Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Golf and the Environment

I'm headed out to South Carolina tomorrow for the biennial Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment conference. I'm also headed out to visit old family friends who live in Greenville, SC to play a round of golf at Furman University. I'll be teeing off on Thursday afternoon and then delivering my conference paper Friday afternoon, with a 2 day post-conference trip (sponsored by ASLE) at the Penn Center in Beaufort, SC, an institute dedicated to the preservation and study of the culture of the Gullah people and the Sea Islands.

And, of course, this is also Father's day weekend, but perhaps more importantly for all the rabid golf fans in the world, it's the U.S. Open (opening round on Thursday). And I will be at a conference for the majority of the trip, unable to excuse myself to catch the final pairs walk the fairways because this is a literature and the environment conference--and I have a feeling that there will not be many rabid golf fans among the eco-critical group I'll be joining. Because, lets face it, golf is a problematic sport.

Why is golf problematic? Aside from the people who just don't get it, ie: those who feel that watching golf on tv is like watching paint dry or those who just don't see the appeal of hitting a little white ball with a big metal stick, there are the politics of golf which are problematic.

In fact, it's the associations I had with golf that kept me from playing it for quite a while:
*classist (sort've goes with elitist, but I mean this in the economic rather than simply status sense)
*homophobic (some would argue that this isn't so much the case on the women's tour, but I wouldn't be so sure and it sure is a problem on the mens)
*environmentally unfriendly (water, pesticides, land use--not a good combo for an eco friendly game)
*too much equipment
*too long (a full round of 18 holes generally takes about 4 hours)

Why have I converted? Why do I profess to loving golf--to saying I would play every day if I had the time and the money?

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. Except that there is something about me and the ball--me and the greens, walking the course (I prefer to walk whenever I can), me just challenging me--the meditative quality--that euphoria when you have hit the ball in just the right way, a combination of skill and luck, but I think mostly luck. It's just magic. It's one of the best feelings to hear the "thwack" of a ball off the tee and to see it go straight and true down the fairway. Even if (and when) I tank the next fairway shot. Or muff the chip. Or 3 (or even 4) putt on the green, that tee shot still lingers, and a good round of golf, for me, is having 1 good shot per round: a good driver, a good fairway wood or iron, a good chip, and a good putt. If I have 4 good hits, I feel it was a good day. And I don't keep score. I move balls from a bad lie. I take extra shots if no one is behind me and it's a slow day. I take drops at will. I just don't worry about the score. I just play. Thus, I have fun.

Do I wish things would change about golf? Absolutely. There is much that I wish were different about golf, the culture of golf. That it was less sexist, lets just start there. That it wasn't so privileged--perhaps that should be #1 on the list. That it was more affordable, took up less resources, was more egalitarian, absolutely. But I have to say that I have been surprised by how friendly I have found people to be on golf courses. And I have been surprised at how diverse the golfers are at my very favorite local course, a semi-public one in which you can play for $12 after 3pm at the twilight rate, making it the best golf deal in town.

I suppose I could list Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie and the host of Asian American and Asian golfers who are changing the scenery of golf, racially speaking. But we're still talking about very small numbers and we're still talking about a very elite, very privileged set. The inequity surrounding this game (or sport, depending on your bent) is not compensated by these few faces (and isn't it appalling that after a decade, Tiger is still the only professional black-Asian golfer on the PGA circuit? Where are the young black and Asian, or blackasian golfers he was meant to inspire?).

But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really looking forward to the golf tomorrow. Who would have thought a progressive-liberal professor of Asian American literature would be looking forward to playing golf at Furman University in South Carolina. Go figure.


Suzanne Woo said...

I am an Asian-American woman, California attorney,l and business golf speaker and author of On Course for Business--Women and Golf (Wiley).

You might wonder what I do as "business golf speaker"? I inspire and motivate women professionals to learn how to play golf to network and build business relationships like the men have done for years.

Yes, golf has the issues that you mention, but as an insider in golf, things are changing. The oversupply of golf courses has brought the price of tee times down.

And, golf initiatives have been targeted at inner-city youths, minorities, and women to grow a more diverse population of golfers.

Why should one play golf? Because it's all of the things that you describe, an effective tool to build rapport and trust, part of the world of business, and so much more.

If anyone else is intrigued by the game and want to learn more, check out my book on Amazon.

Jennifer Ho said...

I think you're right Suzanne--that things are getting better and that golf is a way to enter into a conversation with power in America, and it is important to go to the places where power happens. I guess I'm just concerned about access--that not everyone will have access to play golf, or want to play golf, which means, they are, potentially, excluded from such access to power . But I also think that there are lots of exclusionary things in the world (like college or blogging, both of which I've done/do) and so what can one do but to try to at least make these issues transparent. Anyway, thanks for the reference to your book--I'll try to check it out.