A golf course takes up an enormous amount of space, but the anger this creates among paid-up protectors of the countryside is nothing to the rage it can provoke in a ropey golfer. Golf is not the only pastime in which the object is to hit a small, distant target with accuracy. In rifle shooting, the central ring is around fifty yards away; in archery, it is about one hundred yards to the target - from where the archer stands, it looks no bigger than the head of a drawing pin held at arm's length. But the distances in golf are greater, and on the vast courses that conservationists think are eyesores, the targets are often not visible at all. Even on the humdrum course which remains the venue for next year's Ryder Cup - the Belfry was developed on the fringes of Birmingham, in fields where Golden Wonder grew potatoes for their crisps - the pros will often have to clobber the ball close to three hundred yards to be in with a chance. There is no hope for the second-drawer golfer: most players try to buy distance, and golf shops sell longer clubs with graphite shafts and large titanium faces which come with a promise to add a few yards off the tee. Some golfers go further still. Alan Shepard, overlooked for the original Moonshot, commanded Apollo 14 and became the first golfer to play in outer space. After three hours on the Moon, Shepard had collected all the samples of rock and soil he needed; he decided to make the most of weak lunar gravity. In front of the TV cameras, he attached the sawn-off head of a six-iron to the handle of his sample collector and formed a makeshift club. Shepard dropped a golf ball in the Moon dust and took a short, deft swing that sent it into the firmament. 'Beautiful,' he crowed to colleagues in mission control: 'there it goes! Miles and miles and miles.'
LRB 4 October 2001 | PDF Download