Sunday, September 20, 2009

But Is Golf A Sport?

The other day I was having a smoke at the office in the tiny shed we have allocated for those - like myself - who are addicted to nicotine.

In came one of my co workers – a young man who is by all accounts quite a college football fan.

During the course of our conversation, the question came up "yes – but is golf really a sport?"

"Golfers are not athletes" stated my young debating partner.

"Golf involves a precise movement of skill and agility to control the distance and aim over often substantial distances", I countered. "It ain't easy!"

"I don't consider any game you play while smoking a cigarette and maybe drinking a beer or two to be a sport!", countered my young elitist friend.

I stated my opinion that he was confusing sports with athletics, and my reasons why. And we left cordially agreeing to disagree.

My position on this topic has always been that the term "sports" has always been confused with the term "athletics". To me the matter has always been "what is the true definition of the term 'sports'"?

I have always defined sports as "the competition between two or more parties".

And I defined athletics as "the demonstration of a physical feat".

So by my definition – a spelling bee is a sporting competition. A weekly game of bridge would also be a sporting event. And yes, hitting a golf ball is a demonstration of an athletic feat.

The term "good sport" thereby meant one who competed fairly and never complained about the result of the matching of skill.

I always thought the word sport to be rather vague – and if you wanted to better categorize such sporting events – you would use terms "athletics" or "chance" – like a game of black jack - to better specify the type of competition.

But for all the debates, and for all my certainty that I was right in my stance – I never looked the words up in the dictionary or in the encyclopedia.

Until today.

The main definition of the word Sport comes closest to this explanation. This definition comes directly from the Merriam-Webster's dictionary:

"to amuse oneself : frolic <lambs sporting in the meadow> b : to engage in a sport"

Okay – nothing revealing about this. According to Merriam-Webster - it simply means to have fun.

So on to the Encyclopedia Britannica … how do they discuss the topic of Sport?

"physical contests pursued for the goals and challenges they entail. Sports are part of every culture past and present, but each culture has its own definition of sports. The most useful definitions are those that clarify sport's relationship to play, games, and contests. "Play," wrote the German theorist Carl Diem, "is purposeless activity, for its own sake, the opposite of work." Humans work because they have to; they play because they want to. Play is autotelic—that is, it has its own goals. It is voluntary and uncoerced. Recalcitrant children compelled by their parents or teachers to compete in a game of football (soccer) are not really engaged in sport. Neither are professional athletes if their only motivation is their paycheck. In the real world, as a practical matter, motives are frequently mixed and often quite impossible to determine. Unambiguous definition is nonetheless a prerequisite to practical determinations about what is and is not an example of play"

Well, that helps a little more.

But according the good German theorist Carl Diem – the term Professional Sports is a paradox, a contradiction unto itself?

I jumped over to Wikipedia to find out just who this Diem fellow is and why he is the authority used by such a prestigious reference as Encyclopedia Brittanica:

"Dr. Carl Diem (born June 24, 1882, W├╝rzburg – December 17, 1962, Cologne) was a German sports administrator, and as Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Berlin Olympic Games, the chief organizer of the 1936 Olympic Summer Games (sometimes referred to as the "Nazi Olympics"). He created the tradition of the Olympic torch relay, and was an influential historian of sport, particularly the Olympic games."

Okay – Mr. Diem was a Nazi with a bias towards amateur athletics. (My apologies to any Nazi's out there who think my terminology is insensitive).

But no place do I see the a correlation to the athletic prowess of the competitors in a sporting competition.

So I hold true to my own self concocted definitions stated earlier – that sport is merely a competition – and will add only that it is truly sport when those competing enjoy the activity.

So golf indeed is a sport.

You play golf. You might work on your game in practice – but you actually play the game when you are on the course.

How many times have you heard a professional golfer say that they would quit playing the day it wasn't fun anymore?

Why would you play if it wasn't fun.

And in any case – who is going to look me in the eye and tell me that Tiger Woods is not an athelete?

Is golf a sport?

Damn right it is.

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