by Paul Knepper
Over the past several weeks, a number of people have asked me why I don’t write about golf. I’ve heard, “You cover basketball, baseball, football , even tennis, but never any golf.” So, I’m setting the record straight; this site does not provide any golf coverage because it is a sports site and it’s this blogger’s position that golf is not a sport. All sports are games and athletic competitions, but not all athletic competitions and games are sports.
Before you golf lovers throw a fit, relax, I’m not going to go all George Carlin on you, ranting about golf being an elitist, silly waste of valuable real estate. I understand that it’s an extremely difficult game which requires tremendous skill, hand-eye coordination and years of practice in order to perform at a high level. I recognize that it can be very competitive, even addictive for some, and respect its value as a relaxing get away from the wife for a few hours.
I don’t begrudge those who enjoy playing and watching it or appreciate the technical, competitive and historical aspects of the game. I may even join you one day.
I’m also aware that golf is a “sport” as defined by standard dictionaries. Dictionary.com defines sport as, “An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature such as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.”
But practically speaking, that definition is inaccurate and overinclusive. As it states in the examples provided, bowling, hunting and fishing are athletic activities which require skill or physical prowess and are often of a competitive nature, and they are certainly not sports.
My definition of a sport includes two key attributes which distinguish it from a game or competition: 1) There must be significant physical exertion and 2) There must be direct head-to-head combat, typically involving defense. By “direct head-to-head combat” I mean that one player or team’s actions is directly affected and countered by the opposing player or team’s actions.
Golf meets neither of those criteria. According to my definition, ping-pong is more of a sport than golf. At least ping pong involves direct competition, though it likely falls short on the physical exertion side.
On a side note, most sports involve a puck or ball, though it’s not required. Boxing and wrestling are sports. Track meets and competitive swimming are a bit tricky. Both require extreme physical exertion, but they don’t involve direct combat in the traditional sense of defense. Participants are confined to their own lanes and may not interfere with other competitors.
However, runners and swimmers do compete simultaneously, directly next to one another, so that the performance of one athlete is likely to evoke a mental and physical response from another athlete, which in turn affects the performance of the original athlete. At one time in our lives we’ve all run a little faster when we realized that somebody was running next to us or after us. Ultimately, given the indirect nature of the competition, I lean towards categorizing swimming and track meets as athletic competitions, rather than sports, though I leave that up for debate.
Golf fans are quick to argue that walking 18 holes, while carrying a bag of clubs is quite tiring and swinging an iron requires significant force, which takes a toll on the body. I don’t doubt that, but in the realm of athletic competition, walking a few miles and swinging a club several times is pretty minimal exertion. Any activity during which participants may smoke cigars while discussing a potential business deal cannot be too strenuous.
Supporters of the game also claim that a golfer engages in direct combat with the rest of the field. A golfer may even choose to alter his approach based on the actions of a competitor. I recognize that there is a competition taking place, but the athletic interaction is indirect. There’s not another player in the golfer’s face attempting to block his shot, or prevent him from hitting it altogether. There’s not a goalie on the green trying to stop the ball from going into the hole or somebody on the other end of the course hitting the ball back at him, forcing him to react and counter.
I’ve even heard golf enthusiasts make the ridiculous argument that the number of sports fans who follow and play golf, combined with the coverage it receives from the sports media, is evidence that it’s a sport. The game’s popularity shouldn’t affect its classification. Poker is one of the most preferred games in the country, yet it’s not a sport, regardless of how many hours of air time ESPN2 fills with it. Nascar is another very popular competition which involves skill, but is not a sport.
My classification of golf isn’t based on my personal interest, or lack there of, in the game. I don’t follow hockey or volleyball, though I consider both of them sports. Nor is golf’s reputation as a “country club sport” a factor, since I believe tennis is a sport.
I’m not saying that sports are inherently superior to other types of games and competitions. I love watching Usain Bolt run and was a sucker for Hungry Hungry Hippos as a kid. I’m simply pointing out that there’s a difference between games, competitions and sports, and golf is a competitive game.
If you disagree with me, that’s your prerogative. I’d love to hear arguments for both sides. But if you’re looking for coverage of the upcoming British Open, new wonderkid Rory McIlroy or speculation as to whether Tiger used performance enhancing drugs, you can putt-putt your way to another website. This one’s reserved for sports.