Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other] - MensTennisForums.com

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post #1 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 02:19 PM Thread Starter
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Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Good article

http://www.slate.com/id/2126314/
Golf vs. Tennis
How one country club sport defeated the other.
By Field Maloney

On Sunday evening, there was a palpable sense of relief in the TV commentators' voices as the sun went down over the U.S. Open championships. It had been a thrilling, hard-fought final. The matchup had storybook dimensions: tennis's most dominant player, Roger Federer, squaring off against its charismatic elder spokesman, Andre Agassi. Still, John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, and Dick Enberg, the CBS announcers, had reason to be nervous. Last year's finals drew the lowest television ratings in Open history. And this year, despite all the drama and unexpected excitement, there were still reminders that tennis is stuck in a decades-long slump, with the audience for the professional game and the number of Americans playing recreationally both shrinking.

The biggest slight was directed at Robby Ginepri, a doleful-eyed journeyman from Georgia, who suffered the indignity of having his fourth-round match against Richard Gasquet cut off in the middle of the third set so that USA Network could air Law & Order: SVU. For much of the last two weeks, until the epic Agassi-Blake quarterfinal last Thursday, Arthur Ashe Stadium rarely appeared more than two-thirds full. Agassi's comments after his match against Blake—"I wasn't the winner, tennis was"—hinted at how U.S. players feel the burden of keeping tennis alive. Would Allen Iverson ever proclaim in a postgame interview that the real victor that night was the game of basketball?

I spent some time this summer on the men's U.S. pro circuit, where a sense of bitterness about the state of tennis hangs over players' lounges and practice courts. You hear it from the coaches, administrators, and hangers-on, and it gets directed at different targets, but the basic substance is the same: What can make Americans pay attention to tennis? I remember one grizzled coach, a Polish émigré, spinning elaborate courtside conspiracy theories involving various tennis governing bodies and the TV networks, whom he considered nearly as bad as the Communist government he'd defected from. Justin Gimelstob, a smart, outspoken, 28-year-old tour veteran, calls the game—somewhat ruefully—"a niche sport."

Meanwhile, golf has exploded in popularity. This is a sore point in the American tennis community. "Golf is horrible for America," Gimelstob told me. "There are enough overweight out-of-shape people as it is, and you get guys spending five hours on the few days they have off away from their families playing golf, and then going out to eat and drink afterward. It's horrible." There's a Cain-and-Abel element at play here. Golf and tennis are essentially sibling rivals, both raised in white polo shirts, one wielding a 9-iron, the other a wooden racquet, who, during the leisure boom after World War II, left their stuffy country club to seek fame and fortune on a larger scale.

Golf's popularity originally surged in the late 1950s and '60s. You had a golf-nut president, Dwight Eisenhower, and a charismatic regular-guy star, Arnold Palmer, the son of a course superintendent. Public links were going up all over the country. As golf expanded, its core constituency shifted from the old-money WASP establishment to the new technocratic elite. Golf became the pastime of the American business class. Firmly rooted in the culture of the deal, golf found a bigger stage in the '80s and reached an apogee of media attention in the '90s with the arrival of Tiger Woods.

Yet, during the '70s and into the early '80s, tennis appeared poised to grab the limelight. Golf seemed too fusty and stiff for prime time, too male, too redolent of Republicans and retirees, less prepared to shed its exclusive aura. Tennis courts could be found in neighborhoods rich and poor, and the sport already had its Tiger Woods figure: Arthur Ashe, black, from a blue-collar background, tremendously eloquent, poised, and statesmanlike. But tennis's popularity, in terms of people playing, peaked in 1978 and has been dropping ever since. These days, the professional game has some clout abroad, but, in the States, tennis is on the cultural sidelines. The guy with the 9-iron has become an American everyman.

How did this come to pass? Every year brings a new crop of tennis-is-dying articles, with a familiar list of theories. Changes in racquet technology have made for a faster, duller game. Too few colorful personalities at the top of the game, and too few Americans. Poor TV coverage. These are more reductive than helpful. The rise of golf and the decline of tennis can be explained by the changing popular perceptions of the games. In the '50s and early '60s, tennis and golf were aspirational sports, part of the American upper-middle-class package: If you wanted to join, you played. Tennis, as it outgrew its country-club demographic in the late '60s and '70s, gradually became more of a sport than a lifestyle. Most tennis was no longer part of a day at the club and all the upturned-collar conversation that entailed. It was simply a couple of hours of hitting a green ball back and forth over a net.

The irony is that golf has thrived and tennis withered precisely because tennis has worked so hard to expand into a wider demographic. In the '70s and '80s, more public courts were built, more outreach programs were started, and racquets got cheaper and easier to use. Andre Agassi, in his younger, wilder years, played in black denim and lime-green Lycra in order to, as he said last week, "bring something to the game that would maybe impact those that don't normally watch it, maybe to draw interest to the game."

Golf has shed its clubby trappings much more slowly. Tiger Woods never plays tournaments in shorts, let alone black denim and Lycra. Two out of the three American majors this year were held at private clubs.* For better or worse, golf has remained an aspirational sport in the American consciousness, an emblem of the road to success and prosperity. Golf's tent got bigger—and more meritocratic (even Tony Soprano plays golf)—but never lost its peaked shape. Tennis, by becoming a mere sport, plunged into an identity crisis, and was left out of the bounties of American aspiration.

