Timothy Noah

Rage Of The Golfing Class

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Paul Krugman has posted a blog item observing, with some amusement, that Ted Cruz, Texas's Tea Party-favored GOP Senate nominee, is a man who believes that there is a global plot, led by George Soros, to eliminate golf courses. It's true! (Not that Soros wants to eliminate golf courses, but that Cruz has said he does.) What Krugman may not know, and what I learned from hard experience, is that golf is the very hottest of hot buttons to America's business class. Regulate my company; tax my seven-figure income if you must. But lay so much as a finger on my teeing ground, my fairway, or my putting green and I'll raise an army against you. That is the motto of the one percent.

 

I know this because in my three decades as a journalist I have never received such a flood of angry letters and phone calls as engulfed me in 1994 when, as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, I wrote a news feature describing the environmental damage wrought by golf courses. They didn't even put it on the front page! (It ran on the front of the "Marketplace" section.) The furious response caught me completely by surprise. I suppose I should have guessed that to a typical Wall Street Journal reader, the country club was a sanctuary holier than St. Peter's basilica. (Most Journal readers in those days were men.) On some level, I guess, I just didn't want to believe so cartoonish a notion about my readership. I was young; I was naive.

 

The letters, for the most part, didn't engage any of the article's substance, which was beyond dispute. Green though they may be,  golf courses are bad for the environment, and in those days, at least, little effort was being made to minimize the damage wrought by their pesticides and their fertilizers. For nearly every letter-writer, the purpose was not to argue rationally; it was to assail me for trying to wipe off the face of the earth life's greatest (perhaps only) source of uncomplicated pleasure. My correspondents didn't identify themselves by party affiliation, but it seemed a pretty fair guess that the overwhelming majority were Republicans.

 

But not all. The most astonishing response came from Coleman McCarthy, a Washington Post columnist and peace activist whose politics, then and now, stood well to the left of mine. On the subject of golf, however, McCarthy's views were indistinguishable from those of a top-hatted plutocrat. I learned this when McCarthy wrote an angry column about my piece:

Some people--a snippy lot--have it in for golf. Of late, the trashing of this tranquil, sociable and healthful game--played on 14,648 courses by millions of us--has reached rare intensity. Next to smokers, only golfers are becoming more scorned. This week's U.S. Open championship at the Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, where Ben Hogan won in 1953, brings only temporary relief from the carping. 

The Wall Street Journal ran a recent story headlined, "Golf Courses Are Denounced as Health Hazards." The denouncers include a few environmentalists who gripe that pesticides and fertilizers are overused. Presumably, the Sierra Club, one of the peskier golf critics, would like warning labels on scorecards.

An international group, the Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAG'M), claims that pollution from golf courses--more than 1,000 have been built in the past three years--"leads to health problems for local communities, populations downstream and even golfers."

 

Sure. America's emergency rooms are crammed with coughing and gasping people dying from golfitis.

 

You get the idea. To this day, I probably remain the only person ever attacked by Coleman McCarthy from the right.

Quite obviously, George Soros does not want to eliminate golf courses. The U.N. document that Cruz thinks proves Soros does was endorsed by, among others, the eminent Republican golfer George H.W. Bush. Still, liberals should know that to Republicans and to the rich generally, golf courses are the third rail. Never venture near the topic during an election year.

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