Golf and the romance of pre-urbanized society: Part 4, Total consciousness

January 29, 2015 | Belmont, Golf, Green space, Housing, Land use, Leisure, Milton, Open space, Real estate taxes, Speculation, Transportation, Urbanization, US News, Zoning | No comments 99 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By: David A. Smith

I’m not feeling very well – I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course.

Groucho Marx


Dino, Der Bingle, and Groucho on the course

In yesterday’s Part 3, we laid up and approached the curious paradoxes of golf – that its extravagant land-use consumption is anti-urbanism, but its business and economic model requires proximity to the urban environment with its weekday warriors who could earn the money for their Saturday retreat to the links, with their pals.


We can’t be Payne, but we can dress and pose like him

Sources used in this post

Goldfinger (1959), Chapter 9; Olive green font

WS Journal review, The Kingdom of Golf in America (August 16, 2013; pastel blue font)

Wikipedia on golf’s environmental impact; emerald green font)

The Economist (December 20, 2014; black font)

When cities provides strolling parks for families, women, and children, golf thus provides a park initially designed for, and reserved for, men.

4.  Golf is a park for men (because one keeps score)

Though he never gender-references it, Henry Allen leaves no doubt that if golf is primal, it is primal for men in hunting bands:

Crouched with clubs in their hands, squinting at the distance, these hominids look familiar, to my mind’s eye. Trade the bare feet for FootJoy shoes, and they are golfers looking at the water hazard to the left, the out-of-bounds trees to the right, the rolling grassland called a fairway.

At the roughly 15,000-20,000 golf courses in America, we can fulfill our savanna heritage. The courses I play have deer and fox running across the fairways instead of dik-diks and hyenas, but the view is the same. In the deep American South an atavistic touch is the alligator sunning next to one’s ill-struck drive.

Leisure means different things to different people, but for men, leisure has involved sports and competition.  And of the sports, golf was always about much more than the actual game; by happenstance or symbiotic evolution, golf perfectly captured the elements of male socializing.

In their leisure, men like to do these things:


Behave badly?

  • Compete.
  • Keep score.
  • Rag good-naturedly on other men.
  • Not talk about themselves.
  • Be vulgar.


How ‘bout some cigars, Michael?

Sporting events are private space.  Even if in a public park, when the sportsmen take over a space, spectators and strollers walk around the game’s field.

The kingdom of golf in America grew from a 20-acre pasture in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1888 to bleacher-studded stadium courses with greens on perfect islands like something from Arthurian legend; from knickers to polyester; from clubhouses in old farmhouses to the Congressional Country Club, which appears to be slightly smaller than the Pentagon but far more important.


A palazzo for the Congressmen

From the beginning, golf has been dominated by men, as made clear with no hint of irony in this description of the founding of Congressional:

In 1921, Congressmen Oscar E. Bland and O.R. Luhring of Indiana felt the need for a Club where Members of Congress could meet socially with businessmen. Chevy Chase and Columbia Country Clubs were both in existence but they were mostly for Washingtonians and did not specialize in members of Congress. The idea was taken to Herbert Hoover, who at the time was the Secretary of Commerce, and he agreed to help wholeheartedly.

Among some of the early members were John D. Rockefeller, the duPonts, Walter Chrysler, William Randolph Hearst, Harvey S. Firestone, James W. Gerard, Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick, Howard E. Coffin, Bernard B. Baruch, Eugene G. Grace, John J. Raskob, Edward L. Doheny, Julius Rosenwald, A. Mitchell Palmer, Thomas Fortune Ryan, Harry E. Sinclair, O.P. VanSweringen, Larz Anderson and Charles C. Glover and son.

A veritable Who’s-Who of American Jazz-Age tycoons.

At the time, Washington had only two streetcar systems.


Congressional’s clubhouse under construction, 1923

Such notables who managed to make it to the opening party were President and Mrs. Coolidge and Chief Justice (formerly the 27th President) William Howard Taft, not to mention the Marine Band that greeted the arriving guests at the entrance to the Club.

Today, seven out of every nine golfers are male.  Golf clubs have for decades been bastions of maledom, and the whole concept of a club that admits only whom it chooses to admit is deliberately exclusionary.


Not allowed, even if you don’t want to join

The game’s long history adds to its charm, but has sometimes damaged its image. The sport has had a particularly uneasy relationship with women and minorities. One all-male golf club in Scotland had, until a few years ago, a sign hanging outside saying, “no dogs, no women”. (Some members objected to dogs not being allowed in, quips one insider.)


We’re leaving before the women arrive

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland, a club founded in 1754 that supervises the game’s rules, voted to admit women only in September 2014. America and golf used both to be racially segregated, but attitudes and demographics have changed faster in the nation as a whole than in the sport.

Having a club meant that men who wanted to socialize in manly fashion (compete, keep score, rag, not talk, and be vulgar) could do so every weekend.

Safer than polo and less tiring than football, golf allowed businessmen to get to know each other and do deals between shots. John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, early adopters, helped make the sport fashionable.


John D. Rockefeller golfing in Florida


Andrew Carnegie golfing

Contrast golf course with large public parks – the Tuileries in Paris, say; Central Park in New York; Regent’s Park in London.  Wonderful spaces though they may be, they are the preserve of families with children, young lovers courting, solitary people finding companionship feeding the birds.

A group of young mothers, in an after pregnancy gym session with their sons.

Mothers exercising in Central Park

Despite or perhaps because of its domination by men, including white men, golf has over the last decades been at pains to democratize and diversify itself, with varying success.

