DIEDRICH: On Libertarianism and golf

Libertarianism on the links: golf, like the free market, is self-regulating. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

MADISON, Wis., July 20, 2013 – Individuals of all makes and models enjoy golf. Men and women, vegetarians and carnivores, statists and anarchists all take pleasure in the joy of the swing. Unrealized by them all, however, is the game’s inherent libertarianism.

A golfer can choose to tee up his ball in the middle of the fairway. A golfer can choose to ground his club in the sand. A golfer can choose to talk while someone is swinging. A golfer can lie about his score. 


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None of these offenses will result in conventional punishment. The police won’t arrest the golfer. He won’t be put on trial. There won’t be eager lawyers lining up to take his case. 

That being said, if the golfer repeatedly commits such offenses on the course, eventually nobody will want to play with him. Others will boycott his company, and ostracism will be his fate. From his sour reputation will come loneliness. 

Yet there is nary a soul on the planet, especially of the golfing variety, who wishes to walk the fairways of life alone. For that reason, the golfer will voluntarily obey the rules of the game that demand his acquiescence. 

In order to “protect and preserve the game and its challenges,” the USGA recently announced a controversial ban on the use of the popular anchored putting stroke.


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The USGA, unlike state governments that rely on force, is much more sensitive to public opinion. If the ban, which is scheduled to take effect in 2016, reduces participation in the game (and thereby reduces the profits of golf courses), then it could very well be reversed. 

A curious question resulted from the ruling: would the PGA and PGA Tour (the governing bodies of professional competitive golf in the United States) honor the ban? Or would the rules of the game be bifurcated? 

The very possibility of bifurcation, regardless of whether or not it would be beneficial or disastrous, demonstrates the fundamental difference between golf governance and state government. Obviously, multiple golf governing bodies can operate simultaneously and harmoniously. On the contrary and by definition, a state government is a monopoly on the provision of its “services” within a given territory. 

When it comes to governance and rules, the game of golf is self-regulating. Examples of golfers penalizing themselves abound. 


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In 2009, J.P. Hayes inadvertently “penalized himself out of a job” for playing with a non-conforming golf ball. He could have easily kept quiet and nothing would have happened. Nevertheless, he chose to publicize his transgression.

Six days after a round of golf, Blayne Barber could not expel uneasiness from his conscience. After much thinking, he disqualified himself ex post from the 2012 PGA Tour qualifying tournament, even though nobody else but he was questioning the authenticity of his scorecard. 

In 2008, Michael Thompson called a penalty on himself in the Masters when his ball oscillated after he addressed it. While he ended up missing the cut in that tournament, some positive press for his honesty did result. 

“I think that’s one of the things that I love about golf, that there is a defined set of rules and it’s a gentleman’s game,” Thompson said of the incident. “It’s based on honor and I think what sets golf apart from every other sport is that you hold yourself to higher standards than anybody else does.” 

Contrary to popular opinion and even more popular cliché, golf is not, in fact, a sport of “gentlemen.” Like any other humans, golfers are just as frequently crass, filthy, and ungentlemanly. The honesty associated with the game does not emanate from some naturally superior class of men who play it. 

Rather, golf is a sport of individuals, and upstanding character is a symptom of that fact. We play by ourselves and for ourselves. We own our equipment, our performance, our bodies, and our minds. With exclusive control comes full responsibility. 

Nobody assesses penalties on themselves in team sports. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with team sports, they do form one half of a poignant analogy. In football, for example, character becomes like a common lake: polluted. Any incentive for propriety is minimal.

Like golf, the free market is self-regulating. The unrelenting determination of every individual to enjoy a fortuitous reputation fosters honest, mutually beneficial interaction. Force is not needed to relegate cheaters, manipulators, and anti-socialites to the rough.

Golf is libertarian.

Joseph S. Diedrich also writes for the MacIver InstituteThe College Fix, Young Americans for Liberty, Conbustible, LibertyBlog.org, Young American Revolution, and Musings of a Superfluous Young Man. Find him on FacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn and Twitter @JSDiedrich.

 


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Joseph S. Diedrich

Joseph S. Diedrich has been a columnist at The Washington Times Communities since early 2013. He covers non-electoral politics from a libertarian perspective. His work has also been featured at the MacIver InstituteThe College Fix, and elsewhere.

Joseph is also a classically-trained composer and somewhat of a gastronomy enthusiast. Find him on Facebook, LinkedInGoogle+, and Twitter @JSDiedrich.

 

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