A nation lands in the golf trap

An implacable force is now gathering momentum all over the country. It's not limited by any demographic or geographic boundary, and I believe it may someday exert a powerful influence on every household in America.

It's not a new political party or teenage fad.

No, I'm talking about golf. Many observers say Tiger Woods is responsible for swinging our national attention toward the links. But I think the sport has been moving toward critical mass for several years, and Tiger is the final, high-energy particle required to touch off a chain reaction of nuclear proportions.

You can learn a lot about cultural trends by traveling, and on my last few trips through major metropolitan airports I noticed golf bags becoming ubiquitous at every check-in counter. Not long ago I was standing next to a guy in the luggage-claim area who had taken two golf bags on his vacation. I suspect it won't be long before airlines start hiring caddies to ease the baggage-ramp workload.

Important tournaments now receive press coverage that resonates with epic overtones. When Hal Sutton defeated Woods by one stroke at The Players Championship, an Associated Press story declared, "He (Sutton) closed with pars on the final two terrorizing holes on the TPC at Sawgrass." I had no idea playing conditions had become so risky. Terrorizing holes? Sounds like the fairways are ringed with boiling tar pits and patrolled by an angry Minotaur, the kind of course that would have intimidated Jason and the Argonauts.

I can be flippant because I'm a writer, but a growing segment of the population doesn't view golf as something to joke about. For a lot of companies, it's very serious business. In my area, a golf pro who was endorsing Nike products recently decided not to renew his contract with the company. Nike is now marketing a golf ball, and they wanted the local pro to promote it, but he preferred using another brand.

If you think it seems like a trivial dispute, here is what a Nike executive had to say: "The ball is a major initiative for us. We're pushing the ball. We need players playing the ball." The statement held the portentous implications of government policy statements on arms-control strategy. It's clear evidence of the intensity that grips so many people involved in the game.

I wonder how many high elected officials and captains of industry are distracted during their important schedules by thoughts like, "Why is my short game so lousy?" or "I hate that new putter!" And speaking of politicians, they always seem to be playing golf together, so how come we don't have more golf diplomacy? Forget the Dayton accords and Camp David.

Wouldn't it make sense to get Saddam, Qaddafi, and Arafat together for a few rounds at Pebble Beach to ease some of those negotiating tensions? Laugh if you want, but remember that we're in a transitional period of history right now with politics, entertainment, and pop culture all merging.

And for me, making offbeat predictions that come true is par for the course.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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