OK, I admit it: I play golf. I like to think of myself as a leftist liberal with a pure passion for social justice, yet I play a game that many consider a major symbol of wasteful wealth. And no one knows better than we in Western North Carolina that golf courses are also the tree-trouncing vanguard of ecology-disrupting development, and the gluttonous maw gulping down the many poisons needed to keep greens gleaming.
Does it help that I believe all courses should be designated general-use parks, free for everyone, at least thrice a week? No? Then that makes me a heinously happy hypocrite.
Still, I don't totally jettison my progressive attitudes when I golf. Take the Asheville Municipal links. All Ashevilleans collectively own this course, and I sometimes play with amazingly straight-hitting former caddies or monster-driving construction workers. Muny's front nine includes three holes along busy Swannanoa River Road, where passing drivers commonly scream expletives during your backswing. These blasphemies sometimes express the hidden hate of class warfare — with the tragic twist of so-called "lower-class" folks razzing other "lower-class" folks for playing a so-called "upper-class" game. In return, we golfers launch dimpled, 150-mph white missiles hooking toward their windshields, though these shots are mostly casual collateral damage.
Broadmoor Golf Links, out by the airport, boasts 10 holes involving refreshing lakes that swallow thousands of golf balls, but people hauling by on I-26 should watch out for heavy hitters hooking on hole 11. The course is a certified Audubon sanctuary, since it shelters birds and uses fewer pesticides. But why use any poisons at all? Why not just play winter rules year round, moving the ball from lousy lies, and get over our vain, earth-killing perfectionism?
Given the rate of pre-recession development in WNC and our elected officials' refusal to seriously challenge capitalism, maybe the only hope for our few remaining green spaces is to turn them into pesticide-free golf courses.
Drive-by whackings on Kimberly Avenue
I probably approach golf somewhat differently than the average competitive Republican, taking seriously Mark Twain's observation that "Golf is a good walk spoiled." My number-one priority is scenery, and for nearby breathtaking views, you can't beat the mountainous marvel of Weaverville's Reems Creek or the vast horizons of High Vista in Mills River. About 30 minutes away from Asheville, you can find cheaper courses that are just as beautiful. They include the pastoral paradise of Black Mountain, which is $25 to walk, or the always-sweet Crooked Creek, where the basic rate is $32, cart included.
In contrast, Grove Park's course fees run from $85 to $149 for its interesting, Donald Ross layout. At the higher rate, that's over $2 per swing for a good player. Every swing could feed a struggling family of four a heaping portion of macaroni and cheese!
Meanwhile, the mostly upper-class strollers and drivers along Kimberly Avenue are bombarded by hundreds of golf balls each year. They generally seem to tolerate this quietly, accepting a golfer's right to slice, regardless of the consequences.
Golf's greedy Gandhi
Golf's redeemer, Tiger Woods, stares determinedly out from local billboards these days, urging us to "See what inspired me." He recently invited what the Asheville Citizen-Times described as "an army of luxury SUVs" carrying 1,000 people to come see his new golf development, which straddles Fairview and Swannanoa. During the dedication ceremony Woods praised the location's outstanding visibility, noting, "I grew up [in Southern California], where there was nothing but smog. We couldn't see anything."
Of course, some of his listeners hope to soon begin dumping exhaust from their luxury SUVs into an Asheville temperature inversion that rivals Los Angeles' in its ability to trap poison gases. And they'll build vacation homes whose lots alone will cost up to $3 million — enough to keep a family of four above the $22,500 federal poverty line for more than 130 years.
This is the same Tiger whose father claimed he'd be "the next Gandhi," according to a 1997 Sports Illustrated story, and whose Buddhism inspires him to contribute to the support of monks who've renounced all material goods. Now he's become the apostle of environmental destruction in the name of fabulously frivolous greed, despite having already garnered hundreds of millions of dollars, mainly from Nike and other sweatshop-supporting sponsors.
Has my golfing hero been totally corrupted by golf's upper-class charms? Maybe. Yet he's still a living, racial revolution each week as he often beats about 70 mostly white men, while usually playing on courses with only a token-minority presence.
Perhaps Tiger's Stanford education overlooked Voltaire's view that we're not, in fact, living in the best of all possible worlds. This might help explain his naiveté in dispersing over $30 million dollars through his Tiger Woods Foundation, part of which goes to teach inner-city kids how to play golf. Odds are that when these kids grow up they'll have to spend a week's sweatshop paycheck just to play on an expensive, big-city course.
Meanwhile, my own perverse dedication to golf has led me to some extremely conservative venues. I've played the divine Country Club of Asheville, and I hear the Biltmore Forest Country Club is fine. Both, however, are super exclusive and very expensive, and neither offers scholarships for those of us who are extremely compatible socially but less fortunate financially.
Still, I'll keep struggling with their game, knowing full well that if the revolution comes, it had better be nonviolent, or we selfish golfers may be the first to be guillotined. If so, hopefully my head will roll straight into the nearest sewer hole, while shouting, "Finally — a hole-in-one!"
PS: If any of you BFCC threesomes need a ringer fourth, give me a call.
[Asheville author Bill Branyon is working on his next book, Liberating Liberals. Contact him at billbranyon@Yahoo.com.]