About a decade ago the rise of a pretty female golfer, Ai Miyazato, encouraged a wave of young Japanese women to try amateur golf.

No star has been a more powerful draw to new players than Tiger Woods. When Mr Woods, arguably the best golfer of all time, started winning championships in the late 1990s, people who had previously thought of golf as playtime for rich, white men stepped onto the tee. 

But there’s another aspect about golf, one that for half a century has been the bane of its existence: the perception – with a fair amount of justification – that it is a bastion of privilege, and a gateway to big business and the ‘old boys club.’

5. Golf is more than competitive, it is male bonding

I don’t know of any other organization that’s raised more money than golf has, because if you are a baseball player, or a football player, or a hockey player, or you’re just a businessman, and you want to raise some money for a charity, what do they do? They have a golf tournament. They have a golf outing, and they go out and they do it.

Lee Trevino


The Merry Mex, winning the Masters

Golf is entirely social; the concept of playing a round of golf by oneself is anathema:

In Japan, “lonely golf”, in which older people show up by themselves in the hope of playing with someone for a round, has become more common as the population ages.

Golf is also male testing; through the lens of competition, men size up other men, either as rivals or friends:

P.G. Wodehouse once observed, “To find out a man’s true character, play golf with him.”

Nowhere was golf’s role in male probing and bonding better expressed than in Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel Goldfinger, which devotes two whole chapters to a single round of golf between the hero (James Bond, personifying the role of St. George) and the dragon he must approach and slay, the mysterious, greedy Auric Goldfinger:


What’s your specialty?

They walked down the hill in a silence which Goldfinger unexpectedly broke. ‘What is the firm you work for?’


‘Universal Export.’


‘And where do they hang out?’


‘London. Regent’s Park.’


‘What do they export?’


Bond woke up from his angry ruminations. Here, pay attention! This is work, not a game.  Bond said casually, ‘Oh everything from sewing-machines to tanks.’


‘What’s your specialty?’


Bond could feel Goldfinger’s eyes on him. He said, ‘I look after the small arms side. Spend most of my time selling miscellaneous ironmongery to sheiks and rajahs – anyone the Foreign Office decides doesn’t want the stuff to shoot at us with.’


‘Interesting work.’ Goldfinger’s voice was flat, bored.


‘Interesting work’

Even more important than Goldfinger’s probing of Bond is Bond’s discovery that Goldfinger is a cheat, a cheat not only of his own ball but also of his opponent’s:

From nowhere the shadow of Goldfinger’s huge head approached the ball on the ground, engulfed it and moved on. Bond let his swing take itself to pieces in sections. Then he stood away from his ball and looked up. Goldfinger’s feet were still moving. He was looking carefully up at the sky.


‘Shades please, Goldfinger.’ Bond’s voice was furiously controlled.


Goldfinger stopped and looked slowly at Bond. The eyebrows were raised a fraction in inquiry. He moved back and stood still, saying nothing.


Shades, please

So much venom has been directed against golf’s exclusivity, and the perception that captains of industry are making Illuminati-style megadeals behind closed clubhouse gates, that every few years there is the spectacle of a golf club – such as August National – being picketed for having no women members.  And before the women members, it was no black members, and before them, it was no Jewish members.

Among the knowledge class that arose with Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy, golf is also racist, anti-Semitic or sexist. It is charged with being both vulgar and snobbish, an outdoor casino, and a cavalcade of real-estate scams. Much like America itself, it has indeed been all of those.

Since Dwight Eisenhower, golf has been the sport most often associated with American presidents – Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama have all been happy to be photographed on the links:


Shouldn’t you be thinking about D-Day, Mr. General?  Eisenhower playing golf in England


Better get NORAD tracking that, Mr. President


To the moon, Mr. President: Jackie Gleason and Gerald Ford


Sorry, Mr. President, no mulligan for that shot: Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton


Don’t misunderestimate my short game


Still not in, Mr. President

All of these presidents have had their personalities psychoanalyzed through their golf games (Bill Clinton’s mulligans were charted by White House pool reporters and Sports Illustrated), because in golf, what is on trial isn’t just winning or your self-control over errant shots, but your character and personal integrity.

I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald … striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga … gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.



So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice

[Continued tomorrow in Part 5.]

Golf and the romance of pre-urbanized society: Part 3, The infallible test

January 28, 2015 | Belmont, Golf, Green space, Housing, Land use, Leisure, Milton, Open space, Real estate taxes, Speculation, Transportation, Urbanization, US News, Zoning | No comments 120 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

Golf … is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.

P. G. Wodehouse


Fetch me that lost ball, will you Jeeves?

Yesterday’s post put the story in the fairway, itself a visual expression of the romanticized city in that it was a swath of well-kept green lined with wilderness and dotted with hazards.


Once more into the breach, dear friends:

The Himalaya bunker at Royal St. George’s

Sources used in this post

Goldfinger (1959), Chapter 9; Olive green font

WS Journal review, The Kingdom of Golf in America (August 16, 2013; pastel blue font)

Wikipedia on golf’s environmental impact; emerald green font)

The Economist (December 20, 2014; black font)

A golf course is everything a nineteenth century industrial city was not. 

Where the city is cramped, a golf course is spacious – in fact, it’s extravagant in its consumption of land for low-impact use:

While most modern 18-hole golf courses occupy as much as 60 hectares (150 acres) of land (other sources quote 200 acres), the average course has only 30 hectares (74 acres) of maintained turf.  [The rest is left natural and untrimmed – Ed.]

