Home » Commentary

Golfers Are Still Walking the Walk

By John M. Ross,
View large image
Golf's diehard traditionalists are not giving in to those tiring legs! (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

On the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling in the much-publicized Casey Martin case, there was considerable speculation on how many more golfers wold decide to ride, rather than walk, the course. It was felt that the Court's decision, which allowed Martin to ride a cart in PGA Tour competition because of a painful leg disability, would open the flood gates to all those golfers who have been looking for an excuse to ride.

But this hasn't happened, at least to any appreciable degree. Scattered reports from around the country indicate only a slight increase in golf cart traffic, and some of this is attributed to the blistering heat waves that were common this summer.

Of course, recreational golfers have never needed a court's blessing to use a cart. Some clubs and courses do not permit them at all, or only at certain hours and under specific conditions. Without question, they've made the game more enjoyable for many and have increased the longevity of the golfing years for even more There is a huge core of golfers, however, that think golf should be played the way it was intended to be played - by walking.

A recent study by the National Golf Foundation underscores the fact that golf cart use has gained at only a moderate rate in the past six years. The diehard traditionalists are not giving in to those tiring legs! For the period 1994-2000, the NGF report indicates an increase of 13 percent in golf cart use. Golfers who carry their own clubs have declined and those using a pull cart dropped 4.3 percent. Surprisingly, the use of a caddie was down 0.2 percent, but that, of course, has been dropping steadily for several years.

In many parts of the country, the caddie is an endangered species. He has virtually disappeared at the daily fee and public courses. The private club is generally the only place he can be found. And even there, in limited number, and, very often, only on weekends. The reason for the fadeout is quite simple: the clubs simply can't get them.

Thus the golf caddie joins the growing list of jobs that young people are snubbing, jobs like summer lifeguard, school bus driver, street crossing guards, schoolteacher and even policeman and fireman. I wonder why!

I didn't recall ever seeing Arnold Palmer's name at the bottom of a tournament summary, but there it was, in 77th place, dead last, in the 3M Championship on the PGA Senior Tour in early August. After posting 83 and 89, he added a final round 92 for the 54-hole event, finishing at 264 48 holes over par. And to make it a really bitter pill, this took place on the new TPC of the Twin Cities in Minneapolis, a course just put in place by the Palmer golf course design team.

Surrounded by a group of writers afterward in the locker room, Arnie conceded that his game was at its lowest ebb. This prompted one of the scribes to ask if he was thinking of finally retiring.

Very promptly he responded that he wasn't ready to set a retirement date. "Perhaps I just won't show up one day," he mused.

The setting reminded me of a long-ago day when the boys had gathered around another aging superstar who had just finished one of his worst days. "That's getting to be hard work out there," sighed Julius Boros, one of the game's brightest stars in the Fifties and Sixties.

"It sounds like you're getting ready to retire," one of the group probed.

"Retire?" he replied, a bit astonished. "Look, I play golf for a living, and I fish as a hobby. What would I possibly retire to?"

U. S. Golf Association officials could be breathing easier these days, now that the Callaway Golf Co. and the Royal Canadian Golf Association have agreed to call off a lawsuit pending in the California courts since May, 2000.

Callaway had pounced on the RCGA when it decided to support the USGA's decision to ban Callaway's original ERC driver as non-conforming.

Over the past year, Callaway officials have been making sounds that indicated they would eventually test the USGA muscle in court. Some golf industry sources thought it might follow on the heels of the case against the Canadians. But now, both sides have agreed to sit down and talk, and try to resolve their differences.

In the meantime, the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews, which sets the rules for the rest of the golf world, continues to stand by its approval of the controversial thin-faced drivers. And that must keep the USGA suits on edge!

Having absorbed a more than reasonable diet of British sportscasters in recent weeks, I am still at a loss to understand why our television networks are so obsessed with the chatter of our overseas cousins. Every network, it seems, simply must have at least one Brit commentator on its golf broadcasting team or it isn't equipped to properly cover the game. Perhaps, since the Scots invented it, they think they must have a Britisher on hand for authenticity.

I like the change of pace the Brits bring to the telecast, although I must admit I could do without some of the odd expressions they use along the way. Easily the most irritating over the years is the overused "lovely shot" to describe a particularly well-executed or well-placed hit. Lovely, to my thinking, is an expression that does not fit sports action.

To be sure, I have found some of their chitchat quite refreshing. I've always thought Henry Longhurst was the best of the Brits, and I'm sure many agreed. Ultimately, he became quite well known for his annual coverage of the Masters, where he'd be perched at the 16th, the par-3 water hole. His repartee was low key and memorable.

Getting Henry up to the tower on the 16th was no small task. Thanks to years of unlimited access to the world's press bars and hospitality tables he was rotund - at least rotund. And it took a derrick to lift him to his seat in the tower.

Henry's most famous line would come about whenever a player's mishit shot would land in the pond. He would pause momentarily while the camera focused on the errant ball, and then he'd add, quite solemnly, "And there it goes to its watery grave."Henry had the flare of the poet in his commentary, but never once did he say, "lovely shot."

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment