Nick Rodger: Anti-golf lobby’s myopic musings are nothing more than tired cliches

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CAN you remember going on holiday?

You know, it was that thing you would do back in ye olden times during which you’d send a dog-eared postcard scribbled with hum-drum haverings about a trip to a crumbling monastery, how the weather was fine but you needed to wear a cardigan at night and why you had to cancel a tour of some fusty catacombs with a nice retired couple you’d met from Ruislip because the lobster bisque in the hotel restaurant had aggravated Marjorie’s peptic ulcer. It was fun wasn’t it? 

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with this week’s column. I just fancied a holiday. And after that waffling, non-sensical introduction, the sports editor may just suggest I take one for good…

LAZY ASSUMPTIONS STILL PAR FOR THE COURSE

Despite golf’s admirable efforts to engage, encourage and expand into new markets, the old, tired cliches still get trotted out with all the regularity of a high fibre diet. 

Over the weekend, I was reading an article in an Australian newspaper by a leading female author about a public golf facility in Sydney and her robust declaration that “golf now feels like an aggressively elitist feat of enclosure in our densely populated urban areas”. 

She dropped in quotes about the game being “crack cocaine for old white guys” while firing in hackneyed salvos about entitlement and the usual ‘them and us’ phooey. 

While the article was about the possibility of reducing a public course from 18-holes to nine – a development which is eminently sensible in this age of making golf both less time and environmentally consuming – the nonchalant use of lazy assumptions and tired, sneering barbs led to a familiar, predictable and wearisome assault on golf as a whole. At a time when we should be encouraging any sort of physical and mentally nourishing activity wherever you are in the world, it was a strange war to wage.

On this side of the planet, you don’t need to look far to find stories about municipal courses being closed or under threat despite, somewhat perversely, golf enjoying a resurgence amid a global pandemic. Affordable, accessible, abundant? That’s what these valuable, first point of entry facilities were and, in many cases, still are – even if the anti-golf lobby insist on spouting myopic musings about the game being all country club cliques and money-soaked privilege. They should get out and actually try golf. They may just have their eyes opened.

USGA LAND MAJOR COUP WITH WHAN ROLE

To the casual observer, talking about a golf administrator moving from one job to another sounds about as exciting as removing stubborn limescale from a shower head. But we’ll talk about it anyway.

The appointment of Mike Whan as the new chief executive of the USGA, the governing body for golf on the other side of the Atlantic, has been greeted with the kind of warm embrace that is still illegal under strict Covid guidelines. 

In his previous role at the LPGA Tour, Whan was viewed as a largely transformative figure who helped increase the circuit’s purse from $47.6m when he took over to a record-breaking $75.1m last year. His efforts in forging a strong working alliance with the Ladies European Tour, meanwhile, has helped to galvanise the scene on this side of the pond. 

He will be a loss to the women’s circuit but now that he is set to deal with all of golf – male, female, amateur and professional – the opportunity to use his expertise, particularly in the female side of the game in the US where there is great potential for growth, is being eagerly anticipated.

The USGA has always had something of an identity problem. At the top level, there tended to be an inherent lack of trust and, dare we say it, respect among touring professionals towards the body. That, of course, stemmed from a series of ham-fisted palavers centred around course set-up and rules stooshies at the US Open down the years during which Mike Davis, Whan’s predecessor, managed to make the USGA the centre of attention instead of the world’s best golfers. “The USGA never fail to fail,” was how Henrik Stenson reflected on a particularly chaotic US Open of 2018. 

Whan will have plenty to deal with – the on-going Distance Insights Project with the R&A will keep him on his toes – but his fresh pair of eyes will make for interesting viewing for the wider golfing world.

WOODS PRAYING FOR A MIRACLE

Any update about Tiger Woods’ gammy back tends to be greeted with the kind of nail-nibbling “seven minutes of terror” that the NASA scientists endured when their intrepid, roving contraption landed on Mars the other day.

After undergoing a fifth operation on said back, Woods was asked at the weekend if playing all four rounds of The Masters would be possible. “God, I hope so,” was his reply before adding a dose of tempering realism by saying, “I’ve got to get there first.” It’s probably less hassle getting to Mars.

There are 44 days until The Masters starts. The will he, won’t he saga around Tiger’s latest comeback is well underway. 

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