Wednesday, September 9, 2015
The Golf Between Us
Taking a long, languid walk along the coast between Pevensey Bay and Bexhill in the dog days of the summer holidays, my tranquil enjoyment of the calm sea, the warming sun and the pale blue sky was disturbed. Not by the rattle of the occasional train on the East Coastway Line, nor by families on the beach determined to wring out the last drops of summer fun from a mainly soggy August. What disturbed me was the sound of violence: shouts and blows.
Just past Normans Bay, the countryside above the coastline turns from coarse flat farmland to manicured and modest undulations. And it was from there that the sound – and accompanying sights – were coming. A man, dressed in bright checked clothing, was swearing loudly and beating the undergrowth at the edge of the verdant fairway. That was when I remembered: at this point on the coastal path, a narrow road is all that separates walkers from Cooden Beach golf course. It was Mark Twain who described golf as “a good walk spoiled” and, in my case, it was.
Golf is very popular in the affluent counties of southern England. There are some 30 golf clubs in East Sussex and, with the typical course occupying 120 acres, this means that it dominates huge swathes of countryside and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are guzzled up by the greens and fairways, each day. As a sport, it is not exactly jumpers for goalposts. The resources required to play 18 holes have a massive environmental impact.
The world of golf is now responding to the need to be greener with smarter design so that courses occupy less land and require less water. But it is not the environmental aspect that makes me object to golf. Its popular image as a sport for businessmen – deals done on the course, especially the 19th hole – middle-managers and off-duty policeman is anathema to any liberal-minded soul. It is the sport of the social-climber, the arriviste, the nouveau riche, the petit bourgeois. In the 1980s television series The Wind in the Willows, based on Kenneth Grahame’s Edwardian children’s novel, the ludicrous Mr Toad takes up one fad after another; one of his crazes being, of course, golf. But it is in J.B. Priestley’s 1945 stage play, An Inspector Calls, that literature gives us definitive guidance on golf. When the pompous capitalist, Birling, tries to intimidate the avenging socialist, Inspector Goole, by telling him that he plays golf with his boss the Chief Constable, Goole replies drily and simply, “I don’t play golf”.