Morri: Golf. A rich person’s sport?

Disappointingly, a small minority took the bait and reacted with abuse (hardly helpful in improving the image of the game they profess to love) but an encouraging majority instead attempted to engage with reasoned and reasonable responses.

Sadly, despite requests from several different quarters, the original poster elected not to elaborate on how they had come to their conclusion but in some ways that is a moot point.

The reality is that for the statement ‘Golf. A rich person’s sport ’to stand up to scrutiny would require a definition of‘ rich ’so broad that most in the community would refuse to accept it.

Despite that, though, there remains in the non-golf population a mythical link between wealth and golf that is a serious problem for the game.

In fact, it may be golf’s single biggest problem, one that will become increasingly apparent in coming years.

As pressure continues to grow on public golf facilities (ironically, the affordable golf option for the majority of ‘non-rich’ who enjoy the game), this perception of golf and money being inextricably linked will become more toxic.

If public golf continues to be targeted, children may be denied the chance to find a lifelong sport, and even a profession. PHOTO: iStock.

Which is why it is important to – respectfully – call out the flaws in statements like the one made in the Tweet above whenever and wherever they are made.

Regardless of whether those on the other side are arguing in good faith, golf (we’re talking public golf here) needs to constantly make its case in a reasoned and factual way.

Access to the game is not a right, it is a privilege and as such needs to be earned and re-earned.

Courses take up a lot of space and to the uneducated, statements about the game being for the ‘favored few’ who can ‘afford the club fees and clobber’ (Nikki Gemmell, Feb 2021) seem reasonable.

Naturally we, as golfers, understand the overly simplistic and factually incorrect lens being applied but the predominantly indifferent general public don’t.

And when it comes to issues like keeping or closing public golf courses, that becomes important. Extremely important.

“The reality is that for the statement ‘Golf. A rich person’s sport’ to stand up to scrutiny would require a definition of ‘rich’ so broad that most in the community would refuse to accept it. Despite that, though, there remains in the non-golf population a mythical link between wealth and golf that is a serious problem for the game. ” – Rod Morri.

So, in the interests of clarifying why many of these arguments are flawed, here is a list of what is often said and why it is wrong:

Wrong. Golf can be expensive but doesn’t have to be. Green fees at most public courses in Sydney are around $ 25 to $ 40 for 18 holes with concessions available for juniors and pensioners etc. That is comparable to the cost of going to a cinema to watch a movie. Equipment is a one-time purchase and while it is possible to spend thousands it is not compulsory. In fact, those who follow Sandy Jamieson on twitter (@jamogolf) would be well aware that many players find their clubs for free during council throwouts.

  • Golf is reserved for the few:

Wrong. Public golf, by definition, is available to any member of the public who wants to play and pays the appropriate green fee. Like National Parks, the fee contributes to maintenance and staffing costs. Just because the majority choose not to engage in golf does not mean it is reserved for the few in the same way that most people not using the public library in no way changes the fact it is a readily available public asset.

  • Golf takes up too much space:

Wrong. The irony of this argument is that it generally comes from people who simultaneously want more ‘green space’ in urban areas which leads us to…

  • Golf courses should be reverted to ‘open green space’:

Wrong. Golf courses are already open green space. The definition of ‘open green space’ is not restricted to parks and bushland. Those making this argument are generally trying to say they’d prefer the open space to be used for something other than golf, an argument with no more legitimacy than the space being used for golf.

Wrong. Golf is a game played by more butchers than barristers and like almost every other recreational pursuit (tennis, jogging, cycling, hiking, bushwalking etc) is enjoyed by a broad cross section of the community. To infer that golfers are somehow not part of the broader community is offensive. And wrong.

  • Golf courses should be moved out of urban areas to where there is more available space:

Wrong. This argument is particularly offensive as it suggests those who live in cities do not deserve ready access to golf. If you made the same argument about football fields, cricket pitches and public swimming pools there would rightfully be an outcry.

And young people are especially disadvantaged by this notion. Even if you don’t like golf, proactively and deliberately denying kids access to a legitimate pastime they could enjoy for life – or even make their profession – is a difficult position to defend.

No doubt there are more on this list but the general gist is that most of the arguments made against the game and its existence are poorly thought out.

Can golf do better, in all areas from the environment to diversity? Yes.

Does golf need to be better at sharing its space with the rest of the community? Also yes.

But is campaigning to eradicate the game from our cities a positive? No. In fact, I think the opposite is true and governments should be encouraging more people to try golf.

Assuming there are regular readers of this space then all of the points made here – on both sides – will be instantly recognizable.

It is a circular discussion and that can be frustrating. But it is one that golfers need to continue to engage in because the stakes are high.

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