ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1997


1996 Baldrige Winner Continues To Grow
Information Sharing, Dispersing Control and High Quality Standards Keys to CRI Success

Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To Dramatic Process Improvement
USBI's 'Kaizen Events' Working to Keep NASA Flying

Electronic Monitoring: There's No Place Like Home

When Cultures Collide...
Keep The Best-Lose The Rest


by Peter Block

We...They...Them...And Us
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


by Peter Block

Sports have become a symbol of Western culture, and the explosive interest in golf is a prime example. Golf shops have sprouted in airports. Tiger Woods will soon run for President of the United States.Middle-aged men stand in line clasping their hands and swinging their arms back and forth in what I thought might be a form of exotic prayer.

It turns out they were just practicing their golf swing.

I have concluded that golf is not a leisure sport, more an extension of corporate life.

Golf is the perfect corporate sport.
While it has always been the sport where buyers and sellers can play a game together and call it business, it is more than that. It is a metaphor for American corporatism. Corporatism is a mindset, an underpinning to materialism. It values:

  • Creation of wealth as the main point
  • Belief in unlimited economic growth and development
  • Domination of the environment and the consumption of natural resources
  • A religious belief in control, consistency and predictability.

On the surface golf is an engaging, benign sport, social in nature and played on rolling hills and wooded fairways. Its power, though, has more to do with the affirmation of materialistic values. In that way it is a disturbing sport.

Golf Affirms The Centrality Of Wealth
Stepping on the course is a ticket to a world of privilege, where money and time are of little concern. For a few hours we are all rich and voting yes to shareholder value. The game is expensive. Golf clubs can cost $1,000. A driver alone costs up to $600. And you need a new one every couple of years. A round of golf takes four to five hours, with most of the time spent waiting or traveling between shots. Paying so dearly in dollars and in time makes us each an insider, an elite, part of the ruling class, even when playing on a public course.

Golf Is A Loss Leader For Economic Development
Many golf courses are built for the expressed purpose of selling real estate. Deserts, mountainsides and farms that were previously 'wasted', are now home to world class golf courses and it is these golf courses that sell housing. Golf becomes a land development tool.
Sun City, Florida might still be the Everglades if it were not for the golf courses that gave rise to a retirement community. Scottsdale and Palm Springs might still be desert if it were not for the game of golf.

Golf Courses Assault The Physical Environment
Golf courses are one of the few structures that can be seen easily from an airplane. Back on the ground, golf courses are like large, manicured English country estates where the dangers of the jungle are pushed back and the yard is mowed by someone else. Nature is harnessed with a manufactured beauty that reinforces the sense of royalty, security and all things being right with the world. What goes unspoken is that there are more chemicals poured on to a golf course than on to Dennis Rodman's hair. But this is not really a problem as long as you do not clean your golf ball with your tongue.

Golf's Love Of Rules Is A Favorite Child Of The Corporate Mind
The "Rules of Golf" is a literature in its own right. There are summer rules, winter rules, local rules. Each hole can have its own set of instructions. Carts are allowed on the fairway, forbidden on the fairway, used only at 90 degrees to the fairway, and these can change every day. Some trees are in bounds; some are out of bounds. If you hit into some trees, you can place the ball in the open, but hit into other trees, you are required to back away under the branches.
What is redemptive though, is that, much like life in the corporation, the rules are largely ignored. Everyone who plays the game bends the rules at one time or another. So it is a game of both larceny and forgiveness. Except when the game is played on national television. Then if you place a towel under your knees so that you protect your pants while you are trying to hit a ball on wet ground under a low lying branch, you are penalized two strokes for improving your lie.

A Final Warning
If the above are not reminder enough of the corporate mind, golf is a consistent assault on your self-esteem. It is a game that is impossible to master. It is the only sport played with a ball where the ball does not move. And you can still not hit it the way you want. You get so desperate for some slight optimism that when you finally, accidentally, hit a good shot you proclaim, "That shot will bring me back to play another day." Which means that with the exception of that rare moment, you were in a constant state of willingness to quit the game.
The impossibility of the game is so blatant, that the system for rating your skill level is called a 'handicap.' Everyone who plays is handicapped. Bad golfers have a high handicap, good golfers have a low handicap. Every hole has a prescribed number of strokes, and this is called 'par.' In fact, the vast majority of those who play the game can not meet this standard even occasionally. That is why everyone is handicapped. How can we convince ourselves to play a game where failure is so institutionalized?

So here is the bottom line, give yourself and the environment a break and stop playing this game. It has no health benefit, it is bad for your confidence, your wallet, and it reinforces some of the darker values of this culture. Besides, if you stop playing or refuse to take up the game, the courses will be empty enough so I can play a round in less than four hours.

Oct. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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