By Christopher Cudworth
When asked what he meant by that, he explained that the sanctimoniousness of golfers was what bothered him.
In case you need a definition of that word, here it is: sanctimonious; holier-than-thou: making an exaggerated show of holiness or moral superiority.
As a person with a lifelong affiliation with golf thanks to a father who absolutely loved the game, I grew up around golf courses and golfers and agree there can be a certain trifling reverence for golf that perhaps it does not deserve.
I lived next to the Meadia Heights Golf Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from the ages of 5-12. Of course I wound up golf caddying at a very early age. It was horrid. What joy is there in lugging the bag of a golfer around a hot golf course? The money was good I guess, but to me it always felt like four hours of hell. Listening to golfers mutter about their previous shot or the upcoming attempt to hit the ball near the hole never fascinated me. It was only when the movie Caddyshack came out that most of us who suffered through caddying and hated it felt vindicated in any way. This exchange alone describes everything you need to know about caddying.
Carl Spackler: So I jump ship in Hong Kong and I make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas.
Angie D’Annunzio: A looper?
Carl Spackler: A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.
As this story indicates, it was a caddy’s job to guide the golfer in all those respects. Later in life I even took to a business journal and defended the caddy for Tiger Woods who took credit for some of his success. Pro golfers shouted the caddy down, but it is hard to argue that there was not some relationship between the discipline the caddy brought to his craft considering the lack of titles Woods won after he cut the caddy from his employ. There’s more to golf than hitting the ball, it seems. Yes, we all know how pro golfers spend time on the range and handle pressure. But that’s their job. Dissing someone who helps you do it better is no way to show true character.
Something in me always bristled at the sense of entitlement shown by so many golfers. Some golfers barely acknowledged their caddies during the rounds I carried. In the caddy house it was always known who amongst the club members were “good guys” and who were not. The dour, red-faced jerk who could barely look you in the eye might have been a profound success in business, but that didn’t change our attitude towards him on the golf course. Of course some of that might have been anxiety borne from being a poor golfer. No one likes to admit that.
To avoid the shame and save face some golfers even resort to cheating. One of my former bosses was a great cheater. He fudged his scores and could be seen using the foot wedge to get out of tight spots when his errants shots wound up in the rough or worse. We all had to bite our tongues while filling out the scorecard. His 8s magically transformed into a 6 on a regular basis. He was petulantly defensive in other areas of his life as well. Which proves that golf often is a masterful reflection of one’s true character.
It was amusing but distracting to play with players who got so angry at their game they lost control. During one outing with some other businessmen we were treated to a constant stream of blue language by a man who owned a local printing company. His cursing took off like a flock of birds after every shot he hit. After a while one of the other players in our foursome drifted over to my side and said, “Printing must be a tough business.”
Golf is a social game, I will grant you that. With no real degree of physical effort involved, other than swinging the club and walking back and forth to the cart or from hole to hole, players are free to banter and jest if they feel like it. Many drink or smoke or flirt with the cart girls if they can.
Women golfers have had to struggle for respect in the predominantly male sport of golf. Recently one of the leading golf magazines featured only its second woman on its cover. She was the hot wife of a pro golfer, not an actual player. So sexism rules supreme in the sport of golf. Even pro women golfers must consistently deal with the emphasis of looks over ability. Cute blonde golfers with nice legs, short skirts and perky breasts get plenty of TV coverage. So there’s even a racial tinge to the enterprise of women’s golf.
Running around like golfers
Contrast all this with the evolving premise of the sport of running, where fully half the participants in major marathons and other running events are women. Sure, there’s still fascination with looks in all sorts of sports, but the equality that comes with the “open road” and getting your ass visibly kicked has taught plenty of men to respect their female counterparts in endurance sports.
There are other factors of equality as well. The daily involvement in running has a far lower economic threshold than does golf, where equipment, course fees and other costs make it prohibitive to participate.
Indeed, golf as a sport in America is somewhat hurting right now, at least at the local level. There are so many golf courses and not enough people willing to play them all. Course fees are high as a rule, averaging $36 for a round of 18 holes according to Golfsmith.com. Even Dick’s Sporting goods recently released the entourage of golf professionals hired to staff their golf equipment departments. The demand simply wasn’t there.
That’s not to say that the sport of running is cheap, either. Entry fees even for 5K races now top $30 on a regular basis. Half marathons, marathons and ultra-distance events cost even more, often topping $100. Triathlons can cost hundreds of dollars.
