Even more bizarre, the law about golf jokes is that even though there are thousands of them, they can fall into one of only two categories. First are the magic golf jokes, wherein God, Moses, Saint Peter, et al. are playing together and all making miraculous shots (har-de-har-har). Second are the side-splitting husband-plays-too-much-golf jokes. Golf jokes have no other roots, but the variations on the same two tired punch lines just go on and on. Maybe it's because golf is becoming a form of religion, with its own liturgy.
What tells me that golfers are truly a different race, though, is the way they feel about golf balls. Golfer-Americans worship these inanimate objects quite unashamedly. By contrast, have you ever seen, for example, a bunch of normal American tennis players at the start of a match? Balls? Everybody says, "Who brought the balls? Can we use this old can? They're still kinda fuzzy." But Golfer-Americans are absolutely maniacal about their balls. They even attribute human qualities to them, in the same way that Disney anthropomorphizes animals. When a golfer hits a ball awry, he says, "My ball found the bunker," as if this unhappy turn of events had nothing to do with who hit the ball, as if the ball sought out the bunker of its own free will. You ever hear a quarterback say, "My pass found the cornerback"? Of course not.
Golf operates differently. It's like one of those parallel universes that the starship Enterprise was always stumbling onto. Where's Spock when we need him? "Captain, huge numbers of chubby, oddly dressed humanoids seem to spend an excessive amount of time at massive outdoor temples where they speak to a small, pockmarked sphere. It is most peculiar for what seems to be, otherwise, such an advanced race."
Oh, sometimes I have wondered how my life would have been if I, too, had played golf. I would have spent thousands of hours, hundreds of days, on the course instead of in the world. Nassaus, better balls, mixed foursomes, the driving range, the putting green. And gaily reliving it all at the 19th hole: male bonding. My vacations would have been planned around golf. My testicles would have grown demonstrably larger and more metallic. I would have talked about Big Bertha as the only woman in my life. I would have found just the right ball for me. I would have addressed it. And I would have found all new friends. Joined select Golfer-American clubs, of course. Made blockbuster insider business deals in the locker room after a member-guest.
But probably, too, my life would have been much less productive. Let's face it, the American Dream of most young men, circa 2000, is to rush through life so they can retire and resettle in Dixie or in Irrigationiana, where they can play golf all year round, to the exclusion of all other pursuits. Really, now, is that the freedom that Sergeant York, John Wayne and Tom Hanks fought for? Or as Don Hewitt, my hero and the creator of 60 Minutes, replied without shame when someone asked him why he, at age 75, and Mike Wallace, a certified octogenarian, still labor every day to actually create something: "Mike and I don't play golf."
Maybe, I began to think, we are breeding two entirely different races in America. Coexisting, yes, side by side, pretending to get along. Really, though: different beings, different souls, thinking differently, acting differently, treating women and animals and God differently, inexorably heading in different directions—us to the City on the Hill (or, anyway, to the multiplex theater at the mall), they to the gated condo community overlooking the prettiest water hole.
It was time to find out if a Deford Report in 1998 would discover what the Kerner Report did 30 years ago, that America is two societies, only now the division is one golf, one not golf. A poll was commissioned by this magazine, and wise, unbiased men and women contacted people all across the land to discover if things had come to this sad pass.
As you can see, yes, they have. My suspicions were confirmed. We are indeed a dual society now, in that tee-to-green of life. The Golfer-Americans in our midst are different from the rest of us. The proof follows. Read it and weep. Or: Read it and putt.
Our poll indicates that golfers are a special breed of Americans, distinctive in a number of ways. They are a visceral group that is living large, enjoying the physical pleasures of life and not being terribly concerned about the consequences. Golfers' main pursuit is their own happiness, and they feel they are achieving it.
—PETER HARRIS, president
Peter Harris Research Group
(and himself a Golfer-American)
Harris's polling of more than 1,200 Americans shows that the Golfer-American, defined as someone who plays a minimum of 26 rounds annually, is different from the rest of us in the following ways.