The War Between Climbing and Golf

Baffin Island Sledge. (All rights reserved)

During my 15 years in Washington, DC I would measure my recreation by being a climbing year or a golf year. If I climbed more days than I golfed, it was a climbing year. I haven’t been back to my climbing gym since March 11th, due to the pandemic, and since working lunches have been replaced by nine holes of golf with some colleagues and partners, I am already calling this a golf year.

In DC, I only had two solid climbing years, actually, and that was all thanks to Sportrock Alexandria near my home. Of course, if I count all summits on a family hike, then every year might be a climbing year. But I am mainly referring to roping up on technical terrain and bouldering.

Why did I measure my years as climbing or golf years anyway? Because you, or most of you, have a distaste for golf. Golf’s stuffiness and elitist ways are everything golf is not, and climbing is humbler, more in tune with nature, a greater physical challenge that leads to great enlightenment, right? This has been a silent war, especially for climbers that actually enjoy golf. And, as a golfer, they enjoy it for things you enjoy too.

Golf has a bad reputation among most climbers. To climbers, golf is for rich people without enough responsibility, traveling around the world with expensive hardware and fancy clothes, chasing a white ball along manicured landscapes. And they think golfers are snobs.

Of course, the two generally don’t get along. To golfers, climbing is for grungy people without enough responsibility, traveling around the world with expensive hardware, and fancy clothes, going up mountains the hard way unnecessarily in dangerous landscapes. And they think climbers are crude.

Although, culturally, golfing and climbing are distinct, there are some uncanny similarities when you look at what a climber and a golfer wants that is serious about pursuing it. Both require an investment in expensive, technical gear. Improving at both often becomes an obsession. Both are intrinsically connected to the natural environment, and is a common attraction for climbers and golfers.

Wait, is golf natural? Hitting a ball with a stick is ages old and seems like intrinsic child’s play. But what about the course, doesn’t it use valuable resources excessively? It depends on the value you give it. Golf alone, maybe not. There is new research demonstrating the value of public and private land used for golf for the surrounding community, being lead by the Brian Horgon, PhD of the University of Minnesota. The national golf association is working with him and course owners and public mangers to expand the perspective of the current land use and enhance its value. These plots of of land are green spaces (best when tree lined,) rain gardens and recharge ground water, support darker night skies from light pollution, and, if arranged properly, can support foraging for pollinators. Like a nonprofit, there is a double bottom line here.

For that matter, is climbing natural? I don’t mean the act of climbing, as it is also very much intrinsic child’s play at least in some format, such as climbing a tree. But what about our impact on the crag, base, and route? Some of us are better than others at leaving no trace. But the impact of pitons, cams, and bolts are a little subjective. In fact, there is a new study on climber’s negative impact on some ferns and mosses. Elevated build-up of climbing chalk can be significant even if it’s not visible to our eye. I think we will all be better, as a starting point, if we all sign and follow the Climber’s Pact; I have.

There is, of course, no need for a peace accord or even a detente. There haven’t been any attacks either way, so far as I am aware. But golf, below the tour professionals, and the exclusive American country clubs, golf is a game played among friends and strangers made into playing partners with a common bond and purpose, trying to do the silliest thing with a bunch of sticks and a little plastic ball.

My gear is humble, old, and often acquired on a discount. My golf balls were purchased on a Black Friday special 10 years ago, so when I lose one in the pond, it doesn’t hurt so bad. I play inexpensive courses, or on someone else’s charity. I play as often as possible and enjoy it whenever I do. Yeah, golf has it’s humbler qualities too.

I met a couple of avid climbers that take golf seriously, or at least as seriously as I do. As seriously as I do means they care about how they play and practice, though they don’t play as often as folks with a golf club membership. Interestingly, they all look at climbing as a thread of a saga in their lives. They work to improve, progress, or just see what new challenge or destination their journey might take them to. I’ve got a tee time for work tomorrow, but I am looking forward to visiting Mount Gretna again too.

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