ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Golf's Latest Pot Bunker

How appropriate is it that the latest "scandal" in golf should involve something commonly referred (reefered?) to as "grass," or that a term commonly used for a hazard should make such a great post title about it? I love this game...

For those of you who somehow missed it, it all started with an interview Robert Garrigus did with Golf World. He talked about his past problems with substance abuse -- that's probably not news to most golf fans -- but he dropped a bomb by saying that back in 2002 it wasn't unusual for some of the Nationwide golfers to smoke pot during rounds.

He mentioned no names, but he didn't need to. The golf media grabbed it and ran, absolutely shocked by this statement, and some openly questioned whether he should be believed.

But that was just the tip of the joint -- er, iceberg.

On Friday morning's Morning Drive Michael Collins said that "back in the day" pros on the Big Tour were doing it as well. Again, he said he wouldn't throw anybody under the bus by mentioning names, but he indicated that it was pretty common. He also said he didn't understand why this was such a big deal.

For those of you still reeling in shock from these statements, let me give you a few more bits to chew on before we continue:
  • First, both men say this is past history. Garrigus specifically dates his as 2002, and Collins said the PGA incidents were 15 years or so in the past.
  • Garrigus also says the guys who he knew were doing it are no longer playing golf.
  • In case you've forgotten, the PGA Tour had no drug testing policy in place at the time. Collins pointed out that there's too much at stake nowadays for players to do it now.
  • Collins also pointed out that, if you think about it, this shouldn't be such a shocking revelation. Marijuana isn't a stimulant, but a depressant. Smoking it would help players relax during a round, which would help many of them deal with the pressure of trying to make cuts.
  • Neither man mentioned any cases of "harder" drugs being used. Collins said he would have been shocked had these revelations involved something like crack. Whether we agree with it or not, pot is considered by many to be no more harmful than cigarettes (which may be frowned upon but are still legal).
  • And for what it's worth, since even now some players smoke cigars or cigarettes on the course, I doubt that smoking a carefully-rolled joint would have drawn much attention a decade or so ago.
Personally, I've been struck by how much this whole brewing storm may say about why golf isn't growing much as a sport. Fans may bristle when golf is characterized as the sport of privileged white men, but the initial reactions to these revelations certainly seem to back that up.

At the very least, it highlights a nasty double standard that pervades our game. And I'm not just talking about drugs here; this "disconnect" between the golf community and the world at large spans more than just this issue. Let me give you some examples from several different areas, and you see if you can connect the dots.

For years the hard-drinking pro who dispatches his opponents with ease (Walter Hagen is often cast in this role) was considered an acceptable figure in golf. Contrasted against him was the almost virginal innocent who seems to win by virtue of his purity. (Bobby Jones is often perceived this way, although he was shown taking a "snort" every now and then in the movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius.) Even now movies about our sport utilize both the caricature of the bumbling drunk in plaid knickers and the washed-up drunken pro who makes a comeback and redeems himself.

Although alcohol can ruin as many lives as other drugs, alcohol is the acceptable drug of golf. To borrow Collins's example, you won't see a movie about a crack-addict pro who makes a comeback. Why is that? Because alcohol is an acceptable addiction while other drugs are not. The message isn't so much that some forms of addiction are ok while others aren't, but that "our kind" doesn't use "that" kind of drug.

Do you see where I'm headed with this?

LPGA pros can play tournaments in clothes that are considered unacceptable on local courses. Excuse me, haven't fans always dressed to emulate their favorite athletes? And we're going to tell them they aren't welcome if they do? There's a disconnect here.

We say we want to attract the rank-and-file fans and appeal to inner city kids, but we price the equipment impossibly high for many of them. And then we tell them the game is so hard that they can only hope to see any success if they spend several hours a day and many months working at it. Of course, they'll have to pay us for all that instruction and course time. That all sends the message that only the privileged may play.

On the other hand, those same kids can get a basketball, a hoop, an abandoned lot, and one seven-year-old who can show his friends how to dribble and shoot... and play as much as they want for free. There's no comparison.

We say we want to "grow the game," but what we say and what we do don't jive. To borrow some 1960s imagery, we are an Establishment game trying to convince the flower children that we're exactly what they're looking for.

This whole brouhaha over past pot use on Tour is just another example of how out-of-touch the golf community as a whole has become. While I'm not saying it doesn't matter whether some players smoked pot or not, I'm with Michael Collins: I'm just not shocked by it. This is a real problem that real people have, and golf is played by real people.

If we want golf to become more popular, we're going to have to understand that it means more real people will be taking up the game... and they'll bring their real problems along with them. If we're going to have a knee-jerk reaction every time something like this pot revelation comes up, they'll go elsewhere. The average person has no use for a holier-than-thou sport... especially with a basketball hoop hanging on the side of every other garage.

Maybe it's time we decide whether we really want to invite all these... ugh, imperfect people to play golf, or whether we just want to insist that our kind are better than those in every other sport. Of course, the price of the latter will be that the rest of the world continues to play those other sports and not ours. And whose fault will that be?

No comments:

Post a Comment