Where the city was dirty, the golf course was clean; where the city was loud, a golf course is quiet, even the longest drive making little more noise than a swish and a twank.  Where the city is all right angles, a golf course is dog-legs, curves, swales, undulations.


Office in a Small City, Edward Hopper, 1953


A green at Royal Aberdeen

Where the city was entirely man-made, a golf course is entirely natural – or designed to look that way. 

With the end of World War II and the return to normalcy, golf was a lovely expression of the desire of men to have a place of tranquility that gave a respite from their week.

Despite our Protestant work ethic, leisure had become a virtue by the 1950s, a decade during which, by Mr. Moss’s reckoning (there are other and higher reckonings), real wages increased by 25% while two-week vacations and five-day weeks became standard. There was time and money to play golf.

For the working men of that era, golf was a perfect weekend relaxation: lots of talk, lots of companionship, a journey and a purpose.  Like all leisure activities, it also signified that one had the time and money for such leisure.

Golf is not unlike a first home or a college degree: it carries the allure of progress, of arrival in the middle class. Only a few years ago some golf gurus forecast that the sport would grow even more, as baby boomers retired and flocked to the fairways.

Today, golf’s popularity is rising in countries whose middle class is both expanding in number and rising in consumerist expectations:


The Chinese Dream?

In China, where Mao Zedong banned golf in 1949 and building new private courses is illegal, it is still booming. According to Dan Washburn, author of “The Forbidden Game”, plenty of courses are built under the guise of adding “green space” and “ecotourism zones”, but a recent crackdown by the central government on corruption has slowed new course development. The party is not over, says Mr Curley, the architect, “but all the lights are on and the cops are out at the curb”.

Though Mr. Curley may be bearish on golf’s prospects in the Middle Kingdom, in his heart I expect that he’s actually bullish, for everything about China’s rise – including its emerging entrepreneurial class’s rejection of the ruinous and ruining Chinese urban environment suggests that twenty-first century golf in China will ride the same green-space and leisure-time wave that America rose 75 years ago – because people who play golf will emigrate for it unless it’s provided at home.

Golf, then, is urban or suburban green space – but is it morally green? 

Ironically, the growth of cities has led golf developers to redesign previously under-used urban space:

Golf courses can be built on sandy areas along coasts, on abandoned farms, among strip mines and quarries, and in deserts and forests. Many Western countries have instituted environmental restrictions on where and how courses are allowed to be built.

In Greater Boston, for example, the only new golf course (opened 1992) is Quincy’s Granite Links, and that only because it could redevelop a challenging site:


Start with an abandoned quarry

To some it might have seemed an impossible task; transform two large, old municipal landfills and former granite quarries near downtown Boston into an award-winning golf course. But for architect John Sanford, the opportunity was one he couldn’t pass up. 

A key to the site’s development centered on using soils being excavated from tunnels in Boston’s Big Dig, the state’s 15-year, $24-billion road infrastructure makeover of the city’s main thoroughfares.  By making the future golf course site a repository for the 900,000 truckloads of 13 million tons of material just seven miles from the epicenter of the Big Dig, it became a unique way to save the taxpayers money, cap the current landfills and reclaim wasted acreage, converting the site into a true asset for Quincy, Milton and the entire Greater Boston community. 


What can we do with all this sand?

Then too, even the remediation of an abandoned quarry had to avoid the sand traps and water hazards of Massachusetts’ NIMBYs:

The project required 74 permits from local, state, and federal agencies.

The effort was singled out recently by the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) for outstanding effort that “shines a light on the innovation and problem-solving skills required of today’s golf course designs.”

Clearly the demise of as-of-right zoning, and the increase complexity of developing in already-built urban environments, poses cost obstacles that make new golf course development harder:

In the U.S., land administered by the Army Corps of Engineers such as those bordering levees and lakes is often desirable for building courses, due to the scenic natural views and the unsuitability of the land for other purposes due to it lying in a planned flood plain; in these cases, the course designer must work with the Corps of Engineers to plan a course layout that protects environmentally sensitive areas, provides for a means of quick escape in case of flooding, and does not invite players to hit into or toward controlled structures such as levees or dams.

The engineering of golf courses doesn’t stop with construction; it continues right through maintenance and groundskeepiing:

The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, golf courses consume about 2.5 billion gallons/9.5 billion liters of water per day.

Naturally enough, the water used to irrigate a golf course goes into the soil, and returns as greenery and plant life, so it’s not lost – in fact, quite the reverse:

These, along with health and cost concerns, have led to research into more environmentally sound practices and turf grasses. The golf course superintendent is often trained in the uses of these practices and grasses. This has led to significant reduction in the amount of both water and chemicals on courses. The turf on golf courses is an excellent filter for water and has been used in communities to cleanse grey water, such as incorporating into bio-swales.

Water restrictions established by communities have forced courses to limit the amount of maintained turf grass.

Many golf courses are now irrigated with non-potable water and rainwater.

Those who protest housing development in Belmont ought to be happy if instead a golf course was proposed for the site … but somehow I think they’d find ways to oppose that too.  Instead, some of those who are most passionate about preserving and protecting green space are also golf’s fiercest opponents:

In some parts of the world, attempts to build courses and resorts have led to protests, vandalism, and violence. Populists perceive golf as an elitist activity, and thus golf courses become a target for popular opposition.

More than almost any other participant sports, golf arouses anti-elitism passions – perhaps it’s the collective race memory of large parks belonging to the aristocracy rather than everyone, or the subconscious perception that all this green space should be public, not private … even if ‘private’ means simply that one has to pay a greens fee to play the course.

