(News item: Bill Clinton, the greatest Presidential golfer since Gerald Ford, has had a hard time finding a Westchester country club that will take him. As a result, Mr. Clinton may be suffering from Golf Deprivation Syndrome, which causes its victims to travel aimlessly around the world in search of companionship.)
Dear Mr. President:
As Groucho might have said, there’s no reason to join any club that will have you. You’re working in New York City now, which means there are 13 pretty good golf courses within a 30-minute drive of your office. All of them are in the five boroughs, and none of them will turn you down.
Of course, they don’t turn anybody down, even those whose command of basic arithmetic fails them on occasion. They’re New York City’s public courses, and while they don’t have swanky clubhouses and locker rooms, well, what better way to indulge in a golf game and still keep your street cred intact? In New York, we have public golf courses that look like America, from the golfers themselves to some of the conditions (plush green fairways bleeding into concrete-like waste areas–a metaphor for the socioeconomic divisions that plague American society, etc.). Heck, the greens fees are only 25 bucks, which means you won’t have to hold a Hollywood fund-raiser just to pay for a season’s worth of golf.
Think about it, Mr. President: Public institutions are not held in high regard these days. Businesses hire private security companies rather than depend on the local police department. Public schools are a disgrace. Citizens retreat to private communities with private facilities; the sense of shared public purpose is hopelessly out of fashion. But now you can make a statement. Yes, sir, you, Mr. Most Famous Man in the World, still believe in the vitality of public institutions, in the idea of public spaces set aside for the enjoyment of working people. Because that’s who uses these courses, Mr. President: The people whose taxes you didn’t raise back in 1993.
After eight years in the White House and all those years you spent as boy-governor of Arkansas, you’ve probably gotten used to blowhard journalists telling you what you ought to do or not do, or what they’d do or not do if they hadn’t preferred the soft life of the television studio to the bloody existence of the arena. (Then, of course, there are those political columnists who feel obliged to tell you what movies you should or shouldn’t see. They are a different breed entirely.) Well, Mr. President, I’ve never been that type–I have no idea what you should have done about campaign finance or China or tax policy. But, sir, let me tell you something–I’ve been playing golf on New York’s public courses since you were taking notes in Poli Sci 101 at Georgetown. So I speak to you as an expert. And when I say you can carry the water on No. 15 at Silver Lake on Staten Island, or that you should keep the driver in the bag on some of those short par-4’s at Split Rock on City Island, well, let’s just say it’s the most knowledgeable advice any journalist has ever offered you.
And by playing New York public courses, Mr. President, you’ll get a chance to mix with all those “real people” whose charming qualities politicians claim to prefer over the snake-like traits of the Beltway set. A couple fairways at Van Cortlandt in the Bronx run alongside handball and basketball courts, which will offer you lots of grip-and-grin opportunities with real live Bronxites, if you miss that sort of thing. Beware, though: Last time I was there, I sliced my drive near the handball courts and, as I prepared to hit my second shot from the rough, I was pelted with water balloons tossed by some of the city’s delightful young people. As it was a hot, sweltering New York day, I assume these upstanding teenagers were performing a community service of some sort.
New York’s public courses will also give you a chance to indulge in that other passion of yours, public policy. The fifth hole at South Shore on Staten Island runs parallel to the Fresh Kills landfill, about 500 yards or so to the left. What better place to talk about the need for state-of-the-art resource-recovery plants? I have had many discussions about the problems of solid-waste disposal while playing this hole. In fact, when I have driven into the woods on this hole, I have described my game in language associated with solid waste.
We public-golf types await your decision, Mr. President. If you’re looking for playing partners, give our mutual friend Pete King a call. I don’t know if he has a good game (although he’s probably very good at moving the ball left or right, depending on the circumstances), but he is writing a novel you ought to know about.