The short answer is certainly yes, but more progressive mentalities are slowly creeping their way into clubhouses across the country, and it’s certainly “trending” in the right direction. Historically these 3 areas of golf that have been reasons so many outsiders view it as a game for pompous douchebags, and what some folks within the golf community are doing to help it fall in line with the inclusiveness initiatives that are positively affecting many other walks (or cart rides) of American life.
Diversity… and Some Straight-Up Racism
It’s 2021, not 2051, and any sport dominated by rich white men is going to have some patches of racism. The Master’s, arguably the most “prestigious” of the four major PGA tournaments each year, still requires caddies to wear little white jumpsuits because, not all that long ago, until 1983 to be exact, all of the caddies were black, and the club wanted to make it obvious that they were not golfers, as Augusta didn’t allow a black member until 1990. That’s straight up segregation lasting until the 1990s. That’s pretty insane and anyone who thinks that there isn’t some lingering desires for days of old from some of the members is willfully ignorant.
Augusta is certainly up there for the worst of the worst when it comes to being exclusive, as the first woman wasn’t allowed to be a member at the club until 2012. Unfortunately for the image of the sport as whole from a layperson’s perspective, Augusta is still heralded by many folks with golf blinders on as “A Tradition Unlike Any Other.” For this reason, I think targeting the Master’s would be a great idea for anyone hoping to make golf’s diversity issue front-and-center.
How People are Helping
Initiatives across the country exist to help kids from communities otherwise excluded from golf get into the sport. The First Tee is a popular one to give all kids equal access to clubs and courses, as well as professional instruction. “We Are Golf” (website here) takes things even a bit further, and aims to make diversity more prevalent behind the scenes, helping female and minority golfers land internships and jobs at courses around the country.
In a country founded on slavery, it must be mentioned that racism is also an enormous factor when it comes to financial opportunity, but there are, indeed, lower-income families of every race and ethnicity in America, and this section is solely about the high-costs associated with golf, and how those costs exclude these lower-income families.
One trend, that is especially popular in big cities, is simply making the courses smaller. 18 holes on a big ol’ championship course can be a five-hour commitment if you have a group of four, and five hours is a lot of time that people could spend hustling and making money to help pay the bills. Par 3 courses are aplenty, and generally you can play them in about 90 minutes for about $10. This is a great start to getting folks interested without having to fork up beaucoup bucks, but eventually some of these people are going to be interested in the big show, and prices for full courses are still ridiculously high.
How People are Helping
Some of the programs mentioned above utilize fundraising to help cover costs of greens fees and other things, but simply bending the old rules a bit is another way of allowing greater accessibility, and encouraging your local club to do this means you can be a part of the solution, too. An example: courses historically required every golfer to have their own clubs… why not let people share?
Warning. This section will feature many opinions from me, a tree-hugger-who-golfs-at-least-once-per-week, based on two decades of empiricism gained on the links.
There are fair points from the environmental community regarding golf. California’s ~900 golf courses, for instance, use the same amount of water to keep their courses green as 2.8 million residents do via their daily, American activities. VICE, a rare offering of seemingly independent journalism with an international audience who I hope hires me someday, went as far as saying we should “ban golf” due to the water waste.
When compared to the restrictions set in place for regular water consumers, golf’s leash is extremely loose, and even the “greenest” of golf courses use a ridiculous amount of water that generally goes unchecked by the powers that be.
But one thing VICE failed to report on was how goddam fun golf is and how goddam therapeutic it is for those with some issues upstairs. As a veteran who lives in Central LA, it’s pretty hard to find some alone time outside of my apartment, and it’s equally challenging to find a peaceful, green, wildlife-laden escape that isn’t overrun by Instagram Queens in yoga pants telling the world they are on a hike in “SoCal.”
Golf, I would argue, is the only escape within the city that checks the boxes of “secluded,” “lush,” and “not full of social media influencers.” Certainly, the aforementioned elitist factors have something to do with the seclusion, but I don’t believe making golf more available to everyone is going to mean that everyone is going to start doing it. It’s a weird, challenging, frustrating sport that will make kind-hearted humans hurl metal objects at trees and use curse words that their mothers would disown them for using.
The same people who fairly target golf as a detriment to the environment are often the same people who preach mental health, and because of this, I think it’s fair to point out the hypocrisy in having both of those views, especially if the holder of said views has never played a round of golf or talked to a victim of PTSD who finds his or her solace on the course.
Golf is as much a proven means of boosting confidence and self-esteem, and reducing anxiety and depression as it is a proven means of using too much water, and I opine that allowing the sport to be more accessible to financially underserved communities, especially children (who also have much higher rates of anxiety and depression than their upper class counterparts) greatly outweighs the detrimental effects of watering the grass too often during a drought and not getting fined for it.
Like most things in America that stem from being a country founded on racist and sexist ideals, changing the mindset of the common golfer is the best way to move forward. Education about the issues that exist in the sport allow for them to be acted upon, and golf, not unlike the United States, needs to be better at saying “we have some problems that need fixed” before true changes can take place, and this is beginning to happen around the country. Just like in the office setting, an inclusive community is one that does better, and as interest in golf has been steadily declining over the last decade, kindness and morality might just be the saviors.