In the Bahamas, opposition to golf developments has become a national issue. Residents of Great Guana Cay and Bimini, for example, are engaged in legal and political opposition to golf developments on their islands, for fear the golf courses will destroy the nutrient-poor balance on which their coral reef and mangrove systems depend.

At issue underneath these particulars is the question of externality: do private property owners have the right to change their property’s use, if that change of use upsets the ecosystem?  Golf in its way echoes the NIMBYite objection to affordable housing, or any other form of dense development – it’ll upset what we have now.

Resisting golf tourism and golf’s expansion has become an objective of some land-reform movements, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Certainly golf taps something primal in both its players and its opponents:


Fairway, green, and water hazard: yes, you could put a golf course here

In ‘The Art Instinct,’ a book about evolutionary psychology that has little to do with golf, the late Denis Dutton quotes scholars on the notion of an ideal landscape, one that humans have evolved to see as beautiful. It is a landscape like the ones where mankind arose in Africa, rolling grasslands with signs of water and groups of trees and bushes where our forebears hunted and gathered.

If so, speculates Wall Street Journal reviewer Henry Allen, golf evokes that primal sense, and not just any primal sense – male private sense.

We learn so many things from golf—how to suffer, for instance.

Bruce Lansky


Greg Norman losing the Masters

[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]


Golf and the romance of pre-urbanized society: Part 2, One vast golf course

January 27, 2015 | Belmont, Golf, Green space, Housing, Land use, Leisure, Milton, Open space, Real estate taxes, Speculation, Transportation, Urbanization, US News, Zoning | No comments 156 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

I like going there for golf. America’s one vast golf course these days.

Edward VIII


Better than playing well is looking good

Yesterday’s post teed off our examination of golf as an urban land-use phenomenon as a Gilded-Age response to the geographic expansion of cities, and the deterioration in quality of life that was the negative externality of the manufacturing-driven upsurge of urban wealth.

Sources used in this post

Goldfinger (1959), Chapter 9; Olive green font

WS Journal review, The Kingdom of Golf in America (August 16, 2013; pastel blue font)

Wikipedia on golf’s environmental impact; emerald green font)

The Economist (December 20, 2014; black font)

At the heart of golf’s economic proposition is a land-use paradox – maintaining so many acres of sculptured nature becomes economic only if those who use the nature are paying for the upkeep, and for that to be the many requires a city, which is a dense and sooty environment.  Hence making golf economically viable demands high-volume and reliable transportation – so golf became a popular pastime only after technology came to the cities: America’s first golf course, Edgewood Golf Club of Tivoli, New York, was established in 1884.

Golf went mainstream in America in the 1890s. The wealthy and upper middle classes formed private golf clubs where they could play.


Tivoli Station, about 1870 (slide 5)

Technological improvements stimulated by America’s Civil War – railways, coal and oil power, large-scale factories, and electricity – drove both the Gilded Age’s economic growth and its urbanization, which in turn were further fueled by Transatlantic immigration through Ellis Island.

Then, as today, its appeal depended on time and money. Late-19th-century Americans, with plenty of both and no gadgets to occupy them at home, liked the fact that it took hours to play.

Until the industrial revolution, leisure time belonged only to the rich, but with the emergence of an aspiring and energetic middle class, golf flourished:

Though golf courses sprang up in Newport, R.I., and other watering holes of inherited wealth, golf was a sport of businessmen more than the upper class, which leaned toward yachting and polo. Mr. Moss writes: “Middle-class Americans realized by 1915 that they could create collectively the sort of country retreats that aristocrats and the wealthy had enjoyed as individuals.”

Milton’s Wollaston Golf Club was founded in 1895; the Belmont Country Club was founded in 1918; and Cambridge’s own nine-hole Fresh Pond Golf Course was built in 1933 “by the Cambridge Unemployment Bureau.”

By 1894, that first pasture in Yonkers had spawned 75 courses as far west as Chicago, including some still played, such as Long Island’s Shinnecock Hills.


Windswept in tony Southampton, New York

Then as now, golf courses were often located in the most visually stunning places, where wind and weather made the scenery breathtaking even as the shot-making was ever more difficult.  But these were also places with the best air quality, unlike the sooty, smelly cities:


Eventually someone will pick up this dead horse: New York City, 1895

An epidemic fear of declining vigor drove men onto golf courses just as it drove Teddy Roosevelt to a North Dakota ranch and rich boys to the spartan rigors of boarding schools such as Groton.

This was also the era of ‘healthy science’ – of spas at purges and cleanses – and what could be cleaner than fresh air and manly exercise surrounded by nature?

One writer testified that “the businessmen of the Middle West are no longer shallow dyspeptics …. Golf has made their blood flow and color come to the cheeks.”


Golf is better than this?

Golf also was surprisingly egalitarian, both with the handicap system and even more with the multiple tee boxes, so that women, the elderly, and youths could all make up a foursome.

Golf was prescribed for neurasthenic women. Wellesley College had a golf club as early as 1893 (18 years after its opening).


Golf at Bryn Mawr, 1898

By 1895, there was “Golf in America: A Practical Manual.” Brooks Brothers and Spalding’s Athletic Library each published guides.


The leisure bible of 1895

Golf caught the romantic desire for a country excursion with a purpose, and because it consumed so mulch greenspace, a golf course became a destination that had to have a golf club, a clubhouse, then a bar and restaurant, and often a resort hotel.

Resort hotels added golf courses. Boosters in smaller cities built them out of civic pride.

