After finishing my homework on Saturday afternoons in the United States, all I wanted to do was watch college football. Or college basketball. Or, anything except golf. But there would be my dad, comfortable on the couch, hoarding the remote, fixated on the silent game occupying our television. There would be tears and fits and pleas, but the channel would never change.
To my dad, golf is a religion. Golf is the game he plays to escape work; the one professional sport he can conveniently keep up with. To my friends, golf is the game they put on when they can’t fall asleep.
But as much as he preaches his love for the game, he gets to the links once a year. Twice if my brother begs him. It’s a dying breed in the States. “Golfer” is a term now reserved almost exclusively for suburban dads, like my own, who hold onto the last athletic game they can comfortably play for as long as they can. It’s the last story to air on our dedicated sports channels, and doesn’t even make the top tabs on the US’ top sports website. Of course, it’s completely warranted. An American hasn’t won a single one of the last five Majors. The links are more popular for Sunday brunch than playing a Sunday back nine. Owning a house on the course is a show of wealth. Actually playing on that course would be an entirely different story.
It didn’t use to be this way. I can remember a time when some unknown golfer named Tiger Woods catapulted onto the stage, winning the heart of every youngster, making every kid want to own a set of clubs. I was one of those kids, and I could almost see my dad’s heart do somersaults, so excited his daughter wanted her first set of clubs. A putrid green colour, the dusty bag still sits in my basement. Driving golf balls in the backyard was as far as they ever got. I never even stepped foot on a course with them. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American who could recognize anyone but the household names of Woods, McIlroy, Els, and Mickelson.
Golf could never die in the UK. It’s a tradition; it’s heritage. The rolling hills and seaside greens, the courses here are picture perfect, the game so ingrained in the heart of the country. From its origins at St Andrews to the strength of the European Tour, golf is a staying power. Coverage of an impressive showing at a tournament can rival that of a Premier League match. Even Rory McIlroy recently won the GQ Sportsman of the Year award, a title that never would have been given to a golfer in the States. In fact, the title would have been given to any athlete except a golfer. It’s in the blood of the Brits, and the perennial crop of young golfers proves its staying power.
From a game in the 15th century played with sticks and clubs, golf in Europe has evolved into the gentleman’s game, bringing with it a culture that is as much as part of Britain as tea and the Union Jack. Maybe one of these days, I’ll fly my dad out to England to play a round or two on this side of the pond. He’s been preaching since I was little that he’ll move to Florida when he retires and become a golf course marshal with his fellow retired golf enthusiasts. He might fit in a little bit better here than he would back home.