Golf Doesn't Care If You Think It's a Sport or Not

J. Michael MorrisSenior Analyst IJuly 27, 2008

I have often heard debated what activities are considered “real sports” by self-declared authorities on semantics. Usually this mindless discourse is birthed at frat parties an hour after the keg runs out where the sorority girls didn't show up...again.

Most of this discussion, from what I have read, is focused on sports with participants whose skills are appropriate for excelling at a caveman-quality, survivalist existence. Valued attributes of the “athlete” include running (from wild animals), jumping (to reach the highest fruit on the tallest tree), and strength (hand to hand combat for the driest cave).

Using these neanderthalic standards, golf should absolutely not be considered a sport. However, the players and the game of golf neither pretend to be part of this group nor desire acceptance by it.  Another standard must then apply to the greatest game ever played.

I will dispense with the tired debate of the word "sport" in favor of a loftier assertion that will define golf completely as its own exclusive genre of activity.


Traditionally, new sports have been created for two main reasons:

1. Training for something much more important, such as work or war.

2. Passing empty time long before the invention of video games.


The original Olympic games were for military training, and the sports involved were directly related to the weapons and fighting techniques important for defending cities and homes.

Strategies used in basketball, football, soccer, hockey, rugby, etc. are very similar to war in the Dark Ages. Two opposing armies define a line of scrimmage and attempt to use their particular assets in the most effective manner to directly engage the enemy with the goal of breaching the other's defensive line. Although this is interesting to watch (like the brutal reality that the U.S. civil war must have been), practicing it has no modern military use and is therefore an exercise in futility.

Call them sports, if you will, but them we can relegate them to the dustbins of historical insignificance. The only modern value these sports have is to sell advertising for networks to alcohol companies who quite effectively entice throngs of cubicle and factory workers not to actually participate in their own lives.

Instead they can passively be involved in whatever activity they identify with by watching it on television and arrogantly imagining their interest in it as a fan is significant to the outcome.

Crowd support has zero effect on the outcome of games. This myth is a perpetrated by the marketing and public relations departments of sports franchises and is designed to make fans feel morally obligated to purchase overpriced tickets. Sorry college football fans, that is the truth.

Baseball, on the other hand, is simply a pastime, America's pastime. Baseball can be enjoyed and appreciated for having no relation at all to anything more than a child's game. It has the least arbitrary duration (no game clock) and most objective outcomes (very little referee interference). If only baseball traditionalists could be convinced to eliminate all subjectivity by using technology which now exists to standardize strike zones, baseball would be a perfected waste of time.

For pure competition of a useful skill, pugilism is admirable in its purest form. Unfortunately, with biased judging and title contending, ladder-climbing managers and promoters, a pure form of boxing does not exist.

Closer to an undiluted form of pugilism is mixed martial arts. Its relevance to personal defense in today’s society is also important. The popularization of this skill through well-publicized public competition does have a socially redeeming quality.

Without exhaustively detailing the shortcomings of each athletic endeavor on earth (don't get me started on what has been done to the Olympic Games), suffice it to say that none holds a proverbial candle to the game of golf. If you have never played, please take the following testimony of its significance to human existence as your invitation to try.

Sure, golf began simply as a way for sheep herders in Scotland to pass time while walking the grassy links-land and dunes in search of strays. Maybe that's the reason for golf sweaters; traditional function makes more sense than fashion on that point.

Golf will survive this entertainment era of sport whereas most current versions of athletic competition will not. However, the modern competitive incarnation of golf is, in my opinion, a bastardized sect of the true game whose founding partners are egotistical trophy whores, elitist exclusionists and capitalist opportunistic pirates.

Stroke play, which is a running tally of strokes over several days, is only interesting to statisticians and those consumed by repeatable scientific analyses. Match play is the original format of competition and an infinitely more enjoyable game to participate in. However, stroke play fits better with the currently accepted sports entertainment configuration and thus dominates the professional game.

Admittedly, from a spectators-only view of the game, watching golf (especially on television) has earned continuous gold medals in the "boring Olympics." This fact, however, is inconsequential to the actual participants who often describe their attraction to playing golf as an addiction stronger than any mind-altering narcotic. Participating competitively in golf, unlike almost any other so-called sport, is possible throughout a person's life.

Golf certainly is not a mere waste of time. Golf is a microcosm of life and using that improved standard, possibly the most important athletic activity to modern humanity. The exact amount of coordination, physical strength, hand-eye coordination, speed or competitive prowess required to achieve excellence at golf is certainly debatable, but completely inconsequential to this discussion.

If, as I previously compared, most popular sports are akin to warfare, then golf is curing cancer, a much more enlightened and maddeningly sophisticated goal.

Rather than breaching contrived defenses with brute strength, speed or trickery having an objective of domination and destruction, golf is a political navigation of organic obstacles both internal and environmental, with the aim of improving yourself and consequently society and humanity in general.

As in life, success in golf comes from overcoming the most formidable foe: yourself.

Golf is competed against the opponent who can hide no weakness and feign no strength. Golf is competed on the inherent unfairness of God's infinitely inconsistent field of nature. This is the game that has been played for over a century and will undoubtedly be recognized and revered as such a worthwhile adventure for centuries to come.

Golf may remain undefined as to its athletic demands, but those who have the introspective humility to accept it must agree the category that contains it is more closely related to religion than to sport.