The final insult is how, despite tennis's efforts to woo the people, the sport has never shaken its vestigial associations to the old WASP aristocracy. For evidence of this, you need go no further than the ever chameleonlike and opportunistic Bush clan, whose deep roots in both games co-exist with a knack for political self-presentation. So, while George H. W. Bush is a dedicated tennis fan and player and his eldest son was an avid player well into his 30s—part of W. and Laura's courtship was spent at a Texas tennis ranch—the president now seems to make a point of never being seen with a racquet. Tennis has become a political liability: effete, preppy, what high-schoolers call a "wussy sport." Whereas golf, no matter how fey the links attire or how pricey the greens fees, has become so solidly red-blooded and all-American that even our folksy president can embrace it.

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post #2 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 02:35 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

interesting

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post #3 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 03:05 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Thanks for the article. The question of why golf turned much more popular than tennis remains open. The article claims that it had to do with being perceived as more "american" but how did this perception come to pass? What is the relation with the evolving lifestyle of Americans? Is golf popularity in the U.S. temporary or hints at something more permanent? And, last but not least, the article story lacks the international dimension of the game. What is going on in the rest of the world? The answer to this last question would provide interesting implications for the state of tennis in the U.S. also.
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post #4 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 03:17 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

I agree that the author's theory is incomplete and not sufficiently proven, although it is an interesting read. I wish the international success of the sport wasn't so consistently ignored by American writers, but what can you do?

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post #5 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 03:35 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Well I think the point of this article was comparing golf and tennis in the United States, not world wide. There isn't a "crisis" in tennis in the rest of the world like there is in USA. But also with golf you have the PGA tour where most of the biggest names play and those tournaments are played in the USA. In fact, a lot of the European golfers are playing more in the USA because they know that's the only way they can really improve their ranking and earn lots of $$. It's a lot different with tennis. Roger played four tournaments in the USA this year, spread out over 6 months. Nadal only played three. It's hard for Americans (who aren't die-hard fans) to really get to know these guys when they hardly ever play here.

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post #6 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 06:34 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Quote:
For much of the last two weeks, until the epic Agassi-Blake quarterfinal last Thursday, Arthur Ashe Stadium rarely appeared more than two-thirds full.
The article brings up a lot of good points except for the above statement. The USO sold more tickets this year than any year ever.

It's amazing to see the prize money in golf soar. The guy who is in 30th place on the money list has made $1.6 million this year. Just about every tournment now has a winner's check of $750,000+ with a lot of them around a million.
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post #7 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 06:42 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Tiger Woods - now that guy is boring.

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post #8 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 08:35 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Quote:
Originally Posted by NYCtennisfan
The article brings up a lot of good points except for the above statement. The USO sold more tickets this year than any year ever.

It's amazing to see the prize money in golf soar. The guy who is in 30th place on the money list has made $1.6 million this year. Just about every tournment now has a winner's check of $750,000+ with a lot of them around a million.
Yeah, I wondered about that too...didn't they talk about record crowds this year? I know when Roger played Santoro they said it set a record for night attendance, and then I think Agassi v. Blake set another record.

I'd be curious to know what the ratings are for non grand slam golf tournaments, or ones where the likes of Woods and Mickleson aren't playing. I don't believe for a second they're pulling in decent ratings. I'll bet if more tournaments were played in the USA you'd see more semi finals/finals on national TV. I'm not sure about the Indian Wells mens final (because I was actually there and not watching it on TV), but the Miami finals were on NBC, so was Cincy, and I think some of the others like Indy were too.

Golf is fine when the big names are playing, but some of these tournaments where no one in the top 10 bothers to show up (like right after a major) are boring as hell. For me, it's hard to find boring tennis matches (on the mens side at least). That Sanguinetti/Srichaphan match at the USO was one of the most enjoyable I've watched in a while and neither of them are top players.

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post #9 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 08:40 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Its because golf is easier to play alone and when you get older. Plus since everyone then becomes so hooked on playing golf they prefer to watch it on tv to get hints and tips. Plus fat people can be good at golf (and so many people in America are fat) whereas they can't be too good in tennis. Also there is no question that there is no charismatic people in tennis (Roddick is pretty charsimatic but he can't even get out of the first round of tournaments). Fed may be the best but nobody even knows him whereas Tiger is just as dominant in his sport but since he is American and more charsimatic people try to be like him.

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You cannot be great without having haters. It's a fact of life.

I guess Roddick must be the greatest player to ever play the game.
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post #10 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 08:59 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Golf is so boring though there's nothing exciting to it.

I want to have my evil way with Tommy Robredo


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post #11 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 09:07 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

thanks, it was a good read!

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post #12 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 09:11 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

I have tried once or twice to play golf (well just the practice stuff) and I can get the feeling it can be pretty addictive, but watching it on TV, I still don't get it.

It's right that playing tennis can be difficult especially if you don't know a friend of yours who has about the same level and can play regurarly. Not to mention in big cities, where you can add the difficulty to find a free court.
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post #13 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 09:37 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

How can one learn golf rules on the blind?
I swear they have their own language because when I tune into golf channel out of boredom I can't understand any sentence
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post #14 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-17-2005, 11:05 PM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

Do you know how many business deals are done on a golf course? I knew plenty even I didn't play.

You and your business partners went on a golf course and you'll stuck there for many hours (varies base on your handicap and 16 or 32 holes). Most of the time, you're walking from one point to another.

It's different when you play tennis, you need to hit against your business partner.

And in the corporate world of USA, business deals mean everything. You want to climb up the corporate ladder, you play golf. You want to expand your business, you play golf. You want to get more contacts in the business world, you play golf.
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post #15 of 35 (permalink) Old 09-18-2005, 02:02 AM
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Re: Golf vs. Tennis [How one country club sport defeated the other]

typical yanks and there obsession with viewing figures for everything
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