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BILL TAMMEUS Is golf the root of corruption?



Published: Mon, July 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It's no accident that the words golf and government are found relatively close to each other in the dictionary.

No, it's not that they have anything to do with each other. It's that they both start with g-o. Which is why they're also near gold, gooseberry, gorilla, God and goofy.

See how you are? You're way too willing to fall into the grasp of theories involving conspiracies and weird mysteries. It's why you think it's somehow significant that President Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and President Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. Or however that old string of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences goes. I've seen the list of those strange facts dozens of times but never cared enough to keep it because I don't believe there's any meaning to such odd and random details.

You know, now that I ponder the matter, I believe there may be meaning in the golf-government relationship, and America will be a better country if we can understand that meaning and then take advantage of our knowledge.

First, let's think about golf, a game I really like to play but that I play, on my best days, with deeply mediocre skills.

Oh, I've made some pars and made some birdies over the years. I even had a hole-in-one about 10 years ago. But as a rule, I do well to break 100 on any round. So I pass on this profoundly crucial information about golf and government not because I'm an expert golfer but because I'm already this far into this column and I might as well finish it, in hopes it has a point.

Golf, as no doubt you know, originated in Scotland, where it was played as early as the 15th century. It started when a hung-over fellow in a kilt awoke one morning to discover he had a tee-off time he couldn't remember making.

Blame the king: King James I of England (who prior to that gig was James VI of Scotland) is said to have introduced golf to London. This, by the way, was the same James after whom the King James Version of the Bible is named. Which is why, no doubt, he issued two proclamations. One said, "Thou shalt play golf." The other said, "Thou shalt not lie about thy score (more than necessary)."

So, as you can see, government lies began with golf. And it's pretty much been downhill ever since, from George Washington's lying about not being able to tell a lie to Richard Nixon's claiming not to be a crook to Bill Clinton's claiming he did not have golf with that woman to George W. Bush's saying at a press conference earlier this year that he'd play golf with the prime minister of Canada only if the premier cheated for Bush by giving him lots of strokes.

Cheating: Golf -- well, golf and the income tax -- has undermined our national character, causing countless otherwise decent men and women to cheat both on their scorecards and on their 1040s.

Oh, I know you probably think that professional golf is among the most ethical of sports because each player is on the honor system and must report rule infractions and take penalty strokes for doing so. And I'm sure there are pro golfers honest enough to marry your sister. But most of us out on the links aren't professionals -- and this is especially true with our golfing presidents, whose playing partners tend to give them every benefit of the doubt when they're wandering golf courses with clubs in hand.

As a part-time golfer, it pains me to connect government corruption and a debauched citizenry with golf. But my allegiance to being a speaker of truth must transcend my devotion to learning how to hit my driver.

Besides, if more of you would give up the game because you think it's an invention of the devil, I'd get better tee times.

X Bill Tammeus is an editorial page columnist for The Kan sas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.




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