The fair way to judge golf: as a model for life
If respect for our opponents, the rules, and spirit of the game are important values, then golf is an ethical model we should cherish.
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To be sure, golf in the US has a historical association with exclusive country clubs. And although some golf organizations did not act quickly enough to remedy discriminatory practices in the past, and still may not have done enough to criticize remaining ones, there has been much progress in eliminating discriminatory barriers throughout the sport.
Today, most golfers play on public facilities. And many private courses, especially those away from large urban areas, are affordable to relatively large segments of the population.
Of course, golf still needs to become more diverse. But consider this: Golf originated in Scotland and was originally played by shepherds and artisans – not the elite. Today, organizations such as the First Tee introduce golf to thousands of young people from diverse backgrounds, and often combine golf instruction with innovative educational programs. More good news on that front: Asian golfers from countries such as South Korea and Japan have enjoyed tremendous worldwide success, including many recent major winners on the LPGA from Asia and, of course, Y.E. Yang, who recently defeated Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship to become the first Asian winner of one of the men's major professional championships.
As a young golfer growing up on Long Island and learning to play in the late 1950s and early '60s, I often played with men and women, some of whom were three times my age. While my community was not racially diverse, my playing partners ranged from fellow students to physicians to owners of pizza stores to professional caddies.
Golf provided an education on how to get along with many different kinds of people with different political and social views, which we had plenty of time to discuss between shots. These conversations helped me learn to appreciate that I could disagree with my competitors politically while still respecting them as people and conducting our disagreement in a civil, reasoned manner. Because angry, distracted golfers tend to hit poorly, golf almost forced civility upon us.
If respect for our opponents, for the rules and spirit of the game, and for development of moral virtues such as civility and self-control are important values, then golf is an ethical model we should cherish. Golf should really be considered an ethical model for other sports.
We should try to emulate it, not only in athletics but perhaps also in education, where honor codes need to be respected, and especially in politics, where the practice of respect for our opponent seems to be in danger of extinction.