Drinking and Driving

The stadium scene.
May 14 2001 9:30 PM

Drinking and Driving

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

The PGA tour, desperate to convince TV viewers that golf is a compelling, thrill-a-minute spectator sport, has been running commercials with a new tag line: "The Bar's Been Raised." Great idea. Now let's make it happen.

After all, the PGA's admen may find it thrilling to watch solid-core balls struck by graphite-infused clubs home in on pins cut into meticulously groomed greens, but many viewers find it about as dramatic as televised archery. Golf was first conceived as a challenge of quite different dimensions, by cold and bored Scots shepherds looking for something to do while chasing their flocks across the lowlands. Hitting a dimpled ball with a machine-tooled wedge 100 yards to within 10 feet of a hole in a pedicured green from a perfect lie on a fairway mowed to precisely 1.6 inches and through bone-dry, windless air is one kind of accomplishment. Knocking a big pebble 100 paces through a howling gale and a driving rain from a tangle of weeds to within a few inches of a sheep's turd is quite another.

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How can we restore this essential degree of difficulty to the game? Here's the recipe: Add whisky and stir. It is high time that the long tradition of drinking to excess while playing the game of golf be revived and in fact made mandatory in professional tournaments. History tells us that the original reason there are 18 holes on a golf course is that there are 36 shots in a bottle of whisky. ("History" in this case being an inebriated ex-caddy who later took a swipe at me in an Edinburgh pub.) It is obvious to anyone who has ever visited the Scottish lowlands, where the game was standardized from earlier medieval variations, that one of the only ways to have fun while spending a few hours trudging around outside in this inhospitable climate is to be well and truly soused.

So, if we are going to take the steps necessary to jazz up golf and make it a great spectator sport once again—by making mandatory drinking on each tee an integral part of the challenge—it seems only right that the drink to be drunk (the handicap, if you will) should be a shot of Scotch whisky.

Once this change is made, the boredom-inducing spectacle of player after player drilling short irons to within feet and inches of pin after pin will be gone. Under the new rules, pros in increasing states of drunkenness will have difficulty just getting through their rounds. Needless to say, their play will be far more varied and unpredictable. Plus the situations they'll have to confront will be much closer to those routinely faced by amateurs.

At last we'll get to see golf as it was intended to be played. Like pool or darts, golf is a game of accuracy meant to be played by people who are in a state where touching their own noses or walking in a straight line is a real challenge. And what is more fundamentally satisfying to watch than the spectacle of plastered competitors trying their damnedest to use their motor skills?

By restoring this essential, traditional part of the challenge to the game of golf, the outcome of every tournament will always be in doubt. The toughest part of the game in the future could be just making it to the 72nd green in one piece. Once the bar has been raised on every tee—and the gallery is issued protective headgear—there's no telling what might happen. One thing is certain: By the end of the fourth round, every successful pitch and putt will be a true achievement.

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To purchase Bud, Sweat, and Tees: Walking on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour from barnesandnoble.com, click here.

Robert Mackey has written for the New York Times Magazine and taken photographs for Wired.

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