Nothing sets Golfer-Americans apart from their alter egos more than the reasons why they love their game. For example, the reason nongolfers most often give for playing another sport is that it's good exercise. But only 8% of Golfer-Americans are under any illusion that golf is good exercise. This shows, by the way, how much the golf establishment was out of touch with its constituency in the Casey Martin affair. Blustery arguments that golf was physically demanding obviously fell on the deaf ears of candid Golfer-Americans.
Similarly, golfers, unlike other American athletes, don't much play their sport for fun. Only 8% of Golfer-Americans think that fun is the most appealing aspect of the game. In other sports more than twice as many participants say they love their game most because it's enjoyable. So if golf isn't good exercise or much fun, why do golfers play?
Well, 42% of Golfer-Americans love the game because it's challenging. For 24%, being outdoors is the prime attraction (12% of nongolfers say this about their sports), and for 19% it's being with friends (a factor mentioned by only 12% who play other sports). However, when the question is phrased in another way, the friendship element takes on added importance. When Golfer-Americans were asked, "If you could no longer play golf, what would you miss the most?" only 13% cited the competition, while 38% said they would miss the camaraderie. Harris says, "Clearly, golfers are motivated by the challenge of playing, and they become absorbed with trying to do well at a difficult game. However, it's the companionship that they would miss the most."
What's especially fascinating about this revelation is that a great deal was made of a 1995 article in the Journal of Democracy titled "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," by Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist. Putnam argued that the diminishing popularity of bowling night bespoke an erosion of the nation's community spirit. But maybe the decline of participation in bowling—and in the League of Women Voters, the Elks and the Boy Scouts—only speaks to the lack of modern appeal of those activities and organizations. The example of golf suggests that Americans are as much a community as ever. The U.S. is a veritable buddy-dom.
To hell with playing golf. I just want to be a Golfer-American. The sex is great. Your wife wants you to go off with the guys. You can drink all the booze and eat all the steak you want, take off from work in the middle of the week, gamble and listen to rock-and-roll, and you don't even have to pretend to worry about exercising. Amen.
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