Is Golf An Upper-Class Sport?: Still Elitist?
Golf still has an image problem. It is still seen as an elitist upper-class pursuit by a large segment of the population. Expensive equipment, pricey green fees, subscriptions plus pages and pages of rules that need to be followed make the public jump to the conclusion that golf is only for the rich!
Let’s try and debunk this notion that golf is elitist.
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Golf Is For Rich People And Is Too Expensive To Play
Certainly, it was the preserve of the rich during its beginnings because they were the only ones that could afford the equipment to play the game. However, in the most developed golf markets (USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) there are also large numbers of golfers drawn from the working classes. The local private golf club is no longer just the preserve of professional or wealthy people.
Yes, there are always clubs that will remain unattainable for the ordinary working man but most people aren’t going to drive round in a Porsche, Ferrari or Aston Martin. Nobody claims that driving is only for the upper classes because certain vehicles have six-figure price tags. Just because a percentage of clubs have very high membership rates doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of golf clubs that are within reach of the majority of working people.
I know the UK golf market best and it’s quite possible in most parts of the country to join a golf club for around £1000 per annum or as little as £600 in some cases. Compare that with the price of a season ticket to a Premier League football club. These range from £300 to almost £1000 and allow you to watch 19 matches per year while your membership fees would give you unlimited use of the course! Nobody claims football is an upper-class or elite sport!
Even if you aren’t able to afford a subscription there is still the option of playing on less expensive municipal courses. In the UK many of the larger cities have a number of golf courses owned by the local authority that allows public play.
A round at a major championship venue may be beyond the means of most golfers but there are plenty of decent golf courses out there offering excellent green fee rates via their websites or via GolfNow.
The next issue that gets raised is the cost of equipment. Now I’m the first to admit that golf equipment has become crazily expensive, particularly in the last few years but you don’t need to buy a new set of clubs that often. There are also plenty of less expensive options. You could buy your equipment from a direct-to-consumer brand which would save you 50% when compared with the likes of Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade. There are also plenty of ways to purchase used equipment that is available for a fraction of the price.
No doubt detractors will argue that football (soccer), tennis, basketball and many other sports can be played much more cheaply than sports such as golf. While that’s true to an extent are we going to label any sport that requires reasonable amounts of equipment as upper-class sports?
While a group of kids might be happy using jumpers for goalposts if you are playing a serious game then you would want a pitch in a reasonable state with proper goals, a referee and linesmen. None of those are free!
I would argue golf isn’t that expensive when you consider the amount of time you could spend playing for the money.
Golf Is Elitist
Particularly in the UK golf was seen as an elitist pursuit. The golf club was the natural habitat of the social climber. Archaic rules on things like dress codes were seen as barriers to ordinary people. Large joining fees almost seemed designed to keep out the riffraff plus you almost always needed at least two current members to support your application.
An application for membership often had more to do with improving one’s social status than a genuine desire to play golf.
The sport has finally realized that it needs to be more inclusive and accessible if it is going to survive. Dress codes tend to be more relaxed. Wives and children are increasingly more welcome than they were before.
Over in the United States, many country clubs are totally private and come with five or six-figure initiation fees along with monthly food and beverage levies that would make a British golfer weep! However, even here there is a wide range of options to suit most budgets.
Despite the rise of Tiger Woods, there is probably still a perceived lack of diversity among golfers. This may be due in part to not having role models that can directly introduce you to the game.
In Europe golf tends to be much more family oriented since it has only become really popular fairly recently.
Different bodies have introduced schemes to introduce golf to young people from all walks of life like the First Tee initiative.
Golf Has Too Many Rules
Golf is renowned for its rules. Whether the rules of play or those laid down by the committee. Governing bodies try to minimize the effect as much as possible and club managements are realizing that they need to remove as many obstacles as possible in order to recruit and retain members and green fee payers alike.
In the 30 years or so that I have played, I’ve noticed that rules tend to be much more relaxed now than they ever were.
Golf Takes A Long Time
Unfortunately, golf does take a fair amount of time even if you are a reasonably quick player since you are always at the mercy of the groups in front. If you were working long hours in a manual job then you probably didn’t want to spend four hours and more on a leisure pursuit because you simply didn’t have that much spare time.
It’s not written in stone that you have to play 18 holes every time you go out, however. If you are time-poor then maybe nine holes in the evening during the summer could be where you get your golfing fix.
Clubs are realizing that people are much choosier these days about how they spend their leisure time and if they are to remain relevant going forward they need to be more family-friendly and have a wider variety of subscription options rather than just seven-day!
Golf Uses Lots Of Land
One of the more obvious criticisms leveled at the sport of golf is that it uses a lot of land. Compared with the majority of other hobbies it certainly does and there’s not really any way to reduce it and still consider that you are playing golf.
The sheer cost of the land and maintaining it as a golf course means that a subscription is never going to be all that cheap however private golf facilities that are owned by the members will be run for their benefit and if the costs are getting too high they can always elect a new management committee to do things differently!
In reality how many people have their own football pitch, boxing ring, tennis court, swimming pool, etc? Most of these facilities tend to be provided by local authorities while golf courses were usually created by like-minded individuals that wanted to play the game.
Is Golf An Upper-Class Sport: Conclusion
Compared with equestrian sports and sailing, golf in most cases is not that expensive. You no longer need to be in the right career or know the right people just to join your local private club. While there is still room for improvement I think golf has made great strides over the past 30 years or so. If you were of the opinion that golf is an elitist rich man’s sport then hopefully I have at least given you some food for thought.