But all that seems to matter is that more land is gobbled up for golf courses so that more real estate agents can sell more condos overlooking more water holes to those flourishing new ethnics, the Golfer-Americans. No one—especially, it seems, those low-handicap executives—heeds the cautionary tale that comes from Japan, where huge numbers of the 1,500 or so courses built in the last few years have gone belly-up. In Connecticut it took the charisma of Paul Newman and $500,000 in seed money from him to save 740 acres of open space from being imprisoned as yet another golf development. Of course, rarely does golf have to contend with such a tasteful and resolute eminence as Mr. Newman.
Rather, even as we have become more egalitarian as a society, the institution of golf has been awarded a free pass, been allotted a privileged place in our culture. Doesn't anybody worry that the President of these United States spends obsessive hours on golf courses (even in the depths of winter) when he should be leading the free world? You think Saddam Hussein is out practicing chip shots?
Perhaps this merely tells us that we don't really need a full-time president anymore. Just a First Golfer. Or maybe good golf is simply the symbol of what leadership requires today. It wasn't that long ago that our chiefs had to be able to ride a horse well, wielding a fancy saber at the gallop. No doubt the Clinton Memorial will show him slugging a fairway wood, eyes boldly fixed on the distant green.
Or isn't it interesting that at a time when America is so manic on the subject of fitness, our business and political leaders exercise by riding golf carts—notwithstanding that it has been documented that the calories burned up by playing 18 holes while using a cart can be replaced by consuming one (1) chicken McNugget dipped in barbecue sauce?
But the fitness nuts are silent on the subject. I can only imagine that's because they're all up jogging in place and doing sit-ups at 4 a.m. as they wait in line to sign up for a late-afternoon tee time.
In fact, as near as I can tell, golf has risen above criticism. Even for those pledged to document it, golf isn't a sport so much as it is a sacred way of life. Why, even your hard-boiled, tough-guy sports columnists, including my colleague whose writing is located in the fairway on the back page of this magazine, will rag on just about every sport, but they're all like li'l puppy dogs, whimpering verse, when it comes to the links. Just once before I die, I want to read one sportswriter with the courage to write, "F—- Amen Corner."
You see, golf is what the range used to be, a homey place where never is heard a discouraging word. In fact, by law, there are only three things in golf that anyone is allowed to criticize: 1) the pin placements at the U.S. Open, 2) the rough at the U.S. Open, 3) Colin Montgomerie.
Sometimes, when I lie awake at night, all I can think is: What did poor Colin Montgomerie do to deserve this? Oh, well.
But if there's no criticism allowed in golf, there is this compensatory sociological curiosity: all—all—sports jokes are about golf. A friend of mine, a celebrated comedy writer named Jack Winter, first pointed this out to me. Have you ever once heard a tennis joke? he asked. A bowling joke? A football joke? In the entire history of comedy, there has never been a single hockey joke. Yet there are always golf jokes. A veritable plethora thereof.
I have given this a great deal of thought. There used to be many stupid jokes about fishermen. There are still a few hilarious fishing bumper stickers, such as I'D RATHER BE FISHING. But no more fishing jokes. Golf jokes have overwhelmed them. Not only that, but now most of the hilarious sports bumper stickers are also about golf, like MY OTHER CAR IS A GOLF CART.