In his Nov. 20 Back Talk piece, Steve Grothman describes golf as a "game mainly played by elites." Well, I've played golf avidly for some 30 years and have worked in the golf industry for the past two, and I've met perhaps 10 people I'd consider "elites" (and one of those was Michael Jordan). I've met hundreds, though, who were just regular folks like you and me.
I suppose it's easy for those unfamiliar with the game to absorb the antiquated stereotype of the golfer as pampered blueblood in polyester pants (see the Ted Knight character in Caddyshack) and the current public relations disaster being perpetrated by Augusta National Golf Club certainly doesn't help.
Feel free, however, to drop by Hillandale or Occoneechee or Wildwood Green on a Saturday afternoon and see how many "elites" you encounter. The golfers I've known come from every social and economic stratum of society. They're black, white, Asian and Latin; they're male and female, married and single, straight and gay; they work at offices, hospitals, schools, stores and construction sites; they include students, kids, retirees, and even a former editor of The Independent.
The National Golf Foundation's surveys tell us the average household income of Americans who play golf was about $68,000 in the year 2000. That's two people making $34,000 each. (The national household average that year was $52,000.) Thirty percent of golfing households earn under $40,000 a year, and 40 percent of golfers have "blue collar" jobs. Some 6.1 million American women play golf, making up 24 percent of the golfing population. And over three-fourths of golfers play primarily at courses that are open to the public; less than 15 percent hold private club memberships. The Triangle is one of the best places in the country to live if you play golf and aren't rich; there are a number of excellent courses here or nearby that are affordable and accessible to a wide range of players.
I don't have numbers on how many college students play, but my personal experience tells me "a lot." It's quite common for universities to operate golf courses. I've lived most of my adult life in two college towns and have visited a bunch more, finding the local courses inevitably packed with university students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni. (My alma mater, Virginia Tech, recently met with a storm of protest when it unveiled plans to eliminate part of the campus course to make room for a new conference center. The project is currently on hold.) It's also common practice for agronomy, turf science and environmental studies research to be involved with course development and maintenance. And golf architecture firms have made huge advances in the past few decades with regard to environmental sensitivity.
I'd certainly agree that the question of whether it's wise to use public funds to construct a new golf course in the current economic times is a question that should be asked. But the idea shouldn't be simply ridiculed, especially not with a dumb analogy that compares environmental research on a golf course to a football field acting as a "landing strip for geese." Golf courses are businesses that generate jobs, income and tax revenue, and that provide recreational and educational opportunities. Plus, there are two very good things about university-operated courses: they're open to the public, and they typically aren't part of "golf communities"--no houses, no condos, no traffic, no sprawl; just people having fun playing golf.
Oh, and you might mention to your headline writer that nobody wears plaid pants anymore. Except for PGA Tour player Jesper Parnevik, but he has a sense of humor. And Michael Jordan, but he can wear whatever he wants.
MARTY CASSADY, HILLSBOROUGH