After Columbia How Can We Swing a Club


In a nation that has quickly learned to live while always looking nervously over its shoulder, this was a painful kick in the gut.
After Saturday, will we ever again look at a shooting star without a twinge? How do we keep ourselves together, thinking of the astronauts spouses and children? The blessing, and curse, of our daily routines is that they enable us to go on while carrying the burden of knowing what happened in the last moments of that shooting star, 40 miles up.
And in all this, how do we swing a golf club?
Although the magnitude of the tragedy is far less when measured in human life and evil intention, the Columbia disaster is one more chapter in our national education about whats important, and how Americans behave when they have to live under pressure. I dont intend to soft-pedal the unfathomable loss the friends and family of the crew feel. But it is possible to see Saturdays awful events as another burden tossed onto the stress-heap that already includes September 11, likely North Korean aggression, and the endless wait for war in Iraq.
Fitting golf into all this may be an impossible, and perhaps disrespectful, task. The industry deserves credit for realizing after September 11 that golf doesnt amount to much in the face of such problems.
But what about the future? For three years, the golf industry has met every November at the Golf 20/20 conference to discuss ways to grow a game suffering from chronic flatness. While the participants, representatives of every private and public sector power in the game, have agonized over what to do and how to pay for it, individual companies such as Nike have worked on developing initiatives of their own. Other companies are sure to follow.
But for now, water and feed it as we might, golf wont grow.
Can it, in such an environment? Golf is still trying to shake its rich-white-man stigma; it does not yet attract the masses to play it, although its No. 1 star attracts them to watch it. The Augusta National gender controversy isnt helping.
There may be some actual guilt about participating in such a game at such a time, just as there was shortly after September 11. It may seem indulgent. Golf is not the same as going out back and shooting hoops for a while. Theres no point behaving as if it is.
Perhaps golf needs a new approach in a troubled world. We need to beat the time issue, both in terms of speed of play and the total time it takes to participate in the game. Eighteen should no longer be a magic number. Three, six, ninenew golfers need options.
We somehow need to make golf feel more egalitarian and less like a forbidden dessert. Thats the way it is in Scotland, where I first saw the prosaic ' and indelible ' image of an aged couple making their way to the local putting green after dinner, putters in hand, to knock a few about.
We who play the game often know how good it feels to be a golfer. It may be time to break golf down into its less time-consuming components ' chipping, putting, short rounds ' so people concentrate on the fun, not the image.
More of that attitude will help the game take its proper place in a troubled world: A recreation, one more way for a people on edge to blow off some steam. Because as we all know, pressure doesnt go away. It has to come out somewhere.
And wouldnt it be nice someday, finishing a hole in the gathering dusk, to see a shooting star, and feel lucky again?