Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why men play golf.

Extracts from The Golf Gene
by John Tierney
for The New York Times, August 20, 2005

As an action-packed sport, golf ranks down with baseball and bowling ... Golf features no body contact, no car crashes and no cheerleaders, yet men keep watching. They make up more than 80 percent of the TV audience for golf.

The male-female ratio is about the same as in paintball, a war game that always made more sense to me than golf. My basic feeling toward golf - hatred - probably has something to do with how badly I did the couple of times I played, but incompetence didn't seem to stop other guys from becoming obsessed with it.

I couldn't imagine what possessed them until I learned about disc golf, which began as a mellow sport for both sexes three decades ago, played by hippies in Grateful Dead T-shirts who flung Frisbees into baskets mounted on poles in public parks. Today ... more than 90 percent of the disc golf players, pros and duffers, are men. The best explanation I can offer for the disparity is what happened to me the first time I teed off several years ago.

Our foursome started at a tee on high ground, looking down a tree-lined swath of grass ... After we flung our discs, as we headed down the fairway, I felt a strange surge of satisfaction. I couldn't figure out why until it occurred to me what we were: a bunch of guys converging on a target and hurling projectiles at it.

Was golf the modern version of Pleistocene hunting on the savanna? The notion had already occurred to devotees of evolutionary psychology ... They point to ... research showing that people in widely different places and cultures have a common vision of what makes a beautiful landscape - and it looks a lot like the view from golfers' favorite tees.

The ideal is a vista from high ground overlooking open, rolling grassland dotted with low-branched trees and a body of water ... an open savanna where prey could be spotted ... a water hole ... trees offering safe hiding places for hunters.

The descendants of those hunters seem to have inherited their fascination with hitting targets, because today's men excel at tests asking them to predict the flights of projectiles. They also seem to get a special pleasure from watching such flights, both in video games and real life. No matter how many times male pilots have seen a plane land, they'll watch another one just for the satisfaction of seeing the trajectory meet the ground.

That's the only plausible excuse for watching golf. Men, besides having a primal affection for the vistas of fairways, get so much joy watching that little ball fly toward the green that they'll sit through everything else. One sight of a putt dropping in the hole makes up for long moments watching pudgy guys agonize over which club to use.

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