10/7/19

Just the Yolk: “Woke Golf”

The positives and negatives of "woke golf culture"

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Today’s question is from Justin Baumann:

I’m not completely sure what “woke golf culture” is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with golfers who enjoy learning about and discussing golf course design. I don’t think that’s necessarily “elitist” at all.

Yes, many of the best-designed American courses are private and exclusive, and therefore could be considered elitist. But one great thing that I think today’s golf architecture enthusiasts have done is help promote public, affordable, and architecturally interesting courses.

Until recently, these courses had few means of mass exposure. To arrange a visit from the old guard of “experts” often required a hefty ad spend. That’s why for decades you hardly ever heard of places like Ravisloe or Aiken or Pacific Grove, and many courses of that type failed. But social media and “woke golf culture” (for all the problems that both have) have changed that status quo. Courses that would have otherwise remained unknown have received their due recognition, and new crop of voices on golf course architecture has emerged. For the most part, in my opinion, these trends have been positive for golf courses and golfers alike.

Sweetens Cove is the most commonly cited example of a course that, without the support of “woke golf culture,” likely would have gone out of business. But there are other success stories as well.

A few weeks back, I spoke with Craig Haltom, whose company Oliphant Golf manages the Golf Courses of Lawsonia. He said they were having their best financial year of the past decade. Perhaps this is just a coincidence and has nothing to do with the attention that Lawsonia Links has recently garnered from the online golf community. But I doubt it. Facilities committed to great architecture at an affordable rate seem to be getting rewarded.

Nos. 12, 16, and 17 at Lawsonia Links

Of course, as with everything, there are downsides to “woke golf culture.” When people boast relentlessly about their access to top-100 clubs or post photo after photo of their expensive handmade gear, it’s human nature to feel annoyed—or jealous. But I have a simple solution for when you come across an account that makes you feel this way: unfollow. Focus on the people who you think add to the discussion and enrich your appreciation of the game, the people who don’t just glorify themselves or their possessions or the fancy courses they play.

I just wish we could do away with the word “woke.” When I adopted the Twitter handle “The Woke Yolk,” I meant it to be tongue-in-cheek. Obviously “wokeness” in the online golf community has now taken on a different meaning—one that some people find exclusionary. That’s unfortunate.

Maybe we just need to refocus on what matters. Golf is unique among popular American sports in that more people play it than watch it. And as the style of golf seen on the PGA Tour continues to get further and further from how the masses play, we can expect subcultures like “woke golf” to grow. These subcultures will revolve around not only courses and architecture but also style, camaraderie, exercise, self-improvement, equipment, and so on.

I hope we can embrace all of these different ways of engaging with the game and not worry so much about what’s “woke” and what’s not. Different people will have different interests that drive their love of golf. Isn’t that what makes the game so great?

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