John Daly’s debauchery par for the (dis)course

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Mind your Ps (putts) and Qs (quite abhorrent waste of resources). Robert Ruggiero via Unsplash

Once again, if you’re surprised, you’re really not paying attention

It’s John Daly’s world, and we’re just livin’ in it. The golfer made headlines in May for his incredible on-course diet at the Professional Golfers’ Association’s (PGA) Championship, which included about 21 cigarettes, 12 diet Cokes, and six packs of peanut M&Ms – the superior M&M. Then Daly spent the evening dining at Hooters, whom he is appropriately sponsored by, followed by a visit to the casino. He is professional golf’s bad boy, notorious for hammering out birdies after a long night of drunken debauchery.

Perhaps we gaze at John Daly’s life in grotesque fascination. Perhaps we envy such a fast and loose lifestyle. Nevertheless, Daly and golf itself faithfully live by the prevailing consumerist ethos: “You are obliged to enjoy!” The ancient Greeks had a god of wine and ecstasy; his name was Dionysus. We have a goddess of beer and blackouts; her name is America.

Do you scoff at such heedless excess, such improvident consumption? The psychological term for what you’re feeling, if memory serves me correctly, is projection. But, please, suspend your judgment for a while, and consider the following: John Daly and the sport of golf are doing everything correctly. Yes, within the demented and inhuman logic of consumerism, few do it better. Forget the ethical, ecological consumer horseshit. It’s a fool’s errand. A diet of nicotine, M&Ms, and strolling fairways of lush invasive grass species; there is no better representation of a stimulated economy and happy consumer. Mammon craves blood, and he will feed.

If Daly’s diet alarms you, wait until you learn how much the average golf course must consume to function. In the United States, there were about 16,000 golf courses in use by the end of 2021. There are more golf courses in the United States than Starbucks or McDonald’s franchises. In warm and dry climates, like the southwestern United States, a golf course can use up to 4.5 million litres of water each day.

Recent data from the United States Geological Survey showed that the state of Utah uses almost 173 million litres of water on golf courses every day. That’s nearly 58 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day. If we put all the golf courses in the United States together, they take up a land area approximately the size of Delaware, which is 5,133 square kilometres. For reference, Prince Edward Island is about 5,660 square kilometres.

Now, let’s take a brief look at golf’s demographics. About 25 million Americans played at least one round of golf in 2021. The average golfer is about 54 years old, White, and identifies as a man; about 75 per cent of American golfers are men. The average American golfer’s annual income is between $80,000 to $100,000, well above the typical American’s annual income. And one last factoid for you: roughly nine out of ten Fortune 500 CEOs play golf.

Okay, so, golf courses use unfathomable amounts of water to maintain fairways and greens and take up enough land to occupy a small state. So, most avid golfers are old and chronically-inflamed White men, managers of capital, people who actually own their homes. Golf, on the whole, is an egregious waste of water and land. These courses, some of which have lawns manicured enough to make Louis XIV do a double take, are monuments to the destructive capacity of the Anthropocene: revelling and awash in putrid decadence without a single forethought.

It reminds me of an evocative passage in David Wallace-Wells’ beautifully alarmist book on climate change, The Uninhabitable Earth. He writes, “The California fires of 2017 burned the state’s wine crop, blowtorched million-dollar vacation properties, and threatened both the Getty Museum and Rupert Murdoch’s Bel-Air estate […] On local golf courses, the West Coast’s wealthy still showed up for their tee times, swinging their clubs just yards from blazing fires in photographs that could not have been more perfectly staged to skewer the country’s indifferent plutocracy.” As T. S. Eliot writes in The Four Quartets, we have become “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

So, why scandal and shock at John Daly’s on-course diet? As I’ve argued here, Daly is doing nothing out of the ordinary. A bloated gut stuffed with peanut M&Ms and diet Coke? A gambling addiction that, allegedly, has cost him millions of dollars? It’s the American way. And if you’re too poor to afford the American way, you still wish you could. Remember that the majority of people who win the lottery quickly burn through all of their winnings, with many declaring bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

Daly simply represents our milieu with the mask off. Superfluous consumption, golfing with the boys in a simulated environment while the biosphere collapses – it’s all par for the course. And why should we blame him or anyone else? It’s too easy to become despondent and scandalized when we see a true accounting of the facts. Eliot, again: “tumid apathy with no concentration.”

“But, Bodie,” you may cry, “golf is a fun and physical hobby. Can’t people just enjoy things?” Yes, they can. And they will. And that’s exactly my point. The Hegelian philosopher Slavoj Žižek remarks that the postmodern capitalist condition is constantly enjoining everyone, everywhere, all the time, to enjoy. “We are obliged to enjoy. Enjoyment becomes a kind of a weird perverted duty. The paradox of Coke is that you are thirsty, you drink it, but as everyone knows the more you drink it the more thirsty you get.”

The unending pursuit of enjoyment is what we are obliged to do. The reality of our situation here, at the so-called end of history, is so unnerving and horrid that we feel ruthlessly scolded by mere facts. So, perhaps, stepping back and refusing to enjoy this cascading phantasmagoria of futile, cheap pleasures is an authentic act of resistance. It’s an act of compassion for oneself and for others. I oblige you not to enjoy!

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