MY NAME'S LARRY, and I love golf.
That's right, golf. You know, the sport that you and most of my friends who, like me, run, bike, swim, and ski scorn because... well, for many reasons. All of which are pretty stupid.
Let's start with the most common criticism: Golf is not a real sport. Wrong. It might be the most technically demanding game in the world. This is why so many top athletes—from Michael Jordan to Wayne Gretzky—have failed in their bids to play at a professional level after dominating their own sports. For comparison, consider climbing. My wall-rat buddies constantly go on about how "technical" climbing is, yet this is a sport that regularly adds new ratings because people keep mastering the most difficult routes. The best score on a golf course, ever, was set in 1962.
Golf is surprisingly athletic, too. A round of 18 on most courses requires a five-mile hike. Denver's respected Rose Center for Health and Sport Science recently supported one of the most rigorous golf studies ever, equipping subjects with sensors, and concluded that an average duffer burns 1,500 calories per round, as much as a recreational cyclist burns in a training ride. That's assuming you carry your own 20-pound bag of clubs (see "Clubhouse Rules"), but even if you were to hire a caddie, is that really so different from, say, paying a porter to carry your gear on a Himalayan trek? And God forbid you should drive a cart—you know, one of those zero-emission electric vehicles that paved the way for the Toyota Prius.
Right, the environment. Golf courses have been deservedly scorned for some egregious practices, like when green fairways are sprouted from the desert using thousands of gallons of water and fertilizer. But, to be fair, many ski resorts have an even bigger impact on an ecosystem—it's just that ski marketers understand the importance of messaging and the palliative effects of a wind turbine or two. Yet golf is starting to catch on, with many courses reducing or eliminating fertilizers and pesticides, as well as recapturing and reusing irrigation water, the way ski areas do when they make snow. Meanwhile, urban golf courses frequently preserve open land that would otherwise be turned into condos or shopping centers. Next time you're flying over any big city, look out the window. A lot of the green you're seeing is on fairways. The truth is, courses can be as important to wildlife as any park. (Hundreds of courses now comply with Audubon International's strict standards to get certified as sanctuaries for wildlife.)
Then there's golf's biggest public-relations challenge: golfers. They're arrogant, paunchy snobs who smoke cigars and throw their heads back when they laugh, right? Yeah, some of them are, but most are far more welcoming than the territorial surf jerks in your local lineup or that pack of Jackson Hole skiers fighting to get into the tram on a powder day. While we're at it, what's the logic behind mocking a golfer in his Town Car, then saying "Nice ride" to the cyclist spinning by on his $10,000 bike?
Sure, golfers do bad things. They pair pink shirts with teal pants. And they talk for hours (and hours) about the mental and spiritual aspect of their game. But they don't deserve any more contempt than backpackers sporting zip-off pants or that painful après-hike socks-and-sandals look. Or fly-fishermen who wax all Hemingway about fooling a creature with a brain the size of a pea. And, unlike a certain breed of boardsport punks, they would never show up at the opening ceremony of the Olympics—yup, golf is in for 2016!—tripping over their pre-worn uniform pants.
Now, I realize these are polarizing times and I probably haven't convinced you. But the next time you're getting set to trash golf, try and remember that at its core, golf is the simplest of games, requiring only a ball, a club, and a few small holes in the ground. People play for the fun, for the challenge, and—most of all—because it gets them outside.
What's so wrong with that?