New York Times
The Why of A Million
On 2,200 Links, Work perhaps $125,000,000, All Sorts of Americans Are Playing
the Scotch Game
By M. B. Levick
Beyond the end of a thousand Main Streets, along the Mississippi and on the seaboards, the county road dips to the roll of the prairie; keep on between the rippled wheat and a little way beyond, no matter what the State that claims this Gopher Prairie, you come upon the golf links.
Take wings and look down on the country within a radius of fifty miles of Manhattan; count as you fly, and you will fin 139 golf courses, one following the other so closely it seems as if a player might carry on from links to links for miles. Not a bay, bight or brook in all this sweep of country but appears in the birdseye no more than a golferís water hazard.
Golf today is the first sport in America. Baseball is but a spectacle in comparison. What has brought this about in the thirty-five years since a few New Yorkers laid out a six-hole course, and, though known to their gibing neighbors as the Apple Tree Gang, organized the first golf club in the United States and set about their conquest?
Today there are a million golfers in the land. New York alone can turn out from 50,000 to 100,000 in the metropolitan district. From coast to coast and from border to Mexican line, the investment in golf courses and clubhouses is between $100,000,000 and $125,000,000. This season there are 2,200 golf links in use. Of that total between 400 and 500 belong to new clubs and have been opened for play only this year. Three years have seen a tremendous increase in the number of course; the next three will being an even greater growth. There is hardly a town of 10,000 population throughout the Middle West which has not its nine-hole course or its plans for one.
The answer involves a pretty problem in comparative psychology. Golf came to us from Scotland. The Scot is frugal, reserved, deliberate, taciturn, canny and — at least in his aspect to the foreign eye — dour. The American is extravagant and hurried, talkative, impatient, a shaker of hands and a joiner. Yet the Scotís favorite pastime, built up by him through centuries, has become the Americanís favorite game within a few years. The American, going about it in businesslike fashion, has built up a golf industry the like of which was never disclose to St. Andrew in the old chapís rosiest dream.
Did prohibition do it? Anglomania? Sheer love of a game? Set forth the problem to the sociologist, the psychologist, the business man and the player, and each will tell you first that there is no finer game for a man — and each will give personal testimony to prove it. Then, each in his own way, they will go further into cause and effect.
The sociologist tells you that in golf the man of today finds release from the realities of life. That golf inherently takes the step which often balks the theatre and the novel: it makes the spectator a participant, an actor. That in golf the Puritan inhibitions against play are outargued by the factor of exercise, health. And finally that the recent growth of the game is, as a mass phenomenon, akin to the popularity of the flivver; golf has tapped new social levels which welcome it for the implications of social status the game has attained in its past.
The psychologist points out that golf makes it possible for all ages to satisfy the desire for competition.
The business man indicates the effects on land values, transportation, the designing of clothes, advertising, a dozen other items which show the gameís bearings on American social and economic life. And if his mood is frank he will name you men in trade and the profession who have built successful careers on the gregarious links.
And finally the golfer answers by waving one hand at the statistics and the other at the golf bag in the corner of his office.
Let us take them in that order.
First comes the sociology, Dr. W. I. Thomas, whose professional observations of social forms and habits goes back thirty-five years. He has published books on various aspects of various subjects. Moreover, as far back as the middle Ď90s he and another professor, Dr. Charles Zueblin, induced the Chicago city park authorities to lay out one of the first public links in America. It was Chicagoís first. "Not more than a dozen people will come to play," said the Park Superintendent, but in the first season there were a thousand in a day, and now Chicago has nine public courses.
Ask "Wherefore the rise of golf ? And he says:
"It was necessary for the American to have some sane relief from life. In early times American Calvinism was severe toward every form of pleasure. The attitude was like the Scottish prohibition against picking flowers on Sunday. This is gradually disappearing. The change within a lifetime has been noticeable — not as a revolt, but as the admission that forms of conduct are permissible. This is reflected in the attitude toward the theatre and the novel.
