"Golf," declared the great American man of letters, Mark Twain, “is a good walk spoiled.” Unlike my dad I was never a fan of his Huckleberry Finn tales, and he spared no opportunity to disparage the British (Mark Twain, not my dad). But for this witty observation on the world’s most tedious “sport” (note the quotation marks), I’d happily have his bronze bust welded on to my garden gate.
I hate golf. I hate it the way I hate three-quarter-length shorts, the smell of smoked kippers and what Michael McIntyre thinks is funny.
Which is a shame, really, because in my capacity as a journalist I sometimes get offered golf press junkets all over the world, for which I am genuinely grateful (honestly, kind PR folk, I really am).
The last one I was invited to was in Muscat at a swanky hotel I’ve been dying to visit for years. I could have gone and feigned interest, whacked a couple of wayward balls into the bushes before sneaking off to the swimming pool. But the idea of playing golf for even a few minutes put me right off, so I politely declined. My attitude would have been much the same had I been invited to play in the Seychelles, or in the Andes overlooking Machu Picchu with a scantily clad Megan Fox as my caddy.
I’ve thought often about where my chronic aversion to golf comes from. Could it be the silly clothes, for instance, the peculiar wearing of a single glove à la Michael Jackson? Could it be the annoyingly intermittent nature of golf, which sees you tee off only to spend several minutes trying to locate the ball? Or maybe it’s because it has the staggering audacity to call itself a sport, inexplicably sharing the same pages in newspapers and websites as infinitely more vigorous pursuits such as football, boxing and rugby.
Granted, playing golf requires tremendous skill. But then so does cooking a decent Beef Wellington and playing the ukulele, and no one would call those a sport.
Golf doesn’t require strength, speed or stamina. Well, maybe it does if you’re sprinting back to the clubhouse with your clubs to get out of the rain – but even then you can get a ride in a buggy (can you imagine rugby replacements being deposited on to the pitch in a wimpy little rickshaw or moped?).
I seriously doubt you have to be that fit to play golf. Take the player Colin Montgomerie. He comes across as a perfectly decent, avuncular sort of chap, but if he’s an athlete, I’m a nuclear physicist. Golf as a sport I will not accept. Golf as a pastime or an activity, like ballroom dancing, building matchstick ships or playing tiddlywinks, now we’re talking.
This is why golf is understandably popular among the business community. Getting to know clients while gently idling around a field in the fresh air is better than sitting in a stuffy boardroom. And what better way to assess a man’s character than when he’s hopelessly trying to chip his way out of a bunker with his sand wedge.
Maybe it’s the non-egalitarianism of golf that rubs me up the wrong way. It’s one of those activities, due to expensive club membership fees and the equipment required, that seems out of reach for people on low incomes. There are no Maradonas or Wayne Rooneys, kids from the rougher side of the tracks, in professional golf. You can’t hone your skills playing down the back alley with a pebble and your grandad’s walking stick. And this privileged aspect of the sport transfers to the pitch – sorry, fairway.
I mean, what’s a caddy if he isn’t a butler in a tracksuit? And why does the golfer’s traditional attire – argyle socks neatly tucked into plaid plus-fours and flamboyant footwear – look like something a PG Wodehouse character might wear? Credit to brands such as Nike for making modern golfers look (a little bit) more like athletes and less like eccentric Edwardian butterfly catchers.
So the next time anyone wants to invite me to play a round, or to watch Tiger Woods in action at the Ryder Cup, I’m warning you now that you’ll get little in the way of enthusiasm from me. It would take a cataclysmic shift in thinking or a heavy blow to the head with a five-iron to endear me to golf.
Although, on second thoughts, the presence of a scantily clad Megan Fox could sway me, too.