The newly mobile, newly rich bourgeoisie flocked to golf:


Turn of the century golfers

Golf also appealed to America’s mythos of self-made men.  Rich or poor, titled or humble, all men were the same with a driver or a mashie or a putter in their hands:

Golfer’s Magazine said that on the course “it is difficult to tell J. Brown, farmer, from Jasper Brown, banker, and J. Brown often is the better golfer.”

That further appealed to the Everyman vision:

In 1913, the lower classes breached the elitism of golf with the U.S. Open victory of Francis Ouimet, a former caddy.

Ouimet wasn’t just a former caddy, he personified the American immigrant dream.  A first-generation American, his mother was Irish, his father French-Canadian.  He’d been caddying nine years, taught himself how to play, and was playing in the U. S. Open on the course he knew best in the world, at The Country Club.  His caddy, Eddie Lowery, was ten years old.


Ouimet and Lowery, 1913 U. S. Open

His photo on the front pages of newspapers raised awareness about the sport.

In the Jazz Age, golf boomed along with the economy


The amateur gentleman: Bobby Jones winning the claret jug at the British Open, 1927

In the 1920s, the sport began to create celebrities such as Bobby Jones, who in 1930 won the grand slam (the British and American opens and amateur championships) but stayed an amateur.

The national worship of Bobby Jones was akin to the worship of Charles Lindbergh.


Bobby Jones testing Augusta National when it was under construction

He helped found the Augusta National course in Georgia, a big-money operation that nevertheless retains its status as a shrine

But if one is to worship the pre-urbanized landscape at a convenient commuting distance from one’s business, then one needs to prevent the land from being developed, and for that there are two paths.


Two paths, depending on how long you hit it

3. Golf preserves green space, for private use

Though cities have always been the source of humanity’s wealth generation –ideas, innovations, and change all are made in cities – people have also realized their cities need respiratory green space, oases of nature amid the built environment, and people have always connected those with leisure and relaxation.

The street has always been the place of hurly-burly – noise, traffic, mud, and bustle – and so urban homes in every century have created little square of private green, whether in a courtyard:


Roman villa, recreated in Los Angeles by an oil baron: the Getty Villa


The Cloisters: Fort Tryon Park, upper Manhattan (190th Street), donated by oil baron John D. Rockefeller


The green at Trinity College, Cambridge

In all these examples, the green space is preserved and tended, but then enclosed in a building that makes the space private, familial, and social only for those with whom we choose to socialize.

Such uses of land are, of course, expensive, both in maintenance and lost-opportunity cost, so that green space in a pre-industrial city always signaled wealth and power, and often signaled collective association (monks in an abbey; students in a college). 

But as cities industrialized, and the mob of people increased, green space for the ordinary people4 became if not an imperative, at least a political, and philanthropic desirability.  So, by the mid-nineteenth century, the fastest-growing American cities, under demographic pressure, pre-emptively turned some of their better-located undeveloped spaces into parks, such as Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park (1873) in New York City


‘Making the lake’ in Central Park

– and Boston’s Emerald Necklace (1894) from the Boston Public Garden (1837) along the reclaimed Muddy River (renamed the Fenway) to Franklin Park.  And in addition to those places of unstructured leisure, there also arose the great age of civic pride expressing itself through the formation of city teams for competitive sports, such as baseball, where the Fenway became the site of 1912’s Fenway Park.


Two-year-old Fenway Park hosting the 1914 World Series featuring the Boston Braves

Against this backdrop, the golf course stands out as the Gilded Age’s socially competitive private-public space.

Golf prospered with the rise of the suburbs. As cities were taken over by immigrants and industry, older and richer families moved out to find fresh air. They re-created a lost sense of community by joining country clubs.

Golf courses and clubs also provided a bulwark against nineteenth-century urban sprawl.  A golf course consumes a minimum of a quarter of a square mile, and hence it depopulates the immediate vicinity.  In bucolic Belmont and meadowy Milton. If the golf courses were to be developed, with (say) quarter-acre zoning, the courses could accommodate 640 new homes each, or perhaps 2,000 people, enough to make a big jump in each town’s population growth.

Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at.

Jimmy Demaret


At least I know how to use one club

[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]


Golf and the romance of pre-urbanized society: Part 1, A good walk spoiled

January 26, 2015 | Belmont, Golf, Green space, Housing, Land use, Leisure, Milton, Open space, Real estate taxes, Speculation, Transportation, Urbanization, US News, Zoning | No comments 100 views

By: David A. Smith

Golf is a good walk spoiled.
Mark Twain


When scanning Google Earth to research my lengthy posts of bucolic Belmont and meadowy Milton, I was struck how among the few landmarks readily identifiable from even very high altitudes were golf courses; though largely invisible from commuters’ streets, from above they stood out.  Examining those two towns for locations where affordable housing could be built, I thought, That’s a lot of undeveloped acreage.  And that, more or less, was the genesis of a multi-page article Handicapped: The future of golf, in the year-end edition of The Economist (December 20, 2014):


On a recent Saturday Matt Owens, the owner of Trenton Street Golf Course in West Monroe [Louisiana], sat indoors facing the entrance to his course and greeted golfers. In this town of 13,000 inhabitants with a love of fried catfish and a reverence for “Duck Dynasty”, a television show about hunters whose stars live nearby, golf used to be a regular indulgence for many, and that mild autumn weekend was ideal golf weather. Yet by the end of the afternoon Mr Owens had taken in only around $200 in green fees, a tenth of what his course earned on Saturdays a few years ago.