But that’s only if you choose to compete in races or events. Millions of men and women run or ride without participating in paid events. That’s the biggest difference between a sport like golf and an activity like running. Even a day at the golf range costs you money, and it’s not much fun chipping golf balls around a local park. In many places it is discouraged due to the divots and the possibility of striking a resident with an errant golf ball.
Liability and litigiousness of that nature has evolved to the point where runners are no longer welcome on either public or private courses. The way golf courses figure it, there is enough risk that paying customers will get hit by wayward golf balls. Why accept the risk that some runner could get hit when they haven’t even paid to be on the course?
The risks of getting hit by bad golf shots are genuine because frankly, most people who play golf are actually pretty bad at it. Here’s a video just to make you laugh, a kid practicing his golf swing ricochets a shot off a tree and hits himself.
It has made me sad over the years to lose the opportunity to go running on golf courses. There are very few courses that allow runners to run on their property. I learned to run long distances on that golf course in Pennsylvania where I grew up. One of my neighbors used the course to train for his long-distance running career in which he competed for Penn State and ran a 4:04 mile.
In high school and college our cross country meets were often held on golf courses. For years the national Division III cross country championships were held on a golf course in Wheaton, Illinois. Sure, the turf got a little torn up, mostly in areas dominated by rough, but the real damage to golf courses was always slight.
Running down a fairway in light training flats or competing in running spikes on short grass is one of the most liberating sensations you can find in running. Crossing firm turf with a bit of give is a bit like running on an all-weather track.
And perhaps you’re not even aware there is such a thing as Speed Golf? That’s right. There are leagues and everything. Check it out.
There are hazards to running on a golf course. I was training once on a golf course near my place in Paoli, Pennsylvania at twilight. Buzzing along on 400 meter intervals run from tee to green, I failed to see a red rope strung in front of an approaching green. My thighs hit the rope at 5:00 pace and I flipped like a button on a string pulled tight. Lying there (writhing actually) on the cool grass made me feel like I’d landed in another world.
For a long time after college it was hard to relax while playing golf because there were so many associations with competing in meets on golf courses. My mind would go back to a race recollection and I’d be distracted for the next shot.
When I was running in golf course meets there were distractions as well. At one point during a four-mile cross country race against the University of Northern Iowa, I had grabbed the lead and was rounding a corner next to a pond. Up popped a bird known as a phalarope. As an avid birder I was so tempted to slow or stop to identify the species, which I had potentially never seen before. My desire to win the race won out over the goal of adding a new species to my life list. But it was a tossup for a second or two. And I did win the race, the only time I took a victory in college cross country.
Improving with age?
As I’ve aged my running abilities have waned a bit. My golf game however, has improved. I now shoot in the mid to high 80s on a regular basis. That’s a little better than bogey golf most days. I don’t play very often, probably 3-4 times a year. So each round is a treat. Most recently my companion and I played a pretty little golf course called Lost Nation out by Dixon, Illinois. She wore a cute little golf skirt and has a very nice swing. We had fun, then had beers and chicken wraps on the deck overlooking the first tee.
The next morning we took a run from the cabin where we were staying and snuck out onto the golf course. Morning dew still covered the fairways and the mower guys were out buzzing the greens. We stuck to the edges of the fairway and cut across the rough, putting in three miles on the course where we’d played golf the night before. “This is wonderful,” she told me.
My legs appreciated the soft turf. I thought back to all the times I’d run on the golf course over the years, and how I grew up wandering free and wild, sometimes chasing deer through the woods next to the course. Those feelings were such a contrast to the idea of lugging someone else’s golf bag around the course while they groused about their golf game. Perhaps that is why I still run around the sport of golf rather than take it so seriously.
The New Golf?
One thing golfers can thank runners for: golfing footwear is immensely improved thanks to technologies borrowed from running shoes and cycling. Golf shoes used to be little more than wing tips with cleats attached. Now golf shoes have carbon fiber soles, curved footbeds, arch support and countless other features that make better shoes for golfing.
That remains to be seen. It’s pretty tough to converse in any depth when you’re cycling on a windy day. It doesn’t get much better in a triathlon either. We must assume that most of the socializing and networking takes place in association with these sports rather than during the actually running, riding and swimming that takes place.
It’s an evolving world, for sure. Let’s all go play around.