Life on the Greens

golfing

I’m not a golfer and I don’t know much about golfing. Not having the ability to play golf and not having the knowledge for the terminology used to communicate between golfers is what will inhibit my ability to study this group from an insider perspective. I will have to spend time with the golfing community to have a better understanding of their purpose and to become familiar with what the boundaries of this group are.

To overcome and isolate these preconceptions, I must learn the lingo and watch more golf. My initial impressions lead me to believe that golfers judge each other by their knowledge and passion for the game subsequently determining the permeability of this group’s culture. This is a group on consent. All involved in the golfing community made the decision to be a part of it freely and willingly for almost all of the same reasons as each other. Most see it as a leisurely sport to kill time in a place that they see as a relaxing environment and others see it as an opportunity to improve on their game.

I have been programmed to believe that the golfing community is comprised of retired or young and wealthy individuals. I live in a major golfing town where the LPGA is held every year and many athletes come here to play in their off seasons. I hope to discover any reality with playing golf that will change my perceptions about the golfing community.

“Most of us focus on the ball when we attempt a shot. But mastery of each course is as different as a fingerprint. No two courses are the same. All these elements are only part of the task at hand when you need to take into consideration the wind speed and direction as well as the particular type of iron or wood used as a golf club. Although we may not be consciously aware of it, playing golf often involves such tasks as enhancing our mechanical and meditation skills. ” Kelsey Ulep

I decided to study the golfing community because I always had a curiosity for what attracts people to either play or watch golf. I soon came to the realization that the majority of people that I know personally either played golf or watched the games religiously. It wasn’t hard for me to break the boundaries of the sport due to my personal acquaintances that are long time members of this society. The members of this group do not have any particular names for themselves nor each other. I hope that people who read this paper will have a better understanding of the golfing culture. A few questions at the forefront of this research are: Do you have any golf fetishes? Are there any taboos in Golf? Do you engage in any golfing rituals?

Golf is not gender specific and is playable by almost any age group. Although in professional sports there are two distinct professional golf associations, the LPGA and the PGA. The PGA (Professional Golfers Association) consists of highly paid pro golfers who are all male. This includes the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golfers Association) is exactly what the name implies. The LPGA includes the likes of Cristie Kerr of the United States and Jiyai Shin of South Korea. Some may consider these organizations sexist, but they do exist due to the different physical characteristics between men and women.

“The division of humans into two sexes and two genders, characteristics of most cultures, appears to be natural and inevitable. Sex assignment, which takes place at birth, is assumed to be permanent over a person’s lifetime. The view of sex and gender as a system of two opposing and non-changeable categories is taken for granted by most social science. It is difficult for most of us to even think about any alternative to this view.”

Cultural Anthropology 6th Edition, Nanda & Warms (1998), Chap 10, p73

The game of golf has been dominated by mostly Caucasian people with very limited participation from other races and nationalities. Since Tiger Woods has entered the game, a minority pro golfer, these concepts have largely changed due to his ability to play the game. Tiger Woods has a very respectable winning record and his ability to maintain concentration under heavy distractions has proven that minorities can also excel at the game of golf. Prior to the prominence of Tiger Woods, the idea of pro minority golfers was viewed as impossible due to the restriction of race and social status because of financial limitations. This has in effect made it possible for many different races, cultures and nationalities to engage the sport of golf with acceptance. This has helped Kelsey Ulep gain acceptance into the sport.

I spent time with golfers from varying cultures and social classes. These golfers love the game for what it offers them. They are compassionate towards the game and every year they engage in a ritualistic season of competition for the prize. The prize is a trophy that symbolizes a successful season and the holder of the trophy has proven to be the best for that particular year, for that particular age, and gender group. Many pro golfers have fetishes over trophies that are awarded but also endure long and highly competitive tournaments seeking victory to fulfill a strong desire to achieve a unique accomplishment.

