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The Bad News About Golf

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Since the 15th century, men and women, some of them of sound minds, have whacked a small ball across acres of unproductive countryside, all the while pretending they were having a good time.

This is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at why golf has been blamed for the degradation of health, relationships, and the environment.

Blame the Scots

Scottish people have a lot to answer for; bagpipes and haggis for starters. But those are minor irritants compared to the invention of golf.

In the 1400s, people near Edinburgh starting thumping pebbles with a stick around sand dunes. The pastime became so popular that men who ought to have been practicing decapitating English soldiers with their claymores were neglecting their military training.

King James II (known as Fiery Face) put a stop to the frivolous pursuit and banned the game in 1457. It could have ended there and the world would have been spared the sight of portly men in lime green trousers and hot pink shirts taking futile swings at a ball in a bunker.

But James IV took a fancy to the game and lifted the ban. So, the world’s golf widows know who to blame.

18th century MacDonald golfing boys, although what the older lad is going to do with the flintlock is anybody’s guess.

18th century MacDonald golfing boys, although what the older lad is going to do with the flintlock is anybody’s guess.

Golf Is Dangerous

Drawing on numbers from the National Health Statistics Report, Golf Support gives us the rundown of all the bad things that happen on U.S. golf courses:

  • Golfers sustain injuries at the rate of 1.8 per 1,000 people; that’s higher that rugby and hockey.
  • Elbows and lower backs are the most common sites for pain.
  • Golf carts are involved in more than 15,000 injuries a year.
  • Annually, an estimated 40,000 people are treated for injuries caused by flying clubs and miscued drives.

“A man in Ireland was searching for his ball in a ditch when a rat ran up his leg, urinated and bit him. The man finished his round despite suffering the bite. He died two weeks later from kidney failure, a symptom of Weil’s disease, which is carried by rats.”

Golf Digest

But it gets worse.

Many golfers hit the fairways carrying extra poundage and with beta blockers, cholesterol busters, and blood thinners coursing through their bodies. A drive that splashes down in a water hazard can cause what the folks in the heart trade call a cardiac event. And the defibrillator, if there is one, is 15 minutes away in the clubhouse.

The American Heart Association says the odds of surviving a golf course heart attack are less than five percent, way lower than if help arrives quickly.

Meanwhile, lightning takes out eight or nine golfers a year in the U.S.

Golf Widows

Golfing can be a relationship killer and the Golf Widows Club is there to offer support; it’s run by Cynthia Hoff, who describes herself as “a wife and mother living life in the rough.”

She offers advice to the sisterhood of women “tethered to a man obsessed with golf, a man who is on the course more hours per day than in his home or office; a man who has, in essence, widowed his wife while living on the links. In their wake, these men leave behind swaths of weepy women . . .”

In Australia, a woman using the screen name Lewem complained on mumsnet.com that only a year into her marriage she had become a golf widow. Hubby is on the golf course four to five hours a day and when he’s home he’s watching golf on television. Couples counselling hasn’t worked, so poor Lewem is going for a divorce.

Another Australian woman wrote to the news site mamamia.com.au, “I guess I should have seen it coming but it happened so quickly. One minute he was ‘filling in to make up the four for a mate’ every now and again―then suddenly he was playing in a serious golf competition and was working on his ‘handicap.’ Golf now consumes his every waking thought (and hopes and dreams).”

Golf Course Maintenance

That beautiful green sward that opens before each golfer as she or he tees up didn’t happen by accident. Massive artificial inputs go into defeating nature’s impulse to return the land to its normal state.

Tourism Concern is a group that advocates for ethical travel. It has calculated that “an average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1,500 kg of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers.”

“A man left a Virginia country club with a headache, which was compounded by fever, nausea, and a rash. Four days later, he was in the hospital covered with blisters and died from a severe allergic reaction to a pesticide used on the course.”

Golf Digest

Las Vegas, Nevada, gets a smidgen over four inches of rain a year. Fast Company reports that “every time a golfer steps to a tee in Las Vegas, that one hole required 139 gallons of water to prepare, just for that one golfer that day.”

There are 59 golf courses in and around Las Vegas all desperately trying to keep the desert at bay.

This is the Coober Pedy Golf Course in Australia. It’s grassless and has no irrigation.

This is the Coober Pedy Golf Course in Australia. It’s grassless and has no irrigation.

Golf and the Economic Divide

In 2019, 24.3 million Americans played golf. Looked at another way, 303.9 million Americans did not play golf in 2019. One major reason for the small number of golfers is cost; it’s a game for people with deep pockets.

