Golf has many issues today. Issues we've all heard about include accessibility, affordability, intimidation, exclusivity, and decades of systemic racism, just to name a few. Certain aspects of these issues affect every golfer and certain aspects affect certain members of the golfing population, but there are things we can all do to further the human evolution of the game of golf to be more inclusive and accepting of everyone that has a desire to swing a club.
If you are reading this, firstly, thank you! Secondly, you must either be a big supporter of Be Rad Golf Club or you are insanely addicted to golf as I am, or both. Either way, you’ve got problems! And I support them. We all, as habitual lovers of the game, have problems. While the game has many barriers, we’ve somehow stuck it out long enough to find the deeper benefits of golf that teach us about those problems and about how to cope with them. At its most simple, golf is a few hours a week where you can get out of your life, get out of your head, and get away from those issues that stalk you all week at work, at home, and everywhere in between. It’s an escape for a few simple hours, to get some sun, smiles, and simplicity.
We take this for granted. We, the weekend warriors, the local muni legends, the scratch golfers, and the 20 handicappers; we that stuck through the challenges and barriers to where we are now; we take this for granted. We are here already, stuck on golf, while potential golfers are turned off from the game by its image of pomp and exclusivity. Golf has an elitist issue, an exclusivity issue, a separation issue. A distinction between us and them. Now, not every course or clubhouse has this issue, and not every golfer has this issue, but I guarantee every golfer reading this nodded along, reminiscing on an experience or two where they were made to feel deeply uncomfortable at the local country club or fancy resort course. Feel free to @BeRadGolfClub if I'm wrong, but I don't think that I am. For whatever reason, we as human beings enjoy the feeling of being superior to our fellows even though on some level, we know that’s not right. Rooted in self-centeredness and insecurity, we may occasionally feel the need to feel dominant, bigger, or better than others and this manifests itself most apparently in the golfer’s world in the exclusive and over-priced private clubs and resort courses.
I recently went on a golfing road trip through California and Oregon, where I experienced high-end resort golf and local muni golf. The two most glaring examples were Trump National in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and Eastmoreland in Portland, Oregon. Let's not make this about politics, please. That's not why we are here. Let's talk about the difference in vibes, atmosphere, and culture. The Cali course, while not outwardly aggressively exclusive, was so clearly about glitz, glamour, and status. A public course, in theory, though it feels much more private. I’m a (relatively) broke college student that works full time but barely makes a living wage. I saved up for this trip and the ability to play courses like this because I love golf. But when I arrived at the course, I just felt out of place. I felt weird asking where the bathroom was, let alone the range.
I was never trained for this, for the shuttle up to the range, the guy in line in front of me in the pro shop that dropped a couple thousand like it was nothing, for the lunch that cost half my paycheck. The people there were nice and polite and didn’t blatantly treat me disrespectfully per se, but I truly felt like I didn’t belong and maybe that’s partially my issue. But that feeling can be present on any golf course. If you're used to $15 muni's, an entrance like this can be...overwhelming, to say the least.
Counter this experience with Eastmoreland. This place had the most killer vibes. They run a program where kids get free cereal and a bucket of range balls one day a week. They get tons of play and I think I spent $45 with a bucket of warm-up balls compared to a few hundred for the course in Cali. I felt more comfortable at Eastmo like I could hang out there with friends and grab a meal and not even touch a club. A big part of this is my capacity to spend money on golf, which is limited to a certain extent, and maybe if I was loaded and could afford to golf at nicer courses all the time maybe I’d feel differently. But this is my experience right now, and the experience of so many others.
Of course, people's backgrounds are going to lend them to feel comfortable in different environments. While I agree that private tracks and munis both have important roles and are necessary, we can do more for the accessibility of the game itself.
So many can’t afford to play one round on a high-end course let alone membership dues for a private course. Tack on a couple thou' for overpriced "golf attire," clubs, and a tip for the caddie, and we're talking a significant chunk of many people's income. Yes, you can start at the local muni with secondhand clubs, but to stay in the game more experiences should be readily available. We should WANT to share these amazing courses with everyone, yet we hoard the best courses for those with the thickest wallets. And that exclusivity breeds the feeling of superiority that can be intoxicating. We’ve all felt that at work, in school, in sports; it’s part of the competitive mindset. But left unchecked, left out of the actual game, and allowed to enter the clubhouse, this mindset is damaging. It is harmful to the game, it turns off potential new golfers, and it divides “us” and “them.” While there are other huge problems in golf today, which I hope to cover in another post, this should matter to all golfers because it caps our ability to grow. It limits our ability to do good for kids that want to play golf. Thank God for places like Eastmoreland, the local muni’s. Thank God for Swan Lakes in Layton, Utah that I grew up on, a crappy yet fun little nine-holer that taught me the basics and has since been torn down and replaced with overpriced townhomes. And thank God for Stansbury Park in Tooele, Utah, one of the first courses my dad ever took me to, which to this day has unlimited play pricing. These are the places that keep churning out your everyday golfers that keep the game alive. But these are the exception to the rule, not the norm.
The pros and the PGA don’t keep the game alive, we do. It seems that this is already trending in the right direction. Brands like No Laying Up and Random Golf Club help show that the game can be fun, enjoyable, inclusive, and accepting. Yes, let's respect the tradition and history of the game, but let's save that for The Open at St. Andrews, and the Masters at Augusta. We don’t need to be shaming newcomers at the local muni because their swing plane is off or their wrists aren’t angled correctly. Let ‘em play! Let ‘em suck at golf while they have more fun than you do. Open up the private courses and let ‘em play a couple of days a week play so they too can experience the best course design and conditions. Quit handicap-shaming players that love the game but can’t afford lessons and let ‘em play. Sell more unlimited range passes so kids and adults alike can live on the range as much as they want. Sell more unlimited course play cards so a kid can get a paper route and save up for that as his mission in life, so he can be like Tiger, or DJ, or Rory, or Wolff, or Morikawa. Stop acting like any of us are better than each other as humans simply because we take our walks with our sticks and our balls in a “better” or “worse” place than you do. At the end of the day, we're chasing a ball with a stick, let's take a moment to...
Let. Them. Play. And we will all be better for it. We will all enjoy the game more. We will all enjoy deep conversations with the single that got added to our threesome, rather than viewing them as the intrusion on our day. (That’s me, I’m the single, and I’ll love you forever if you’re chill about including me in the group for a day so I can get to know you and why you love golf as I do.) We will all treat our caddies better, the kids running the till in the shop as their summer job, and the folks punching holes in the green. It’s a crazy notion really, so hear me out. Treat each other with respect, within the game and outside of it, and we all win. More people playing golf equals more people loving golf equals more fun to be had with more people in golf. I know, I know, the R&A’s collective comb-over toupee is on fire as I type this, but listen. It’s 2021, we’ve all survived the craziest year of our collective lives, often mentally and emotionally holding on by a thread. And golf was there to save the day for so many of us! So many people, including myself, have picked the game back up after years away or picked it up for the first time ever. Let’s keep these folks playing as things progress back to normalcy, and not push them out the back door as quickly as they walked in the front.
Golf should be about fun, connection, love, and passion. Money shouldn't be the sole purpose of a golf course. It should be a social hub, a place to learn about life, and a place that's easily accessible for all that have a desire to swing a club.
Be Rad Golf Club, where the only requirement for membership is a stick, a ball, and a desire to feel like a part of something.
Cover Photo: https://www.augusta.com/masters/story/news/latest-news/augusta-national-beefs-security-magnolia-lane