Many games are played throughout the season and are sometimes played on various courses stretching across the country. My informant is named Kelsey Ulep, a 14 year old girl, the eldest in her family with a younger brother and sister, who has been playing the game since the age of eight. Her father, a good personal friend of mine named Clyde Ulep, used to be a casual player of the game. His inner social circle consisted of players who shared an equally mutual acceptance of the game.

Clyde introduced Kelsey to the game as part of the athletic sports program at her elementary school. After a short while of playing in numerous sporting events including; softball, basketball, and golf, Clyde began to notice Kelsey exceeding at the game of golf in particular. My informants helped me penetrate the boundaries of the golfing community by way of acquaintance. Many of the golf courses were private and required members only. I attended some of the public events that were located locally in my hometown.

Kelsey resting after a shot on the 8th hole. All of the golfers had to caddy their own bags.

“In the Philippines, as well as in many other Asian countries, children are rarely allowed, if at all, to “do their own thing” without the consent of the parents. Consultation with parents, older siblings, aunts and uncles, or grandparents is always sought. In America, I found that at an early age, a person is encouraged to be independent, to make up his or her mind, and to stand up for his or her rights. Individualism is encouraged among American youth, whereas among Asians, including Filipinos, group unity, togetherness, and harmony are valued.”

Growing Up American: Doing the Right Thing, Amparo B. Ojeda, Loyola University, Chapter 7, p50

During my times with the group, I noticed that they all had a shared interest in the game that involved competition and skill level. Many of the golfers that I studied were highly skilled teenage girls at the top of their league that were competing in the semi pros. These leagues are divided up into age groups and the competitions take place state wide and sometimes across the country. Many of the golfers had parents in tow, but the parents did not caddy for them. The golfers had to caddy their own clubs around the course as the parents would follow closely behind in golf carts. I myself had rented a golf cart for $16.00 which I placed on my credit card.

There are no specific names for the group. Meeting times vary and the locations vary too. The group is comprised of mostly experienced golfers ranging in ages from 9 to the late 60’s. The main reason for the group meetings is to meet with coaches who will help improve the group’s game play. They also network with each other regarding upcoming events and the possibility of gaining access to other activities outside of the golfing community. Many of these folks become long time friends of the course as well as their children who also participate in the group’s activities.

My observations will be based on that of an observer not a player. This group is mostly based on consent through the support of their parents financially. All of the parents there had a vested interest in their kids playing the game, as this sport is one of the one more expensive ones to support. Clyde personally spends upwards of $2,500.00 on a good set of golf clubs every year!

Kelsey sets up for the drive.

When I arrived, I met my informant Clyde Ulep, the parent of my number one informant Kelsey Ulep. He greeted me in the parking lot at the golf course, Haggin Oaks. Haggin oaks is an 18 holes semi pro golf course that serves the public and participates in tournaments across the country. After finding parking in the nearby parking lot I met my host Informant #2 Clyde and a personal photographer friend of mine, Jay Hunley. The first thing Clyde said to me is that we need to rent a golf cart. I personally have never driven a golf cart let alone step foot on the golf course nor did Jay Hunley, so this would be a pretty adventurous experience for the two of us being there. After renting the golf cart we loaded up our gear and headed for the course with Clyde as our host. He directed us to the greens where Kelsey was located. By the time we had arrived, Kelsey was on the 7th hole.

All of the golfers playing in the tournament that day were young Asian women. There were groups of young men playing as well. The groups were either all male or all female. Many of the female player’s parents had migrated from Hawaii many years ago and then settled down and raised their children in Northern California. Clyde is from Hawaii, born and raised, and according to him, the only things to do there were surf and golf.

During my observation, I had a rather interesting experience. Jay Hunley and I were sitting in the golf cart I had rented when one of the golfer’s balls struck the side of the golf cart about two feet from my head. There was very loud pop sound, which shook me up to say the least, then we watched the ball rolling in the direction from whence it came. A rather scary experience, but we laughed it off.