The National Golf Foundation says the average cost of an 18-hole round of golf in the U.S. is $61. But that’s just the green fees; the kit is on top of that.

A starter set of clubs will go for between $250 and $350. But there are lots of beginners who have visions of striding the course like a Masters Champion; if so they are going to have to pony up several thousand dollars. (The TaylorMade P790 Ti 5-PW, AW Iron Set Golf Club comes in at $3,150; on the plus side shipping is free.)

Then, there’s the apparel:

  • Golf shoes―$90 to $200
  • Shirt―$50 to $100
  • Pants―$60 to $100
  • Underwear can be repurposed from office use.

Beginners also need an endless supply of golf balls at $5 a pop. Alternatively, they can spend a lot of time looking in the rough for their Titleist Pro V1 while being yelled at by the foursome behind to “Get on with it.”

Now comes the bit that has to be braced for―club membership. It isn’t mandatory to join a club; many golfers are content to pay for each round on public courses.

Club memberships start at $2,000 a year, but with that golfers might have to deal with dandelions and thistles in the fairways and bald patches on the greens.

Getting into more exclusive the golf clubs where insider stock information is exchanged and folk collude on fixing tenders on government contracts doesn’t come cheap.

The Liberty National Club in New Jersey costs $450,000 to join with annual fees of $25,000. There’s fine dining, a spa, a high-speed launch ride to Manhattan, helipad, oh, and a golf course. But there’s a downside, and it’s a big one―Rudy Giuliana is a member.

Which brings to mind the famous quote of Groucho Marx: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”

A Relaxing Game with your Pals

Bonus Factoids

  • More than 1.5 million acres of land in the United States are given over to golf courses. The late comedian George Carlin said “I’ve got just the place for low-cost housing. I’ve solved this problem. I know where we can build housing for the homeless. Golf courses.” The suggestion did not go over well in the business community.
  • The body of Iraq War veteran David Voiles, 43, was recovered from a Florida golf course lake in January 2012. He drowned while scuba diving in the water to retrieve golf balls. This is an occupation that has taken several lives.
  • The late Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s murderous dictator, picked up a golf club for the first time in 1994. The country’s media reported that the “Dear Leader” scored a round of 38 under par on North Korea’s only golf course. His game included 11 holes in one.
  • The absolute worst thing about golf is the possibility of encountering Donald Trump while playing a round.

Sources

  • “The History of Golf.” Ben Johnson, History.com, undated.
  • “Sports Injury Statistics Suggest: Golf is More Dangerous than Rugby.” Golfsupport.com, January 31, 2018.
  • “The 10 Worst Ways to Die on a Golf Course.” Brittany Romano, Golf Digest, October 28, 2016.
  • “The Case against Golf.” Ben Adler, The Guardian, June 14, 2007.
  • “The Big Thirst: Nothing’s Quite so Thirsty as a Las Vegas Golf Course.” Charles Fishman, Fast Company, March 25, 2011.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on December 27, 2020:

Goodness Peggy, if you found the last line of the article amusing you must feel very lonely at times in Texas.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 27, 2020:

Haha! I laughed at several things in your article, especially the last line. My husband used to play some golf, and I took some lessons, but never really got into the habit of playing golf.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 26, 2020:

Rupert, the story is interesting. In my country Nigeria, golfing is for some elites neveq for the youths. I had a maternal uncle a Justice of the High Court who plays the game. Rupert, in your concluding remark, what you said about Donald Trump is not fair enough.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 26, 2020:

I agree, I only used a nine iron as well (except for the putter) l, couldn't hit the ball with a club to tee-off for some reason.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on December 26, 2020:

John, you are way more of a golfer than me. Other than miniature golf with the kids, which is actually fun, I have played only one round of nine holes in my entire life. It was a blistering hot and humid day and I hated it. I was 16 under par, because par is what I say it is not what some anonymous "expert" says it is.

I concluded the only club you need is a nine iron. Because of long searches in the rough I came away with more balls that I started with (kindly keep your coarse comments to yourself).

At Christmas a few year ago an acquaintance said "My goal for next year is to play 200 rounds of golf." I thought what an empty life that must be, but kept my comment to myself and, subsequently, my imperfect dentition intact.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 26, 2020:

Well, what can I say. I have played two rounds of golf in my life, and your article has convinced me not to play another one any time soon (even though I am Australian.) I remember the first time I spent more time looking for balls than playing strokes. Wow! Kim Jong-il...11 holes in one in his first game. Wh would have “thunk” it? I am sure is son is even better...dare anyone to say he missed a putt.

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