When It Comes To Golf, Give The President A Break


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Donald Trump has only just begun his “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf club and already the slings and arrows have begun to fly. Salon headlines its coverage “Golf: The Sport for Plutocrats” while Martha Ross of the San Jose Mercury News diagnoses the President as having a debilitating “golf addiction.”

Apparently, in America’s liberal enclaves the word “Trump” is profane and “golf” is a four-letter word. But since the majority of our recent presidents have been avid golfers, what is it about Trump, in particular, that finds critics taking such vehement exception? Is it golf that’s the real target of their ire, the President himself, or the unholy alliance between “This President” and “That Sport?”

Historically, presidential hobbies have been viewed as a window into the enigma occupying the White House. If he’s a bowler, as were LBJ and Nixon, there must be a down-to-earth Archie Bunker buried somewhere inside him, the reasoning goes. If, like Barack Obama, he likes to stir up a street game of pick-up hoops he’s assuredly “with it” and youthfully hip. If he loves baseball as much as former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush he must be as patriotic as ballpark franks and first pitches.

It’s clear from context that the media shaming Trump for his love of a “good walk spoiled” harbor a special hatred for golf. In its latest screed against the sport Salon pulls no punches, calling those who play “greedheads and their wannabees” and a “staple of pale male humor.” It’s an unforgivable waste of space and water, they claim, and a pastime whose “most important function in American culture” is as  “lubricant for business.” Their rant paints golfers as entitled liars and cheats engaging in white male-only environmentally dubious conspicuous consumption.

Either the magazine’s editors think it’s still 1955 and it’s Ike, rather than Trump, who just dialed up a seventeen-day links vacation, or the “research” for their screed consisted of watching the movie Caddyshack on continuous replay.

To highlight their hypocrisy it’s useful to choose a sport—say, cycling—that the members of the media likely engage in themselves, and appear to admire for its esprit de corps. If instead of teeing off the president had instead poured himself into his sexiest cycling jersey and sprinted off in the presidential peleton would he be engaging in a sport more demographically diverse? Hardly. According to the 2011 American Bicyclist Study only 5.1% of U.S. bike riders in 2010 were African American and just 6.4 were Hispanic. Even the progressive Community Cycling Center study found that the costs of purchasing an ordinary recreation bicycle were cited as a “major obstacle to cycling by 60% of participants in focus groups of African, African American and Hispanic.” By contrast the National Golf Foundation reported 20% minority participation in its 2015 report.

And what about golf’s bad rep as a male-only boy’s club? According to U.S. Cycling 87% of U.S. competitive cyclists are male while only 12% are female (compared to 20% female participation in golf). As it turns out cycling is every bit as much income-correlated, or more, than golf. According to a government study of 10,000 Americans commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration access to bikes is strongly correlated with household income. Just 29% of those with household incomes less than $15,000 had regular access to a bicycle compared to 65% with incomes $75,000 or more.

If the pundit class’ chief complaint is the golfer-in-chief taking a 17-day working holiday in an age when even new employees at companies like Amgen and Ikea start with three weeks paid vacation, I’m willing to listen. But if it’s “this president” indulging in “that sport” that so burns their collective britches, they might need to chill-out long enough to leave their 1950s classist, racist, sexist, and ageist misconceptions about the sport behind.