a part of MY golf experience.

Because, even when you play a non-Trump property, he’s still somehow part of the game. I played golf a few weeks ago in Northern California and was paired up with a guy wearing a MAGA hat. Numerous times, I’ve played with folks wearing TRUMP property swag from some of his more notable courses around the world. This used to be innocuous, but in 2020, it’s anything but.

And Trump or not, conservatism reigns supreme. Utter strangers feel comfortable making insanely inappropriate “jokes” about anyone left of center. Because what I need when I’m trying to focus on a full rotation is someone discussing whether or not Hilary’s vagina is dried out. (Note: Apologies. This was an actual thing that happened to me while I was stuck in a green side bunker. It haunts me still.) The assumption, of course, is that as another middle aged white male, I think about things the same way they do. (The other assumption is that they’re trying to provoke a fight, which is – to state the obvious – not what I’m looking for on the golf course.) 

And as someone who isn’t shy about his politics, I just get bummed out that the sport I love is so linked with conservatism. Again, I honestly don’t care that people disagree with me (in fact, I think it makes the world interesting) but why does TRUMP have to be in my life on the frigging golf course? 

I want to love golf. And I do and almost certainly always WILL love golf. But can’t we #StickToSports and keep that guy out of it? 

For some reason, the annual survey Golf magazine does with professional golfers really stuck with me from 2018, when one golfer said, simply, “He’s made me some money. That’s all I care about.” This guy doesn’t speak for all of golf by any means (in fact, the percentage of pro golfers who said they’d vote for him in 2020 was only just above 40%) but when golf has a well-earned reputation as being elitist, insular and unconcerned with matters that don’t apply to rich white men, comments like this don’t exactly cause sea changes. 

Everything I like about golf is about making the sport more fun, more open to anyone and way less stuffy and elitist.  If you can’t decide which of the following two photos is better for the game, and has a wider appeal, then I don’t know what to do:

That’s four of the best golfers in the world, shoulder strapping it in shorts. 
This is someone else, talking over the 9th hole while Dustin Johnson tees it up.

This is the time when I’d normally start talking about the election, and try to persuade everyone to vote for the other guy – but that’s not what this is about. (Again, you’ve almost certainly made up your mind already.) 

Instead, I would like to propose a national referendum to keep Donald J. Trump (and any other politician, if you’d need to “both sides” this) out of golf. If you want to go play his courses, live your best life. And if you’re in your regular foursome, do whatever you want. Those guys CHOOSE to play golf with you! But if somebody you don’t know gets paired up with you, keep it to yourself. That means your wardrobe, that means your conversation. There are MURDER HORNETS around, there’s plenty to chat about.

And if, despite your best efforts, he (or she) starts talking about the current resident of the Oval Office, send them my way. We’ll get it sorted out.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk. 

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