Game or sport? Golf gets put to the test

This is a game of misses. The guy who misses the best is going to win.
— Ben Hogan

The late Ben Hogan is absolutely correct: Golf is a game.

With the PGA tour in full swing, displaying its embarrassingly awful fashions, its philandering superstar and a bunch of other players I couldn’t pick out of a police lineup, it’s time to address those supporters who believe golf should be considered a sport. Some not only argue it’s a sport, but they believe it’s the greatest sport.

They always defend this point with, “It’s incredibly difficult to play” or, “It takes amazing hand-eye coordination.”

Agreed. Yet doctorate-level calculus is also incredibly difficult to perform, and that doesn’t make it a sport.

Bowling a 300 score also takes amazing hand-eye coordination. Still just a game, though.

So in order to prove this hypothesis, here are seven guidelines that separate a sport from a game. An activity in question needs to pass a majority (that’s four out of seven) to be considered sportsworthy:

  1. No pursuit in which you can be a 50-year-old who is 100 pounds overweight and can still compete with a young professional can be considered a sport. That’s a game. There are old, fat bowlers who can beat you by dozens and bloated, creaky slugs who can run the table on you in pool. But there are no middle-aged, flabby hockey wingers, major league center fielders or NFL cornerbacks who could keep up with even the most average college player in their respective sports. Of all the guidelines, this is the most critical.
  2. Any “sport” in which the crowd must keep quiet in order for the “athlete” to concentrate should bear further scrutiny. Yes, tennis is the exception — but it is already defined as a sport based on the above rule. (Most tennis greats are over the hill before they hit 30.) Watching sports is an excuse to get drunk, be rowdy and yell things at the officials. Trying to curb this with a noise ordinance is ludicrous. Seriously, silence doesn’t seem to be a necessity when making a three-foot putt. Know what’s harder than that? Hitting a 98-mile-an-hour fastball. And a golf ball sitting on a tee can’t leave you with brain damage if you crowd the plate.
  3. In a sport you wear a uniform. In a game you abide by a dress code.
  4. In a sport you have a professional league. Golf has a tour. Essentially, that makes golfers tourists. Conversely, you wouldn’t say the characters on “Gilligan’s Island” went on a three-hour regular season.
  5. In a team sport, you have a teammate. In golf you have an assistant. You may like to refer to him as a “caddy,” but then again, you probably like to call a salesman an “account executive.” Perhaps assistant is too weak a word to describe what a caddy does. How about “lawn butler”?
  6. You can’t do business during a sport. Try solidifying a contract while going a round in the boxing ring. Or make an attempt at conducting stock transactions while running a slant pattern on the gridiron. Can’t be done. But think of all the mergers negotiated with an opponent between putts.
  7. Interaction is a key factor in sports. You hit the ball, and your competitor tries to hit it back. Or you take a shot on goal, and your opponent tries to block it. In golf, there could be 200 people playing against you or 10 or none. It doesn’t in any way impact what you do, whether you slice it into the rough or sink it in the hole. You are really just competing against yourself. It’s no different than a late-night marathon spent playing video games on the couch.

OK, I’ll fully disclose that I’ve never actually played a full round of golf. Sure, I’ve hit balls at a driving range, which was about half as fun as tackling a fast-pitch machine at the batting cages. I’ve also spent a few hundred hours at miniature golf courses over the years. Always a fun game.

I’m not totally opposed to trying golf. I’ve just mildly avoided it based on principle. I’m reminded of what George Carlin said: “It’s an elitist, arrogant ... boring game for boring people. You ever watch golf on television? It’s like watching flies (mate).”

Now if, say, Bill Self called me up and invited me to shoot a few rounds, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t accept. (Lew Perkins, not so much.)

I’d certainly be more inclined to do that than attend a bullfight or a NASCAR race.

And, incidentally, NASCAR isn’t a sport, either.


knayte 12 years, 9 months ago

I enjoy a good round of golf with a six-pack in the cart, but no it is not a sport. I'd add another criterion to your list: Athleticism. Sure, golf takes a lot of hand-eye coordination, but requires little-to-no actual athleticism (running, jumping, agility, etc.). Therefore, it's a game. In order for something to be a sport, its participants must reasonably be considered athletes.

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