‘Greens fees’ is golf’s civilized euphemism for admission price, and like so many terms in golf, the circumlocution bespeaks a far earlier time, when golf was a game for gentlemen, amateurs were esteemed above professionals, and golf was a-booming.

Sources used in this post

Goldfinger (1959), Chapter 9; Olive green font

WS Journal review, The Kingdom of Golf in America (August 16, 2013; pastel blue font)

Wikipedia on golf’s environmental impact; emerald green font)

The Economist (December 20, 2014; black font)

No more: golf is on its back nine, and giving back strokes to par.

What is happening in West Monroe is not unusual. In America, the heartland of golf, the game is in decline.


No really, this isn’t my frozen face: Kemper’s Skinner

Last year 160 of the country’s 14,600 18-hole equivalent golf facilities shut up shop, the eighth straight year of net closures, according to the National Golf Foundation, an industry group. Steve Skinner of Kemper Sports, a large golf-course operator, thinks it is going to take another ten years to level the imbalance between supply and demand. With only a handful of new courses scheduled for construction in America, architects are looking abroad to find work. “If golf-course architecture were a publicly traded stock, it would be a penny stock right now,” says Brian Curley, a golf-course architect who spends much of his time designing courses in China.


Growing golf where the money is – China – Brian Curley

Golf’s decline has many symptoms, yet they all trace back to a single cause – the changing relationship between Americans and their cities, and their access to or interest in outside leisure time.

Golf isn’t an urban game; it’s a suburban game, a game for people who made their money from cities, live in cities, but harken back to a pre-urban time.

Last year around 25m Americans played golf, 18% fewer than did so in 2006, although the population grew by 6%. Although still played by men and women, including businesspeople hoping to bond over more than lunch, golf does not hold the same appeal for the young and minorities, groups that will determine its future health. In recent years more people have abandoned than taken up the game.

And while golf is a game, a golf course is a real estate investment, and that has always been both its blessing and its curse.


Eighty-year-old Arnold Palmer, hitting off the first tee at Augusta national

Spiritually, golf appeals to aspirational middle-class men because it romanticizes the pre-urban landscape and gives them a place to be men socializing among men – but those very attributes contain within golf the seeds of its eventual demise as societies urbanize further, putting urban space and leisure time under pressure that eventually makes the golf course no longer sustainable as a social model for leisure time or an economic model for urban leisure space.  

1. Golf romanticizes the pre-urban shaped and landscaped environment

From the time people first invented towns and cities, cultivated green space has always been a mark of culture. 


Emperor Napoleon hunting at Fontainebleau

Kings had hunting preserves; or royal parks laid out for the stately perambulation of lords and ladies.


Only royalty should be allowed to walk in nature … don’t you agree, court gardener?

With the earliest industrial revolution, large parkland estates were how the nouveau riche displayed their cultural achievements.


Thomas Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, 1749

Golf is part of that, for from its beginnings along the coast of St. Andrews, golf has celebrated the romantic outdoors:

The use of natural creeks and ponds is generally desirable when designing a golf course for their aesthetics and inherent difficulty, but such areas also typically include wetlands within the flood plain that are unsuitable for golfing.

Much is made in golf course design of ‘using the natural landscape.’

Wampanoag … has remained mostly untouched since the clubs inception in 1924. Famed Course designer Donald Ross sculpted a championship course on this beautiful park-like piece of land.   Donald Ross is widely recognized as the leading golf architect of the 20th century – and quite possibly of all time.   He is best known for his simple designs that use the existing natural landscape to challenge golfers of all skill levels, including Pinehurst No. 2, one of the most consistently highest rated courses in the country.  

The famous pot bunkers at St. Andrews, for example, were supposedly formed by sheep lying down against the fierce North Sea winds.


Isn’t nature wonderful?  Sheep on Ahill Island, Scotland


Never get into a bunker taller than your head

Golf’s landscapes also echo English notion of the garden.  Where the French believed in geometric perfection of the parterre, nothing so delights the English as a ‘wild’ or natural border, which is raised to a peak of intellectual sublimity at Sissinghurst, created by Vita Sackville-West, who in true English fashion was both a poet and a gardener

I sing the cycle of my country’s year,
I sing the tillage, and the reaping sing,
Classic monotony, that modes and wars
Leave undisturbed, unbettered, for their best
Was born immediate, of expediency.


Quite the pair: Harold (Hadji) Nicholson and Vita Sackville-0West

The garden she created, and that today is revered among the English, mixes natural growths and lawns:


Just put a putting green in here

The same sensibilities are reflected in the most famous American golf course, Augusta National:


This would be a nice garden … if you got rid of the guys with sticks


Hit it on the green stuff, not into the colored stuff

The Masters - Round One

The most famous Par-3 in the world: Augusta’s 12th hole, where …


… you really want your tee shot to stay on the green


You can hit your ball out of the creek if you’re unfortunate enough to hit it into the creek

Also famous at St. Andrews is the Road Hole,

st_ andrews_17_road_hole

The 17th at St. Andrews (the Road Hole), where the pros aim their tee shot over the hotel


The wall is in play, and he’s about to ricochet his ball off it back toward the green (out of shot to the left)

And the most famous golf tournament in the world, the Masters’, is always played on the most garden-like of golf courses, Augusta National, and its height of blooming, Georgia in April.

2. Golf was born during the age of industrial urbanization

For the beginnings of history, men have made their leisure into competitions, whether martial arts as celebrated in the ancient Olympics, and along with such early sports, golf uses a weapon to propel a projectile.