I noticed that the players had a mutual respect for each other’s space. They were courteous to each other when it was the others turn to hit the ball. While on the greens, it’s considered taboo to make noise when the players are on the course. Making noise is a distraction to the players and in most cases will break their concentration causing them to make mistakes and errors. An increase in the number of strokes lowers a player’s score. Many of the golfers would do a few practice swings in a ritualistic fashion with their golf club prior to striking the ball. These practice swings are what relieved them of tension and helped them stay focused. The practice swings also helped loosen the muscles that worked in conjunction with striking distance. The players would do long strokes with the golf clubs helping them generate greater distances on their strokes.

Symbolic meaning systems are learned, shared and patterned. For instance, while standing on the course there was little to no conversation taking place as we could hear the birds whistling about their busy day. All the golfers and the parents in attendance were familiar with the courtesies associated with being on the course. There were only words spoken after the ball was struck. People in attendance would make such comments as, “Great Shot”, “Good Shot Kelsey”, or “Stay Focused”. Kelsey’s father Clyde was stern with Kelsey because he feels that if he’s not, then she would loosen up on her game and start to become a sloppy player.

Speech acts are linguistic messages that convey emotions at the time they are given. They are meant as a way to show general concern or an appreciation for a person. A problem exists where some people who do not seem genuine with their greetings are thought of as inconsiderate or an un-friendly person

List of Speech Acts:

“Good Morning!” “Keep it on the greens!”
“Great Shot Kelsey!” “Use your range finder!”
“What’s up with that attitude?” “Don’t beach the ball!”
“There you go!” “Four”
“Have a good day!” “Way to go Kelsey”
“That’s it!” “Kelsey Maintain concentration”

“How are you?” “Fine, thank you, and you?” These are greetings that everybody in America hears and says everyday-salutations that come ready-made and packaged just like a hamburger and fries. There is no real expectation for any special information in response to these greetings. Do not, under any circumstances, take up any anyone’s time by responding in depth to the programmed query. What or how you feel at the moment is of little, if any, importance.”

The Young, the Rich, and the Famous: Individualism as an American Cultural Value, Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, University of Hawaii, Honolulu

I noticed several terms used throughout my survey of the golfing group that I studied. 1st act that I noticed was the word “Tee Off”. This terminology simply means that the golfer currently on the greens is ready for his next “Stroke” or swing. Tee is a tiny stand that is inserted into the ground upon which the golf ball sits waiting to be hit by the golfers club or “Iron”. “Iron” is another word used very often on the field. Iron is not necessarily the material that the clubs are made out of but not of wood and come in varying weights, thicknesses, sizes and shapes. The type of Iron used depends largely on the distance that is required to hit the ball.

Words such as Par, Eagle, Stroke, Green, Beached, and “Hole in one” just to name a few are some words that the group requires in order for the game to function. For instance, “Beached”

means that the ball has landed in the sands on the course. This is considered taboo for a golfer to hit the ball on the sands. This is a non-verbal speech act that signifies a player’s inability or lack of concentration to play the game.

Through my conversations with the Clyde, I learned about the intrinsic meanings behind the categories that I had observed, such as the meaning behind the words uttered by players, “Four”,

when the ball is hit at the wrong angle and people are in danger of being hit by the ball. Funny that I don’t recall hearing those words prior to my golf cart being struck by one such stray golf ball. These particular speech acts are a part of the golfing culture that is used to convey meanings that they understand.

The one thing that I noticed about my informant is that she is very timid when around cameras. We got some really great pictures and video of her on the field, but after we arrived her game play was all downhill from there. Granted she is a teenager, but she has been playing golf for almost 8 years and she is looking to go pro in a few years. Her father, a very good friend of mine, was a little upset with her attitude after we arrived with camera gear in tow. She told her father that she was having fun until we arrived. I guess the cameras were a little intimidating! Clyde told me that the cameras were good for her and that if she cannot handle being around two cameras, then she cannot make it in the pros. In frustration of Kelsey’s game play and bad attitude on the course he said to her, “What’s up with that attitude?”

