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COMMENTARY

Water-Hogging, Family-Busting and Other Golf Crimes

July 23, 1996|DOUG ADRIANSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Golf is a tool of Satan that should be wiped from the face of the Earth.

What gets me so teed off about a bunch of weirdly dressed guys with tassels on their shoes and dimples in their balls?

Little things like . . .

* Golf courses turn pristine wilderness areas enjoyable by all into bland swaths of boring grass reserved for the few--if you can get a tee time.

* Golf courses hog way more than their share of the water, and pollute what's left with fertilizers and pesticides.

* Golf's role as business-world bonding ritual is a sinister plot to keep insiders in and outsiders out.

* Golf's sacred inner circle, the private country club, is often a refuge for the sort of genteel racism, sexism and anti-Semitism that we should be far beyond by now.

* And then there's "Honey, I shrunk the weekend" syndrome--not exactly child neglect, perhaps, but subtract a few five-hour golf outings from the downtime of today's busy dad and you start to wonder how avid golfers like Dan Quayle and O.J. Simpson find time to be such champions of family values.

I know what you're saying: Come on, Doug, what do you really think?

Well, just one more gripe:

Golf is not cool. No matter how many Dockers-wearing, minivan-driving, olestra-sucking boomers take it up. Sorry.

*

I grew up in suburbs near golf courses I came to think of as the Rolling Hills of Flabby White Guys. My parents played a little, but not nearly enough to poison my soul against the game. (They once entered a hometown tournament, where I got to meet the actual Perry Como. Which, for a surly young Led Zeppelin fan, was an unforgettable thrill.)

Oh, golf courses have their upside. One night in my teens, walking home from a basketball game, a girlfriend and I took a shortcut across the Rolling Hills of Flabby White Guys and paused to admire the stars. One thing led to another (Hmmm) and another (Yes) and might have led to still others (Ooh, baby!) had not the automatic sprinklers chosen that precise moment to kick on, leaving us both drenched and in serious need of an explanation for the folks at home.

Who cared back then that a golf course requires six or seven times as much fertilizer and pesticides as farmland? And how bad is the occasional fish kill or bird die-off, compared to the amazing ability of a golf course to sell real estate and keep hubbies out from under foot?

And water? Water is everywhere--isn't it? Drive across the desert or through the arid valleys of Southern California. Behold the vast oases of neon green amid the hibernating chaparral. Marvel at the priorities of a region where, for a century, water has been paid for with blood.

George Martin of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, says close monitoring helps golf courses use less water per acre than the average backyard. State mandates and the pressure of huge bills encourage them to use as little water as possible. Still, their thirst is enormous.

"I'm not aware of an 18-hole course that uses less than 250,000 gallons a day," says Mark Massara of the Sierra Club. He is one of a worldwide chorus fighting new courses and urging players to lobby for greener management of old ones.

"There's nothing wrong with the game itself," he says. "But you have thousands of superintendents who want to do the right thing but are buried under propaganda from the chemical companies and unnaturally high expectations from players and course owners."

A little history. Golf was invented in Scotland in the 1500s, played on the otherwise unusable "links" between coast and farmable land. The whole challenge was steering the ball around nature's foliage and terrain. The concept of rearranging mountains, planting high-maintenance turf and manicuring the greens smoother than carpet didn't catch on until the 1900s. Once it did, bills for fertilizer, pesticides, water and maintenance soared. So did pollution.

Some in the industry are working to clean up golf, or at least its reputation. Last year golfers and eco-types thrashed out guidelines, such as "Recognize that golf courses are managed land areas that should complement the natural environment" and "Support maintenance practices that protect wildlife and natural habitat."

Massara was in on that effort, though the Sierra Club opted not to endorse the results. "They didn't go far enough and they were voluntary. Now, developers of every stripe are claiming they have environmentally sensitive golf courses when it's not measurable. There's a great opportunity to mislead and confuse."

In Japan, at least one course periodically broadcasts soothing music across the fairways--cuing everyone to put down their clubs and pull weeds for a few minutes.

Now that's cool.

*

Golf's new popularity, we're told, is bringing new levels of diversity to the course. It's no longer a refuge for the rich, the white, the old, the male . . . .

Donkey divots.

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