"There has been a disguised entrance of pleasure in all aspects of American life. The doctrine of health has been a big factor in spreading golf. A man may not be unhealthy, yet he justifies his playing on the ground of bodily good. He may play so much it injures his health and he give the same excuse. The idea of sin and guilt attaches to any sport — the health argument is a justification. And golf is particularly suitable.
"In all efforts for relief from life there is to be found this element of justification. In travel, in reading. If a man wants to see a circus, he takes a child along. But health is in itself a complete justification.
"The golfer who goes to his club more than one or twice a week has a sense of guilt. In general, his fellow club members disapprove. The older business men are critical. It seems to them that not only is this man cheating, in a way, by improving his game through too much devotion; they think that so much time given even to golf is inimical to organized social life. The line they draw is that of health. With that they save their face.
"Gambling is an element which has made golf popular. There is hardly any American play without gambling. but that is not fundamental. The game was due to come ahead without any psychological transferences of that sort. Golf admits to a game a class usually, because of age, beyond the gaming limit. This is, in its way, as important a change as the entrance of women into business. The joining tendency must also be considered: the desire to belong to something fro business or other reasons.
"The golfer is not a spectator but a player. It is a big psychological factor. In the theatre an important step is taken when the audience becomes fused with the players, when it is carried forward as part of the play. On the golf course this occurs from the start.
"There has been a general justification of sport through the Y. M. C. A. The organization was first Christian. Then it came to include health elements— sports designated as health processes rather than as pleasure. The Christian who wins respect by his muscle is really a serviceable, good type of Christian. ĎThe fighting parsoní is a stock character. Golf, however, is not a substitute for ethical life, although players who believe their lives are prolonged by golf are doubtless better church members because of that: they justify themselves by going to church dutifully.
"Beyond doubt the social status has been a factor, especially in the last few years wit their increase in public links and the development of department storesí trad in golf supplies. The automobile has made it a possibility for everybody; it has become the same with golf. New social strata have been reached. It is an example of the penetration of culture. Studies have been made of the speed with which ideas advance. It took bronze 500 years to travel from the Mediterranean to England. Golf has mover faster."
Listen now to the psychologist. He is Dr. John B. Watson, one of the first of the behaviorists. The behaviorist holds that conduct is reaction; it is the key to the mind. One of his tenets is that each individual when born has within him the potentials of a hundred thousand motions and attitudes — swing and stance along with the rest — but that only a small fraction of these are developed by the needs of life.
"The motions in golf," says Dr. Watson are neither as active nor as extensive as those in tennis. Sheer activity will not account for the spread of golf.
"I was in Baltimore when one of the first public courses was laid out. The city fathers said that boys and girls would not play golf. They called it a rich manís game. Their prediction was wrong. Golf has drawn prestige from above. People who are not rich play it because it has been called a rich manís game.
"It is the one game in which there is a handicap for neither youth nor age. The age limit in tennis is 40 or thereabouts; in track athletics it is 30, in boxing the same. But in golf you see John D. Rockefeller playing at 99 and all over the country caddies from 8 years old up are at it. And the scores of all of them are within the same range.
"Golf has been almost co-extensive with the hygiene movement which has been stress by life insurance companies and schools and other agencies. In one city the insurance companies brought about the establishment of a free links for their policyholders. Nothing takes the kinks out of a man faster than a game of golf, and aside from that, the sunlight element alone has a factor. Nowadays they treat rickety children by putting them naked in the sunlight.
"Psychologically, one of the prime causes of golfís popularity is the ease with which competitive values can be secured. The player can compete with himself — play against his old score. He can compete with par. He can compete with Colonel Bogey. He can play against other players. The individual himself can get a basis of comparison as in no other game. And all the time he can watch and study the formation of his golf habits.
"The recent increase of golfing is a result of there being more wealth. Prohibition has had no effect on golf clubs: there simply hasnít been prohibition. And the gameís new popularity is not a rebound from war tenseness: that has found outlet in other ways.
