Golf is under assault. It's no surprise the assailants are liberals, but this time their attack is directed at one of their own: President Barack Obama. In an essay in the Dec. 30 issue of The New Republic, senior editor Michelle Cottle declares, "With the coming new year, POTUS has a prime opportunity to regroup, reload and revamp his image. He could start by ditching golf." Cottle notes that "this president hit the links more frequently in his first nine months than the reared-on-golf George W. [Bush] did in his first two years."
Cottle unlimbers the usual golf-as-bogeyman artillery: Golf is "a leisure activity that screams stodgy, hyperconventional Old Guard"; "golf is the stuff of corporate deal-cutting, congressional junkets and country-club exclusivity"; and "golf is a dying game—on the skids for nearly a decade.... Does President Obama really want to be associated with a game so antithetical to modern life?"
The real subtext? Obama shouldn't be spending time on the greensward when there is so much yet to be accomplished at the White House. Coincidentally (or not) on Dec. 30, Maureen Dowd's op-ed column in The New York Times carried the following subhead: GET OFF THE GOLF COURSE AND FIX OUR AIRPORTS! (Even though the piece never even mentions golf!)
This Puritan strain has always existed in our society; those disappointed in Obama can't merely criticize his performance, they also have to blame him for having fun. Does more play and less time spent at his desk really hamper his performance? Heck, it might improve it by allowing his brain to solve bigger problems while it's also pondering whether to pull a seven- or an eight-iron. Of course, Obama could stay chained to his desk the way Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter did. That approach sure worked out well.
Besides, instead of reflexively trotting out the tired arguments that golf is a sport of the haves (oooh: Republicans!), Cottle might have done a little research. Rounds played were actually the same in 2009 as they were in 2008, despite a bad economy. And while 2.1 million American golfers belong to country clubs, the remainder of the 4.6 million avid players (25 or more rounds a year) do not. In the U.S. golf is something of a mini--stimulus package: Prerecession estimates pegged it as a $76 billion industry that employs two million people.
So, as the anniversary of your inauguration dawns—marking a year filled, like a golf round, with scrambling pars and missed shots—damn the wonks and let the big dog eat, Mr. President.
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GOLF PLUS will next appear as a supplement to the Feb. 8 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.