Sitting at Downer on Sunday, I was suddenly berated for this week’s issue of The Lawrentian. Two students came over and began saying things to me; unfortunately, because they were speaking at the same time in raised tones I couldn’t understand either one of them, although I made out “misinformed” and “idiotic.” After they finished, I asked them, “Would one of you please tell me what both of you just said?” Over the next few minutes, I was informed of all the reasons Tiger Woods is good for the sport of golf, and why an article saying Woods was not good for golf was preposterous and that those responsible for it being published should be tarred and feathered.First, I’d like to say that it was an editorial and therefore an opinion. The value of an editorial is its ability to make you think and to create discussion. Obviously, this one created some discussion. Second, I completely agree with the two students who decided to abuse my ear.
I could look up the stats and show how the PGA has increased in popularity since Woods entered the PGA in 1996, or I might just note the exponentially rising number of sponsors and PGA revenue. Although these seem like good enough ways to illuminate my point, I would rather look at it in another light. For nine years I worked at a golf course. I began my adventure as a bag boy (yes, that is a job), just as Woods was entering the PGA.
Of course, I was slightly intimidated as a 13-year-old, mainly because the average male member was 40-something and balding, whilst the female members were slightly older and slightly less bald. On rare occasions I would see someone my own age, but that was either another bag boy or the kids whose parents made them play golf, reminiscent of Spaulding from “Caddyshack.”
That was the problem. Golf was like it was in “Caddyshack,” divided on economic and racial lines. Of course there were no assistant green keepers like Carl Spackler winning Augusta championships by hitting flowers and meeting the Dalai Lama; but rarely did you see someone who didn’t know how to golf come to the course. That changed with Woods.
Woods brought something new to the game. Yes, he is that good, maybe too good. Maybe there is not that much competition for the money lead at the end of the year, but Woods changed the game. He draws in the viewer with his fierce marches down the fairways and his even fiercer strikes on the ball. Was Michael Jordan bad for basketball? Was Gretzky bad for hockey? And is Roger Federer, who wins as much as Woods if not more, the worst thing to happen to tennis since the invention of the tennis ball? I think not, and Woods is the same type of athlete.
If you go to any golf course this spring, count how many people you see who have no idea what a beautiful golf swing looks like, in fact they might look like they are in a phone booth trying to beat a baby seal, but they are there and they are learning. Count how many kids you see under 15, under 10, under five, trying to strike the ball like that larger than life character they see on TV. Of course, be sure to count how many minorities are at the range and on the course. Over the years of working at a golf course, the shift was obvious: Woods brought a predominately white, upper-class, middle-aged game played by people like Judge Smails to the masses. Like Arnold Palmer, who popularized the game with the middle class, Woods brought it to a different group of people. Woods is possibly the most prolific golfer of all time. Only time will tell, but without a doubt he is the most dynamic golfer in the modern game and he has given it so much by changing it.