Is Golf a Real Sport? Check Out my Pro-Golf Editorial in the Current issue of Outside Magazine

Yours truly takes on golf hating triathletes and the like in this month's issue of Outside Magazine.

I golf, I cycle, I run, I hike, I ski, I do a lot of things.

In this regards, I am unusual. Most of the people I know who I consider “outdoorsy,” including my ski and bike partners, look down their noses at my beloved golf. They are wrong in this regards, and sometimes even stupid.

That is the gist of my story in the current issue of Outside Magazine, one of my favorite publications to both read and write for. They do a monthly opinion column called The Big Idea, and mine is in defense of golf as a sport, and an argument for why it should join the pantheon of outside sports they cover. After all, it is just about the only sport, including skiing and climbing, that always is played outside, and it is far more active and challenging than say, fly fishing, which they write lovingly about all the time.

Our hero atop Africa's highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. He also runs marathons, bikes centuries and other stupid stuff, but almost every time he'd rather be playing golf. Especvially in this picture.

So to see some of the only coverage of golf ever food in the pages of Outside, you’ll have to pick up this month’s issue. Or you can wait a month or more, since they are revamping their website and the current content is not available online for awhile.

Just to give you taste, here are some fan mail comments I have received:

“After putting up with seemingly endless ridicule for being a golfer in high school and now in college, I was thrilled to read Larry’s affirmations about golf in “Chip Shots”. Whenever asked about what sports I play, I have felt the need to back up my athletic dignity by adding that I also frequently ski and bike, but it’s time to start standing up for my game! I took my friend (a 3 sport letter winner) to play a round and she still comments on how rigorous it was. At least I have her convinced! I have understood golf’s athletic demands from the time I first swung a club 15 years ago and I hope others can begin to as well. To the remaining cynical souls: let’s tee it up.”

“Like Olmsted, I am one of the few crossovers. I grew up surfing and golfing in Hawai’i.  I had no friends who did both. In my middle years I added skiing, hiking, and road biking to the mix.  Same result. The only commonality between the groups is the cross-eyed stare I get when I beg off tomorrow’s hammerfest because I have a ‘tee-time’ or try talk to the other members of my foursome about the ‘century’ I did last weekend.”

“I am sure there are trail runners and triathletes who play a round or two of golf a year.  Come on!  How many of them know what GHIN stands for or the clubhead speed of their driver?  Likewise, many golfers are deluded into believing they are having a wilderness experience among the sandtraps and leaf blowers.  Let’s face it.  It takes a screw loose to free climb a rock face or to chase a white ball around for four or five hours.  We just need to come to terms with each others’ particular insanity.  Then we might, as Rodney King urged, ‘Just get along.’”

Of course there was one a**hole who missed my point entirely and made me out to be a hater of all things, including the environment, poor people and common sense, but you will have to read it yourself and decide.

3 Responses to “Is Golf a Real Sport? Check Out my Pro-Golf Editorial in the Current issue of Outside Magazine”

  1. David Tierney

    Hi Larry. I’m pretty sure I’m the a**hole of which you write. You received a copy of the entire letter I sent to the editors of Outside? If not, you may find a published copy here:

    Essentially, I did not miss your point, I hijacked it to serve my agenda by highlighting your claims and refuting them, individually. In the unedited letter, I actually agreed with your overall published point that golf was a real sport, but made the argument that golf’s status as a sport wasn’t relevant to your defenses of it.

    If, as you claim on this blog post, your point was that golf is a sport worthy of publication in Outside magazine, then that must have been edited out of your article. Otherwise, I would have happily added a couple of paragraphs explaining why your arguments do not satisfy that claim.

    And regarding the name-calling — perhaps, I am an a**hole, Larry (I’ve been called worse by better folks than you). You, however, don’t have enough evidence to be sure that I am an a**hole. But, really? Name-calling? Are you twelve? But, okay, if that’s the way you want it: I’m rubber, you’re glue, bounces off me, sticks on you. Infinity.

  2. Larry Olmsted


    Funny how editing works, and yes, my article was greatly shortened and edited, especially the environmental section, where I openly admit that the history of golf has not been one of very good stewardship, but how that has and is rapidly changing, probably more so than in almost all other sports going in opposite directions (bigger stadiums, more snow making, tow-in surfing, lift-served mountain biking, heli-hiking, etc)

    But it was your lame economic argument that bothers me the most. Sure golf is not going to solve teh world’s problems, especially that of the less developed third world nations to which you allude. Does that make it a bad thing? None of the other Outside sports, from climbing to surfing to track are going to cure the world’s evils either. My point was that it is a minimalist game that at its base level requires little equipment or infrastructure, unlike many of the sports regularly featured in Outside. I think it has an especially good track record when compared to soccer, a sport that is widely embraced and available in the poor coutntries you mention, a sport that is directly responsible for hundreds of deaths a year, thousands in bad years, and is the only sport that actually started a war.

  3. David Tierney

    Perhaps the environmental practices of golf are changing, and that would be good news. Serious, comparitive measurements would be helpful evidence, but, I haven’t found them.

    My economic argument was actually not “lame”. First, my statistics about who plays golf and the relative income of golfers (in the U.S.) comes from a golf marketing organization (I didn’t intend to cite them, so I — of course — have forgotten who the hell they are), not from my imagination or something I heard on TV. Second, the increasing stewardship of golf might actually be evidence of the wealth associated with it, as there is loads of scientific literature that “going green” happens mostly in wealthier parts of the world. Third, I never argued that other sports would solve the world’s problems. Golf, however — unlike soccer — is reserved for those with more money than not. It is in many cases a public display of wealth. It also takes wealth to construct and maintain courses.

    Now about your facts about soccer; Please check them again. I would interested to hear your sources.

    First, soccer did not cause the Football War between Honduras and El Salvador (if that’s the war to which you refer). The actual cause was — like nearly every single other war in history — economic. In this case it was directly about migration caused by a shortage of resources. If you meant that reference as a joke and you fully understand the true cause of that war, I apologize.

    As far as the deaths from soccer go, you have inflated the figures. There are perhaps dozens of deaths from fan riots per year, and hundreds in bad years. And these are caused by fans, not players, nor the sport. These fans were largely poor, mind you, though in some places they weren’t perhaps “Africa” poor (as in the U.K.), but the conditions under which these riots occur are most certainly indirectly related to economic disparity.

    Indirect causality is key here. Displays of wealth (clothing, vehicles, cigars, etc…), the fenced-in large areas of well-tended land (often in improbable settings like deserts), prohibition to entrance by fees exceeding the annual salary of a neighboring population, or private status (which is historically racist and sexist), or merely the association between golf and wealth, can and will and does have negative indirect effect! Golf fans may not riot as frequently as soccer fans, but that doesn’t mean that golf does not do damage — whether that is environmental or economic.

    I never (in my letter) said that any sport is doing any better (especially those things you mentioned — mountain-biking lifts? How insipid is that?) — skiing should most certainly be taken to task — but that doesn’t mean you should lightly shrug your shoulders to the direct and indirect effects of your own favored sport as you did in your article and in your response to my letter.

    If you truly believe that golf is more democratic than plutocratic, and requires merely sticks, balls, and holes, then make that your kind of golf. Practice it publicly and solely, prosyletize, and get poor kids in the world into it. Work on shutting down courses whose environmental practices (or count of Mercedes Benzes in the parking lot) is egregious. Make environmental stewardship and egalitarianism the mission of your beloved golf.

    But, I don’t think that’s the kind of golf you play, nor do I think that was the purpose of your defense.

    Thank you for responding.

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