Golf traces its modern origins to 15th-century Scotland, where people played with wooden clubs and balls full of feathers. In 1457 King James II temporarily banned it, along with football, because it interfered with archery practice, but he was no match for its growing popularity. Mary, Queen of Scots was an enthusiast; her clubs were carried by students she called “cadets” (now known as “caddies”). The game of “gawf”, as it was first called, spread: first to England, and subsequently to its colonies. 


The MacDonald boys playing golf, 1741

But golf depends on a green – an immaculate and well-maintained surface of undulating grass – and before there were suburbs, lawns were the preserve mainly of the rich.  Greens surrounded stately homes and castles.  Towns had greens, but their lawns were maintained by the cattle or sheep that grazed upon them, and where cattle and sheep graze, one doesn’t want to swing a club at objects in the grass.


Golf at St. Andrews’ Old course, 1855

If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.

Jack Lemmon



[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]


Aiding and a-bedding? Part 4, In an hour, you won’t want them to

January 23, 2015 | Airbnb, Apartments, Cities, Global news, Hotels, Housing, Innovations, Markets, New York City, Paris, Rental, Speculation, Urban issues, US News, Zoning | 1 comment 281 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By: David A. Smith

Jack Bellicec: What are you talking about? A space flower?

Nancy Bellicec: Well why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?

Jack Bellicec: I’ve never expected metal ships.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Arriving at the last of our four parts on this topic, we’ve seen that disruptive technology – in this case, Short Stay Rental enabled by a rapidly evolving and physically disintermediated web-based marketplace – creates an unstoppable new force and an irreversible change in urban dynamics, one that ruptures current zoning and land use strategies.

Sources used in this port

(and previous AHI posts on Airbnb and flat-renting)

Prohibition and the rent-easy (August 13, 2010)

Chez Reductio ad Gotham (August 5, 2013)

Outbreak of informality, Part 1, Part 2 (September 18, 2013)

We know where you live, Part 1, Part 2 (October 16-17, 2013)

The enemy of my enemy, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (November 18-20, 2013)

New York Post (October 16, 2014; brick-red font)

BBC News (December 26, 2014; black font)

Boston Herald (January 17, 2015; olive-green font)

Naturally, such disruption threatens the habitat of some incumbent mercantilist species, such as hoteliers (versus Short Stay Rental) and taxi medallion owners (against Uber/ Lyft), who become the vocal rallying point for last-ditch opposition – but by the time they realize they’re facing an existential threat, they’re in such a minority as potentially to be overwhelmed, and it’s time for a negotiation strategy.


Maybe we can come to terms with them

7. What will happen?  How can this end?

Matthew Bennell: Listen, we’re not the last humans left. There are people who will fight you. They will find out what you’re doing here.

Elizabeth Driscoll: They’ll stop you.

Dr. David Kibner: In an hour… you won’t want them to. In an hour, you’ll be one of us.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

As Pandora learned, disruptive technology cannot be returned to its packaging; once out, it can only be adjusted to.  With broadband ubiquitous, servers powerful, and established high-capitalization entities like Airbnb already deeply embedded in their markets, Short-Stay Rental is a new permanent model, if only because the SSR landlords are so numerous they are now a political veto to any form of aggressive banning.

Everyone accepts that weekend or week-long flat rentals are here to stay. They bring in new tourists and are a welcome source of revenue to thousands of people.

Each of the three possible outcomes referenced in Section 5 can be envisioned.

Outcome 1: Overrun.  This is happening now – cities are being overrun by Airbnb and other Short Stay Rentals.


Stop us if you can

If they proliferate unchecked, then SSR’s will penetrate every neighborhood at least until they have reached tourist equilibrium within the city, and for cities like Paris, whose businesses have long since decamped to La Defense and other enclaves, that will mean central Paris has become one big historic theme park.


You’d better decide we’re an attraction …because we’re not leaving


It only encourages them

It will also mean the death of urban zoning, or at least that the SSR form of use trumps zoning.

Outcome 2: Extermination.  Some cities, like Paris, are trying to exterminate SSRs by prosecuting individual landlords in hopes of frightening the herd.  It won’t work; it’s like swatting flies. 

Truly to kill the phenomenon, one must attack not the users but their source – the company itself, just as the attorneys general did with the tobacco litigation, the Obama Administration with the big banks.  Undoubtedly Airbnb has long considered this possibility, and done everything it can to insulate itself against legal liability – I’m sure the unread fine print in an Airbnb listing agreement is a masterpiece of drafting – but as we’ve seen with the tobacco companies, or the big banks, perfect legal protection is no defense against an ambitious politician with a populist agenda.

In New York, for example, attorney general Eric Schneiderman is attacking Airbnb and seeking to force the company to disclose all its participating owners:

By analyzing Airbnb bookings for private stays between Jan. 1, 2010, and June 2, 2014, Schneiderman was able to get a snapshot of how the service works in New York. The report revealed several key findings.

1. Gentrified neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, Soho, Chelsea and the Lower East Side accounted for more than 40% of Airbnb hosts’ revenue, or about $187 million.

2. More than 100 lessors controlled more than 10 different apartments that were rented out regularly through Airbnb. Together, these hosts booked 47,103 reservations and earned $59.4 million in revenue.

3. The most prolific user administered 272 unique listings, booked 3,024 reservations and made $6.8 million in revenue.

“Few Airbnb hosts appear to have filed the paperwork with New York City necessary to remit hotel-room-occupancy taxes,” the report said. “Nor did Airbnb collect any of the hotel taxes owed for the reviewed transactions.”

