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Just Because the Pants are Less Ugly Don't Mean it Ain't Still Boring

By Michael Murray | TV | July 31, 2009 |

By Michael Murray | TV | July 31, 2009 |

Men, when they’re involved with golf, are deadly boring creatures.

I can hardly express just how tedious I find listening to some guy launch into a story about his most recent game. Entirely self-absorbed, and without an ounce of interest in the person he’s speaking to, he’ll give an intricately detailed account of how he saved par on the 12th. “And then from the sand, I hit this sweet wedge that trickled right in the cup! It was like it was drawn in by a magnet! Just awesome!”

He, of course, imagines the story a glittering wonder, but the truth is that it’s non-transferable. The ecstasies and furies that accompany golf are purely internal, even obsessive, and to listen to somebody enthuse about them is kind like hearing a hobo rattle on about his bottle cap collection. (It should be noted that Justin Timberlake is purported to be writing a book about his golf experiences,)

Golf is fun enough to play, but the homogeneity that pervades the culture is entirely nauseating. Standing in the parking lot of a golf course and looking around, all you will see are middle-aged white men. Accountants, lawyers, cops and doctors, they’re all pulling their clubs out of their SUV’s, overjoyed to be spending the next five hours away from their families and responsibilities.

Wearing baseball hats with the name of some golf company on them, they march about in their spiked shoes, feeling like the privileged warriors they know themselves to be. Sucking on expensive cigars, they say things like, “Get in the hole!” or “You ‘da man!” Seriously, it’s not a tribe I want any affiliation with, and when I’m stuck with a bunch of these guys on an afternoon, I just want to go home, get stoned and watch game shows.

Of course, it’s usually golf that’s on TV, the sport that now sits on the chest of North America like some military industrial complex. Appealing to a masculine fascination with weaponry, golf is always selling mightier drivers, made from crazy, indestructible alloys, or golf balls that can pierce metal. Hell, they even have their own channel from which they continue to market the delusion that a man, equipped with the right tools, can conquer anything.

This weekend, like every weekend in the summer, the PGA will be staging a tournament. In this case, breathlessly covered by CBS, it will be the Buick Open. The sponsor, of course, tells us everything we need to know about who is watching—men who might want to buy a Buick.

And so, on Saturday and Sunday, these men will hunker down in front of the TV. For stretches of four hours at a time, they will watch a pageant of product placement ads dressed up to look like golf. There will be elegant shots of the clubhouse and aerial views of each hole unfolding as if revealed by a divine hand. In hushed and respectful tones, the announcers—at least one with a foreign accent, but never, ever a French accent—will whisper as if bearing witness to a holy event.

Behind a backdrop of heroic music, narratives are spun around the competitors (who are actually a bunch of unremarkable looking men who probably enjoy Michael Bay movies) in an attempt to wrap them in some mythic fabric. Oh, it’s as if they’ve been culled from a distant era of dignity and civility! They don’t trash talk! They reek of class!

However, if we sit down to watch these men do battle, we end up seeing very little. The actual moments of action—the striking of the ball and the subsequent flight of the ball— are few and far between. And of course, once the ball’s been driven into the sky, we can’t even really see it, and are forced to wait, anticipating the appealing plop as it hits the green. We then watch, with child-like fascination, to see where it’s going.

As the continuous action in golf is pretty much non-existent, most broadcasts are heavily layered with commercials. Between these advertising breaks, we’re fed a heavily edited narrative of the sparse action that’s been unfolding at a snail’s pace all afternoon. We rarely see things unfolding in real time, or see things for ourselves, but see what the producers want us to see, and this means the mega-stars around whom they’ve built heroic stories. If you happen to like a relatively obscure golfer, well, you’re out of luck, because they’re only going to show the front-runners, and the golfers who they know are going to sell products.

In general, golf is all about merchandizing. The professional game that the vast recreational audience watches on TV, serves to sell them back an infinite variety of high-tech weaponry that might elevate both their game, and social status. This is unique to golf, and doesn’t happen in, say basketball, football or baseball.

Golf, which drips with cultivated exclusivity, is a game for those who have money and leisure time. (To play 18 holes, you pretty much have to kill six hours of your day.) The people who watch it are by and large, middle-aged white men.

I think that the game appeals to their sense of entitlement, harkening back to a time when all you it took to be successful in America was to be a white guy. In spite of the fact that Tiger Woods—who famously obfuscated his African-American heritage until Oprah rebuked him—is the dominant force on the tour, it’s still a white guy’s game. It seems likely that instead of inspiring legions of African-American kids to buy Ping golf clubs and join the country club, Woods dominance has just made square white guys feel kind of cool about themselves—like their hobby now has “cred,” man.

As each PGA tournament comes to it’s conclusion, we see the winner stride down the fairway to victory. The sun is setting and triumphant music plays, as our victor walks with such rectitude and stoicism that he appears to be trying to set an example for America’s youth. The gallery— comprised primarily of upper middle class suburbanites not unlike the winner—applaud, as if welcoming home a their single-combat hero, the champion of all that they believe America should be.

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.