Conspiracy theories and stereotypes still plaguing golf and its future
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Conspiracy theories and stereotypes still plaguing golf and its future

Stereotypes are born out of a smidge of truth, taken out of proportion and declared a broader maxim.

Conspiracy theories come from a different place. They take a smidge of vagary and apply an explanation that implies an organized plan to hide the grandiose truth.

A pair of very different men this week revealed their own biases in lending credence to a stereotype and a conspiracy theory about the game. Both views border on xenophobia and, coming from men in the game, proffer a disturbing view of it.

Blackwolf Run owner and bazillionaire Herb Kohler weighed on the success of Asian players in women's golf as the U.S. Women's Open unfolded in the Wisconsin town bearing his name.

"These Asians have done so well because they know the meaning of work," Kohler said in an interview with the Associated Press. "They work and they work. And that is starting to have an impact on the Americans. The Americans have now seen what the Asians can do, and they're starting to work."

That's quite a loogie in the face of American players, who Kohler is essentially saying are lazy. (What's he believe of the European players? Are they surrender-prone ingrates?)

It's almost like Kohler took his macroeconomic view of his Kohler Company and laid that right on the shoulder of American female golfers. Kohler seems to subscribe to the "Asians want it more" theory, ascribed to lower-class workers that are desperate for wages and will do anything to earn them and secure some prospect of upward mobility for the first time in centuries.

Just because Se Ri Pak won the '98 Open there and Yani Tseng, though struggling now, has dominated women's golf of late does not mean American women sit in a hot tub of tears of faded glory all day with a big, fat cigar and light them with hundred-dollar bills.

To that end, a similar view of the golfing American white person was shared by Eric Jackson, the 42-year-old father of Erica and Myah Jackson.

They're known as the "Birdie Sisters" - a pair of African-American youth-golf phenoms who travel the country wiping the floor with their competition. The girls are very pleasant. They even wished me a happy birthday on Facebook.

Mr. Jackson denies his children are focused on their race, but he seems to be in an interview with ESPNW, particularly on the subject of the game's expense.

"This is an expensive sport, and the better you get, the more expensive it becomes. The last club I bought Erica cost $1,000," Jackson said. "I believe golf is designed to price black people out, and if these girls don't get the financial backing they need, it could be the end of them competing."

Whoa. Are you for real? $1,000? Honma Golf makes expensive sticks, but there's no way the Jackson girls are playing those. That's point-making hyperbole. Take race out of it, however, and Jackson is not off his rocker.

Golf isn't designed to price a specific ethnicity or race out of the game. It's designed to price out pretty much everyone. The game costs too much (and, yes, takes too long for the hard-working or attention-lacking).

The sport is collectively desperate to destroy that barrier with programs designed to help pockets of potential golfers grow or dismiss it as a once-true myth by acknowledging the problem with lip service.

Curiously, several stereotypical views golfers have need to be broken to help the game. Golfers cannot expect to play Augusta National each and every time - either with its conditioning or length. A $40 green fee makes that rather implausible.

Then again, kvetching about how much the game costs is not limited to minorities. My in-law family was not happy about a $60 fee at a nearby course in western Pennsylvania. I'm not paying $400 to get on Pebble Beach. (Really it's more like $2,000, but I digress.)

Golf courses can make rounds as cheap as they would like - so long as they turn a modest profit - but it is the equipment required to play the game that keeps the most people from the first tee and the 19th hole.

Equipment manufacturers are always appealing to a players' faults with their advertising. Hit it further and straighter. Put more spin on the ball. Score better. It all comes with a premium price, however. Every piece of equipment is the Cadillac of its kind. Where are the Chevrolets?

For years, I've asked OEMs about the possibility of releasing a line of slightly out-of-date equipment with a lower price tag. The margins wouldn't be as high, but might get beginners or those with less disposable income to keep trading in and up to better equipment. Besides, it's liquid money on the balance sheet instead of depreciating inventory.

No dice. Speaking of, the golf industry could learn something from the gambling world.

Casinos welcome everyone. They may prey on the poor with promises of fun and money, but every tax bracket is allowed on the floor. The games range in price from the smallest increment to as much as the wealthiest person is willing to risk. Golf collectively needs to recognize the casino makes as much on the penny slots as they do in the high-limit room. There are more people pulling levers and pushing buttons looking for triple 7s than laying $100,000 on a game of 21.

Some people in the game get that, and they're beginning to truly address the issues. As their ideas catch on, the game will grow universally, regardless of one's DNA.

Returning to Eric, he seems to agree, sort of.

"If you are fat, skinny, tall or short you can play golf," Jackson said. "The easiest way into the history books is golf for a black woman."

So the game is for everyone, particularly those not naturally gifted with athletic talents, and that is precisely how the game can be exploited by those who are?

Golf should be and, I feel is, for everyone. There is no grand conspiracy to keep any one group of people away from the links. Perhaps, however, the game is presently guilty of an ignorant track record of implicitly precluding people from playing. At least it is progress from the sport's explicit exclusionary history.

About the author


Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]

Ryan occasionally links to merchants of his choosing, and GNN may earn a commission from sales generated by those links. See more in GNN's affiliate disclosure.

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