In just seven years the national splurge on boating increased from $1 billion to $2.5 billion. The reason was largely new kinds of equipment. With fiber glass came a boat that took a maximum of abuse with a miminum of sandpaper. Monster outboard motors, once exclusively the province of professional boatmen, now drive small cabin cruisers at furious speeds, and both boat and motor can be beached in the backyard and towed to water on weekends. For sailors, light, quick-drying Dacron sails have replaced the two tons of wet, unmanageable canvas that the ladies—as crew—once had to haul in every time the spinnaker got soaked. A sailboat so tiny it would fit on a car roof became the rage among thousands of junior sailors, while in the past seven years there were so many new big boats that the 1960 Bermuda Race had 135 starters, compared to 77 in 1954.
An inland waterway
Meanwhile, every water surface bigger than a bathtub was having its calm ruffled by another waterbug, the skier. So many water skiers came out of the weeds that it was no surprise when the holder of the world's water ski jump record (150 feet) turned out to be a young man from Austin, Texas, a city, incidentally, which now boasts a country club without a golf course. Located on Austin Lake, it caters only to the water set.
This love affair with wetness extended just as overwhelmingly into fishing, another sport that seven years have made unrecognizable. Time was when it took an uncommon amount of skill to cast a light River Runt plug against the wind and not have it blown back so far that you had to comb it out of your hair. Now the spinning reel is not only available but cheap. With it the most unpracticed novice can throw deadly, light lures a mile in a gale. Rods are lighter and stronger; floating lines really float, and lures range from battery-operated plugs to that final symbol of angling ease and gentility, the plastic worm.
Inexpensive transportation now has brought the country's wildest regions within casting distance of outdoorsmen. On Maine's secluded Allagash River, once accessible only by float plane, a horrified guide recently saw a procession of 23 canoes, each filled to the gunwales with fisherboys hauling in brook trout. For the angler there seemed to be little wilderness left, as America became a great place to be a human, but a lousy place to be a fish.
Those other outdoorsmen, the hunters, were finding similar difficulties and at least a partial solution. There were 14 million licensed hunters in 1954, and at least 2 million more of them in 1960. In some areas the heavy hunting pressure—combined with poor breeding weather and reduced breeding grounds—had all but destroyed the sport. The closing of more and more private land has also hampered hunters, but increasing numbers are now finding their sport on regulated private preserves, where game is raised to be shot for a fee. A poor substitute, perhaps; yet this is what some hunting has come to in 1961.
But if the hunter has suffered, his fellow outdoors type, the skier, has thrived. Vermont reports a 300% increase in skiing since 1954. The flatlands of the Midwest, which had four ski resorts seven years ago, now have 141, and in such unlikely spots as Gatlinburg, Tenn. and Hot Springs, Va., slopes are coated with artificial snow to become southern Sun Valleys. The development that has brought skiing to the public eye and ought to keep it there forever? Stretch pants.
The country's two old country club sports, golf and tennis, also have changed drastically, the one surging to some kind of climax while the other drags listlessly toward a crisis.
Seven years of professional golf saw the end of the domination of Hogan and Snead, the rise of Arnold Palmer and the realization that finesse is no longer enough. Power has become vital. Never have golf balls been hit so far so straight—or for so much money. Palmer's tournament winnings were $75,262 last year. What's more, every touring professional now presumes he can at least equal his tournament winnings with outside endorsements. The best—again, Palmer—grossed nearly $200,000 from golf last year. Perhaps because they were turning into wealthy conservatives, the pros began to dress the part and, naturally, all golfers followed suit. Gone were the flaming pinks and lavenders of 1954; in came subdued charcoals and browns.
There were other changes. Land costs and taxes caused country club dues to soar like nine-iron shots, and on public courses there were crowds and tangles that rivaled those in the other fast-growing outdoor sports. In cities like Chicago and New York golfers started lining up at 4 a.m. At a course in New Orleans players arrived in pajamas at dawn to draw lots for a handful of starting times that the course refused to schedule in advance. The lucky winners go home and dress. The losers go back to bed.