"But there is more wealth now and more leisure. Wages have risen. Workmen are coming into the social scheme as never before. They make more money than the clerk class. And they are playing golf."
Now to the testimony of the business man. The spokesman is one of whose own field, real estate, illustrates more strikingly than any other the effects of golf. He is M. Morgenthau, Jr., former President of the Real Estate Association of New York. He says"
"We feel so very strongly regarding the benefits of locating our community developments adjacent to golf and country clubs that we have almost made it a rule to handle only properties immediately adjoining or readily accessible to a country club.
"People have begun to appreciate the tremendous advantage of living near a private park of a hundred acres or more. They will not only pay a bigger prices, but will buy more quickly. The additional value runs all the way from 50 to 100 per cent. Lots which ordinarily would sell from $300 to $500 would immediately be worth from $450 to $1,000 if adjoining a well-developed country club."
This, moreover, is as true in Tallahassee or Dubuque as in New York.
Finally we come to the golfer himself. The young golfer, the professional, the champion — each in his own way, would say the same thing. But listen to a veteran: Frank Presbrey, thrice President of the United States Seniorsí Golf Association. His subject is "How Golf Prolongs Oneís Youth."
"If testimony were needed as to what golf has done to keep men young, it can be found in any one of the seniorsí tournaments * * * where nearly four hundred men, all more than 55 years of age, gather for their annual tournament. Of the players in a recent meet there were five over 80, and upwards of thirty beyond threescore and ten, while those between 60 and 70 were too numerous to count. It is doubtful if any gather is more representative of the leading men of American in professional and business life. It includes Justices of the United States Supreme Court and of the highest courts of several States., bankers of international fame, well known men of letters, clergymen, physicians and editors; in fact every walk of life, * * * The hold that golf has taken on the American business and professional man is so incomprehensible that misconception of the game by those who know nothing of its fascination is really to be expected."
Golf was once regarded as a fad, yet the cash investment in the game is tremendous. According to recent
(27) figures gathered by John G. Anderson, editor of The American Annual Golf Guide, the present season has been marked by an increase of nearly a third in the number of courses in the United States. And courses require ample land. The average eighteen-hole links takes, say, 140 acres. Proportion this for nine-hole course and eighteen, and assume the total number of courses to be equally divided, and the result is an aggregate area of 220,000 acres.
That is the entire area of Greater New York, with enough left over to play junior tournaments on the total area of Boston. Some golf courses cost $1,000,000. Take $50,000 as the average course for links and clubhouse and the investment is $110,000,000 — probably under the fact. Six million dollars is spent annually on bags and balls and clubs. The manufacture of golf supplies is becoming a great industry in itself.
With the change, golf has penetrated further and further into diverse phases of American life. It has helped to shape present-day transportation. Who can say how many automobiles have been sold because of it? Railroads now run golferís special trains. Extra sections are carried on the expresses running to such places as Pinehurst, which was insignificant a few years ago, but now draws so many golfers that 1,152 tee off on a single day. Plans for an air line between New York and Newport were recently announced; the service is designed in part to save golfers four hoursí time each way. Even the Atlantic liner is affected; one of the biggest steamship lines issues special placards advertising swift service for golfers going to the big matches in England and Scotland.
The fashion designer adds a word. The personnel manager. The sales manager promoting his intra-company tourney for the sake of morale.
Couť comes and in every State determined elderly men say nightly, "Every day, in every way, my game is getting better and better." The British open championship comes to America and hallelujahs rise from Vermont to Nebraska and Arizona. Prohibition is decreed and hotel keepers and resorts managers lay out links as a substitute diversion. And when a former caddy rises to championship, a million lads or more grit their teeth and vow to copy him. Golf has given the rising generation an equivalent of the successful pugilist, idol of other days; it has given a substitute for the movie hero into whose pocket money pours as in a scenario. For when a professional champion can make $25,000 a year (as he does in this period of record-breaking galleries), he can count on the emulation of close to four boys out of every hundred in the country.