Subcultures in Golf

This Game Takes all Types

November 17, 2005

Golf was once considered an elitist, old-man’s sport, a world where the only diversity was the hideous mixture of colors on the players’ plaid pants. But as things go in a relatively open and free society over time, golf has become accessible to almost everyone. The cookie-cutter country club types of yesteryear have had to make room for John and Jane Doe. And now there are subcultures within golf, different species of golfers, and the game has become a melting pot of personality types who are united only by their infatuation with herding little white balls into small holes with crooked sticks.
There are still elite country clubs and elitist golfers, some of whom pay obscene amounts of money for a membership at a club they visit once or twice a year; fly in from Wall Street, stay in a flat above the clubhouse, take a caddie, carry on a conference call during the round, and quit three holes early to head back to the Big Apple.
Then there is Lakeview Golf Club, where I work, which was once a farm. It started as a course for the working man, the kind of guy who knows that a hostile takeover is when an avian flu hits the turkey houses. Golf clubs are just another set of tools for the tradesmen who made up our clientele; and their caddies are rickety old pull-carts that know the course well but do not help with club selection.  At Lakeview we require a collar on your shirt, but we do not care whether it is white or blue.

These days, with so many people playing the game, the subcultures of golf are not so much about occupations and income levels. For instance, when it comes to the Rules of Golf, I have noticed there are Old and New Testament types. The Old Testament golfers are sticklers for the rules, as in “I saw you dislodge that pine needle with your practice swing”, or “Excuse me, you took relief from the hazard in the wrong place.” This breed of golfer can be annoying during a casual round, but makes a great partner during a match; he will be watching for your opponent to tee up an inch in front of the markers.

The New Testament golfer embraces the spirit of the game. “Hey, don’t hit off of those rocks—no need to tear up your beautiful clubs.” This is the lady who gives you every putt under four feet, and buys the first round after the round. New Testament golfers make the best weekend partners but are out of their element when it comes to the legalistic confines of tournament golf.

Likewise, there are at least two subcultures when it comes to handicaps. There are Sandbaggers and Dreamers. We all know who the Sandbaggers are. These are the 12 handicappers who regularly shoot 73 when there is money on the line. These are the guys (true story) who go into the final hole one over par then proceed to hit the ball into the pond and purposefully four-putt to make sure they make it into a weaker flight. These are golfers who will compromise their eternal soul for a $75 gift certificate from the pro-shop so they can buy a new driver, hit more fairways, and make their handicap go up two more points. And when confronted about the inflated handicap, the Sandbagger will say, “Everyone else does it, I just keep it up enough to stay competitive.”

The Dreamer is not as common. He wants so badly to be a scratch golfer that he will get amnesia when it comes to the 88 he shot last week. His indexsubcultures2 drops to 2.8 even though his true scoring average is closer to 80. He is competitive, and somewhat more honest than the Sandbagger, and he secretly expects to qualify for the Champions Tour when he turns fifty. Just do not take him as a partner in a handicap match if there are Sandbaggers on the other team; he does not stand a chance.

There are also Walkers and Riders. Walkers tend to be traditionalists when it comes to golf, aware of the Rules and history of the game; they get to the course early, stretch, hit balls, and pack a healthy snack of bananas and trail mix in the bag. Riders sit in the cart, one foot up on the console, smoking, annoyed at the frost delay that will make them late for kickoff of the televised football game later. A round of golf does not go as well when these two types are mixed.

There are Range Warriors and Habitual Players. The first practices every day, the other plays. The Range Warrior has permanent blisters on his hands and is on a first name basis with the instructors on Golf Academy Live, but only plays once a month. The Habitual Player has had the same handicap for fifteen years, but has not missed a day of golf in all that time, cutting out on Christmas Day as soon as the kids have opened their gifts; practice for him means hitting a second ball once in awhile.

Long and short, golf has gone the way of Eastern Europe, with an array of sub-societies splintering off of the once-monolithic starched-collar country club crowd. Everyone has his own language, his own way of doing things. The old order of stuffy country club golf is endangered, the walls failing against the chaotic battering ram of democracy and free markets. Variety is the spice of life, and it is good for golf too.

Website Comments