The Taxonomies all served their purpose as the basis for forming the perfect golf playing atmosphere. I’ll discuss the category of objects. The golf club was of particular interest to me in that there were so many to choose from. Many of the golfers wear golf caps. These are caps that are open in the middle and consist only of the “ducks bill” portion of the hat. Many of the golfers also wore tee shirts, mostly white or black in color.

I focused on one particular speech act and examined its meaning:

“What’s up with that attitude?”
Purpose To impart a feeling of concern.
Message Content Improve your attitude, and you will have a better game.
Message Form Very Informal
Channel Speech
Setting On the course during game play.
Tone Extremely displeased
Participants Kelsey and Clyde, Informant #1 and #2 respectively
Outcome High tension environment

Golfers are fashionable and articulate people who are outgoing and friendly. I found that through my studies, I learned that golfers are content with their life styles and they are very optimistic about life. Golf provides them an outlet to go someplace with a pleasant environment while exercising and staying fit.

Taxonomies: Data and Analysis

People Places Activities Objects
Golf Players The Bar & Grill Playing Golf Flags
Senior Citizens Golf cart rental house Driving golf carts Golf Balls
Caddy Golf store Listening to music Golf Clubs
Mother w/kids Pick up Area Surfing on Laptop Golf Tees
Score keeper Parking lot Talking on mobile phone Golf Carts
Tournament Mgr Golf caps

At the conclusion of the golf game, Clyde had invited me and Jay Hunley to the bar for drinks. After I ditched the golf cart, “Ditched” is a speech act meaning to return the golf cart rental, we headed off to the bar were Clyde was awaiting us. The youths had a separate area outside for their entertainment.

We sat at the bar and engaged the bartender. Clyde asked, “Let me get a Shock Top Tall boy”.  I as well uttered the words, “I’ll also have a Shock Top Tall boy”. The bartender was very friendly and courteous towards Jay and me. Jay declined to drink so I bought a round for Clyde and Myself. After we had a few drinks, the conversation started to pick up. We discussed Kelsey’s game and also talked about the pro game on the Flat Panel TV mounted on the bar walls. There was a huge crowd of people, mostly seniors, inside the bar & Grill, all adults.

“Drinking and talking are inseparable. The lonely drinker who sits in silence is either drawn into conversation or leaves the bar. Everyone feels the anxious insecurity of such a person, seemingly sitting alone in the crowd at Brady’s. It is also believed that drinking affects the way people talk, lubricating the social interchange. If liquor flows each night at Brady’s like a stream from behind the bar, talking, laughing, joking, and dozens of simultaneous conversations cascade like a torrent from every corner of the bar.”

Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley & David W. McCurdy, 2008 Edition, Chapter 7, p77

With the advent of such players as Tiger Woods and Michelle Lee, the door of acceptance and viability has opened up for many varying cultures and nationalities. Tiger Woods has an affinity for, not only, minority youths but for all youths and their aspirations for achieving their dreams. Although race still an issue in the game of Golf, in recent years it has become increasingly more accepted not only for minorities in general, but also for female competitors as well. No one knows what the future holds and only time will tell, but will golf eventually become an all encompassing multicultural and widely accepted sport in elementary and high schools around the country? Only time will tell!

Golf flags symbolize to the players the next hole where the ball needs to sink.

Fellow competitor extends courtesy to Kelsey during a put.

Works Cited

  1. Cultural Anthropology 6th Edition,  Nanda & Warms (1998), Chap 10, p73
  2. Growing Up American: Doing the Right Thing, Amparo B. Ojeda, Loyola University, Chapter 7, p50
  3. The Young, the Rich, and the Famous:Individualism as an American Cultural Value Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, University of Hawaii, Honolulu
  4. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley & David W. McCurdy, 2008 Edition, Chapter 7, p77
  5. “How to Ask for a Drink”, James P. Spradely & Brenda J. Mann

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