Why is it okay to be openly hostile to old white guys?

I’m on my neighborhood listserv here on the very liberal near west side of Madison. The vast majority of the traffic on the listerv is about somebody trying to get rid of something in their attic or looking for a recommendation on a plumber. That sort of thing.

But once in awhile some controversy takes hold — or more accurately one is created out of thin air. Take last week. The Madison city council had just done a smart and good deed. So, of course, some folks on the listserv decided that they must be punished.

Here’s the quick story. Embedded in our neighborhood is Madison’s first municipal golf course, a short and tight little nine hole deal called Glenway. Those of us who play it now and then sometimes refer to it as “Glenway National” in mocking reference to more pretentious courses but also in loving tribute to our little links.

A round at Glenway can be a little bit frustrating since the shortness of the course attracts the area’s beginners and true duffers (from which I am, at best, just once removed). And yet, there are some narrow fairways, many big oak trees and lots of small greens. The course is deceptively tricky, which means that a round there can be maddeningly slow.

To address that, but also to make the course more green — with more native plantings and better storm water management — a Madisonian, who is also a successful golf course architect, has generously redesigned the course and kicked in several hundred thousand dollars of his own money to do the project. Michael Keiser and his wife Jocelyn are contributing $750,000 in cash and services to get this done.

The council, not known for lightening quick action, responded within a few months of the offer to accept the largess and start the project in time for this construction season. The course will be shut down this year and the renovation should be completed in time for the 2022 season.

What’s not to like? Well, according to some of my neighbors the game of golf itself. Too many old white guys play it. I am not making this up. Here is an actual quote from the listserv:

The sport in general, and in particular in our part of Madison, is a VERY white and mostly older financially- privileged male activity. I’d like to see us move away from that. Up until fairly recently the sport has a history of exclusivity of both women and people of color. Based on my observations over the years, the courses in Madison, Glenway included, are very white, and still mostly older men. It’s an expensive activity that excludes many. The season pass is over $1,400 for an individual. With renewed attention to racial and economic equity, I see this kind of effort to improve on a bad idea  as backward thinking – despite the more ecological and integrative intents. Can’t we have the innovative ideas for yoga and trail walking, etc. without the golf???

Emily (not her real name)

Well, as a 62 year old white guy who loves golf, I didn’t take that so warmly, Emily.

Try this exercise. Read Emily’s post again but substitute “Black” for “white” and “woman” for “man”. How does it read to you now?

Michelle Wie represents the new face of golf. Young women are the fastest growing demographic among golfers, yet too many still perceive it as a game for white men.

There is no other way to describe Emily’s attitudes than as bigoted. Why, exactly, is it relevant that one particular demographic group enjoys an activity more than another? Isn’t that true of just about any activity? Are we supposed to defund anything that happens to be enjoyed disproportionately by older white guys?

And Emily has her facts wrong. She exaggerates the cost for one thing. You can play at Glenway for as little as $14.50 a round and juniors can play for free.

More importantly, golf is diversifying, and rapidly. More women, especially young women, are taking up the sport. In fact, for the last decade, young women have represented the fastest growing segment of the golf community. And Madison has long been involved in the wonderful national program called “First Tee,” which is designed to introduce young people — especially those of color — to the sport.

I wish I could say that Emily’s point of view was just an outlier. But it was echoed by others on the listserv and it’s consistent with a concept out of academia called “the patriarchy.” Under this theory, all men are “privileged” and all of us are “oppressors.” It doesn’t matter what any individual has done; we’re guilty simply by virtue of our gender. No dispensation is available, though I suppose surgery is always an option.

As a left-center moderate who votes for Democrats, I would like to see more Democrats win elections. But that’s hard when Democrats consistently run about 10 points behind Republicans with half the population. Men identify with Republicans by a 52-42 margin. And in the last election, even men of color increased their vote for Donald Trump, of all people.

Why is that happening? I think Emily has the answer.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Bigotry

  1. There always seems to be a women’s league playing ahead of me at Glenway National. Emily’s attitude seems to be that if she doesn’t participate in the sport, it’s not worth it for the city to own / run golf courses. Then, we’d have only private golf courses completely out of the reach of many Madisonians. And, don’t the golf courses largely pay for themselves? Which cannot be said for all of the other parks in the city.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: