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Take Golf Out Of The Rough, Into The 21st Century

<strong>Write This Down:</strong> Keeping your own score does not make you more noble, says Frank Deford.
Write This Down: Keeping your own score does not make you more noble, says Frank Deford.

When my old pal the Sports Curmudgeon had some mildly churlish things to say about golf a few weeks ago, both he and I were upbraided by loyal linksters. As one snapped at me, "You don't know anything about golf."


But I know all about golf propaganda.

Because major golf tournaments continue to maintain a 19th century pose and require golfers to keep their own score, instead of having a paid scorekeeper with a 21st century, electronic device — as is the case with every other big-time sport — golf loves to pretend that this somehow makes the sport more noble. The tiresome network shills can never stop boasting about how golf is a more honorable game than all the others.

But really, it's just silly. Is there anything more archaic than requiring the golfers — after a round that has dragged on for several hours, with every shot recorded on TV — to repair to some secret rendezvous where, I believe, there is an abacus, to make sure everybody can count to 71? Then they sign their scorecards like they were the Declaration of Independence.

Imagine: Sign here, Mr. LeBron James, to certify that you really did make the 36 points we all saw you duly score, on network television.

The primary contention that golfers alone keep their own scores is, itself, a shibboleth. Go to any club or public park and watch the tennis players, the handball players, the guys playing basketball. They all keep their own score, just like golfers do. And for that matter, you don't think it's more ethically challenging calling a cross-court shot your tennis opponent slugged into the corner than hitting your own stationary ball sitting there still on a tee?

The only difference between golf and every other sport is that golf alone ludicrously persists in having its professionals play by the same antiquated rules as weekend duffers. Oh, I've got a good idea! Let's get rid of linesmen and have Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray keep their own score at Wimbledon, to prove how honorable they are.

And oh, just for the record, no sport is more associated with gambling than golf is. Gambling is part of the human condition, no big deal. But it's also the case that where people bet, there's a greater temptation to cheat. Golf is the sport for the athletic angels among us? Please.

Look, golf may be a fine game. But nothing is more irritating than to hear this con that its players are pure and chivalrous while all other athletes are immoral scoundrels. Cut the PR folderol. I guarantee you that Diogenes didn't put away his lantern when he first stumbled onto a golf course.

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Frank Deford died on Sunday, May 28, at his home in Florida. Remembrances of Frank's life and work can be found in All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and on