Between my fourth and fifth failed attempts to land a hit on the seventh hole of the afternoon, my friend declared with a laugh:
“This article is going to be an attack on golf.”
For a time, I was tempted to write such a piece, especially after an adolescent frustration kicked in on hole six. The autumn sun started to fade, and my fingers grew stiff in the cold — too stiff to continue taking notes. My eyes watered, largely from the relentless wind, but other factors may have played a part as well.
I grew frustrated with the ball and my technique worsened further. Each swing of my club spewed sizable chunks of dirt through the air. Even when my club struck home, the ball spun wildly into the bushes or sadly plunked down a few feet from where it’d taken off.
Behind me, a group of my friends, steadfast companions in my first attempt at the sport of golf, followed my gradual progress toward the distant flag. Along the way, they cheered for my meager victories and my failures all the same. The support kept me from spiraling, even when confronted head-on with the reality of my golfing ability.
While I expected my athletic reservations to minimize any confidence I might have on the University of Michigan Golf Course, the opening hours were actually a blast. Reports of the course’s allure had trickled down to me over the years, but I’d never visited to see for myself.
Upon arrival, the staff issued us two shiny golf carts that thrilled us with their novelty and smooth handling. I had never been responsible for a golf cart before and took quickly to the simple joy of navigating the course. We glided over pathways carved through the open green expanse, then jolted over crooked bumps in the hills. A passenger was likely to be bounced straight from the seat if not holding on tightly, and, in the end, I accidentally crashed one cart during a daring attempt to catch up to the other. No damage ensued, fortunately, and the event only raised our spirits further.
Surprisingly, though, beyond our golf cart hijinks, my little band of first-time golfers adhered well to the athletic rituals so foreign to us. I uncovered a deep satisfaction in the thwack of a golf ball lofted toward the horizon, and in doing so, suddenly demystified a reverence I’d always assumed was exclusive to Ross Business students.
Above the course hung wreaths of clouds, etched with deep purple shadows from the dying light of day. Evergreens stood sturdy along our hilltop vantage while more colorful trees swayed and shed their leaves on perfect green grass. It made for an idyllic portrait, one I hoped was never lost on those who frequented the course.
This spectacular view of autumn, however, did not come free of charge. At the University of Michigan Golf Course, one game between four students costs $236.
One game costs more than a used guitar. It costs more than a 75-gallon fish tank or 1,000 bananas. It’s more than a pair of leather boots with a lifetime warranty, or a Scotch whiskey aged 16 years. In 1868, the United States government spent fewer dollars to purchase 11,000 acres of Alaskan land than my friends and I spent to golf for one afternoon. At the current federal minimum wage, $236 equates to 32 hours of paid labor, or a full week’s work, after income tax.
In short, golf is expensive. By my standards, it’s unreasonably expensive. Though an informed golf advocate could surely cite a hundred upkeep fees that justify the cost, I don’t believe such an egregious price of admission should apply to students already piling heaps of money at the foot of an affiliated university with a $12 billion endowment.
The Michigan Daily provides exhaustive coverage of the arguments both for and against golf courses, including overwhelming data on wasted land and water. Reporter Alex Nobel cites an enormous 2.08 billion gallons of water used each day maintaining golf courses, an amount equal to that of 3,000 Olympic swimming pools.
Further, the accounts of elitism are rampant and should’ve acted as a warning, but my first experience at the University of Michigan Golf Course was a raging indicator of a culture of entitlement. The staff, though friendly enough after some conversation, were initially cold and unapproachable, leering over at me with a holier-than-thou attitude, possibly judging my ill-fitting khaki pants.
The moment I stepped into the dazzling lobby, I felt financially insecure, lacking a tidy haircut and a freshly pressed maize polo. Such a judgmental environment may have been even worse for students of Color or Queer-presenting students, and I grew aware of the relative comfort my identity afforded.
While I found a new love in swinging a club and laughing with fellow players, I knew the experience would be limited to just one occasion. I’m pining after another afternoon of golf, but elitism and environmental waste, principles on which the sport feeds to survive, leave me no choice but to abstain.
I don’t expect to play golf again, but I also didn’t head into the experience expecting to find a new life passion. The glory in the idea of immersion—in trying something completely foreign—isn’t the miraculous adoption of a newfound lifestyle, but rather a chance to entertain the possibility of one, even if it means later dismissing it.
Maybe I should focus not on the amount of money I spent playing golf once but rather on the money saved from attempting to golf later in life. Maybe it’s sometimes better to eliminate activities from your repertoire than pile them on.
At age 18, I learned about the stock market, only to hedge my bets poorly and lose a mild investment. A lack of investing talent, discovered early, is not a senseless life penalty, but rather a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps my money was better suited for a bank.
In sixth grade, I attempted computer hacking, only to lose my mother’s credit card information on a shady website. I spent a couple hours crying in the shower, but the failure was needed; I removed computer science from my list of career options.
I believe every loss brings its own teachings and misadventures. Golf was no different. Its lessons may not always be useful, but they’re lessons learned all the same.
This week, I learned that you yell “fore” instead of “heads up” when a golf ball is flying toward your friend. I couldn’t tell you why.
I learned how little time your friend has to dodge said golf ball, and that there’s really no point in yelling “fore” at all. You may as well simply watch and hope for the best.
I learned that an amateur golf ball isn’t moving fast enough to kill someone, regardless of how deadly it seems, but the guilt amasses quickly when you almost concuss a buddy. You think about how this never would have happened if you’d just chosen to go for a hike, row a boat or read a book instead.
If someone asks me whether I’ve played golf, I can say I have. And if they ask me whether I like it, I learned my answer:
“The game’s not for me.”
In my opinion, the answer was worth the investment.
Statement Columnist John Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.