That’s good, but even better will be when Attorney General Schneiderman sues the company (or even indicts its principals) as an accessory before and after the fact of each violation of NYC’s registration and occupancy laws would enable the city to pursue a single-payer enormous judgment. 

(He would certainly not be the first New York Attorney General to pursue a high-profile prosecution mainly to build public visibility and run for governor.)


He went from AG …


… to mayor


He went from AG …


… to governor

To just-start his campaign of vengeance and ambition, all Mr. Schneiderman will need, one may callously observe, will be a tragic circumstance arising in an Airbnb flat that will allow the attorney general to claim the moral high dudgeon.

And before Airbnb claims it’s too big to fail, perhaps it should consider Enron or Arthur Andersen.


That brings us to the third possible outcome, one whose outlines appear to be emerging.

Outcome 3: Redefinition and modus vivendi.  As between the SSR networks, exemplified by Airbnb, and their host cities such as Paris or New York, each can be killed by the other. 

A sufficiently outraged city could enforce its current zoning, fine every Airbnb landlord, start a massive class-action lawsuit against the company, and put the full power of government against the pernicious threat. 


Bill Gates giving deposition testimony in US v. Microsoft

For instance, think Microsoft v. European Commission, or US v. IBM, filed on the last day of the Johnson Administration and then enduring for over a decade:

The case went to trial six years later and dragged out for another six years. The trial transcript contained more than 104,400 pages, and thousands of documents were placed in the record. Then, in January 1982, after 13 years of litigation, at a cost to the Government of between $1 million and $2 million for each year, the antitrust division dismissed the case as being ”without merit.” One of the longest and costliest antitrust cases in history, a case the authors of this book describe as ”a juggernaut out of control,” ended with an embarrassing whimper.

On the other hand, a sufficiently outraged consumer service could use its marketing, advertising, legal, and buyer power to vilify the elected officials seeking to ban the company, and could almost certainly ensure they’d be voted out of office or pressured to abandon their extinction threat.

It’s Mutually Assured Destruction, unprofitable for the company, unpolitical for the elected officials.


Shall we play?

The cities know they’re on the wrong side of technology, and that the technological disruption has destroyed their ability to stamp out the infestation. Now they’re stuck with it.

Small species (viruses, bacteria, insects) can be diseases, parasites, or symbiotes, and evolutionary biology is full of examples where Small Species A invaded larger Animal B, then found ways not to attack the body it invaded but support and even protect it.  Eukaryotic cells evolved out of symbiosis of prokaryotic cells into protoplasm; gut bacteria do the same thing on a larger scale.  Birds and bees pollinate plants, which pay for their reproduction with nutrients.  It’s called mutualism.  Dogs and horses have much better reproductive and survival rates than their non-domesticable cousins coyotes and zebras.


A rich man’s oddity: Walter Rothschild and his one-of-a-kind zebra carriage

And while the business model of plagues is flashy, in the long run human gut flora have the better arrangement. 


Just think of us as a specialized biological value chain, okay?

(Mutualism also operates in human societies, particularly with respect to informality, slums, and low-wage unskilled labor vis-a-vis the formal city.)

Species (like Airbnb) can be domesticated (by cities) in mutualism arrangements (regulatory and tax structures) if they meet seven criteria:

1. Serves both the master and the animals.  Notwithstanding shortsighted or sectoral people who see only the invasive species, not its benefits, Short Stay Rentals improve cities because they boost the economy (bringing in tourists, jobs, and businesses) at the same time that they increase the effective utilization rate of the built residential environment.  Thus there’s a clear mutualist case for enabling SSRs so long as they are domesticated.  And for the companies like Airbnb, cities are prime territory – essential territory – where there’s a vast and reliable volume of newcomers seeking accommodation, and a large enough built environment of properties to provide continuing supply of flats to rent.

2. Cannot be picky eaters.  Airbnb tolerates a wide range of possible hosting sites and landlords.

3. Reach maturity quickly.  The web has enabled Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, to get to critical mass within a city before elected officials can create to them.

“We should not deny thousands of New Yorkers the chance to share their homes, pay their bills and stay in the city they love,” Airbnb said in a statement.

4. Willing to breed in captivity.  The companies need to ‘take the bridle’ and accept the structure of regulation as a basis for further expansion within a city and to other cities.

5. Docile by nature.  Once the agreement is negotiated, then the companies need to live up to it. Uber’s CEO shows go-rogue tendencies, and might be fired.

Travis Kalanick, Uber, Code Conference

6. Cannot have a strong tendency to panic and flee.  Once a company has dominant position and market capitalization, it will want to remain on good terms with its host city.

“We need to work together on some sensible rules that stop bad actors and protect regular people who simply want to share the home in which they live,” said Airbnb’s statement.

7. Conform to a social hierarchy.  The companies have a corporate structure, including CEO and board of directors, so there is a governance system already in place.

In the case of the Short Stay Rentals (invasive species) versus their cities’ zoning (host organism), mutualism must be the outcome, something along the following lines:


Yet, even as there may be a mutualist endgame for the Short Stay Rentals, cities must beware: Invasive creatures come in many species:

A lawsuit filed by taxi owners claiming Boston and state officials are violating their rights by allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to skirt regulations they must follow faces an uphill battle, legal experts say.

“I think they would have a very difficult time proving they were being treated unequally,” said Janice Griffith, a law professor at Suffolk University. “It’s very difficult to overturn regulations that a state makes.”


She betta now.  Much betta now

Mr. Tong: No, no… she all right. She betta now. Much betta now.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers