Is there something wrong with golf writing?
As 2013 came to a close this week, many sites were offering their standard “Best Of” lists. I even got involved, with nine separate posts on the GIFs of the Year. Last week though, Jason Sobel of Golf Channel went on a mini-rant on Twitter on the current state of golf writing, asking questions about where the industry sits as we enter 2014.
Sobel’s right in that there’s been very little mention of golf related pieces on those “Best Of” lists. USA Today, Deadspin and Sports On Earth had no mention of golf in their wrap ups, while Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated listed one story in his top 100 of the year, sports and non-sports, focusing on the piece by Gabriel Thompson for Golf Digest on course maintenance workers. If anyone has other lists that have been posted that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to pass them along.
So, is Sobel right in that there isn’t a lot of quality golf writing available anymore? It’s not an easy question to answer. There were some very well done pieces written in 2013, from Sobel dissecting our obsession with Tiger vs. Jack, to Ryan Ballengee’s work on exposing a fraud in the southern U.S and Jason Logan’s profile of Graham DeLaet for SCOREGolf, along with many others that could be listed here. Brian Keogh at the Irish Golf Desk is always good, as is Conor Nagle for Back9Network and Wei Under Par. John Huggan, James Corrigan and Geoff Shackelford produce quality stuff on a regular basis as well. The good stuff is out there if you’re willing to search it out, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some issues here.
One of the problems, as I see it, is a matter of visibility. Golf is a niche sport as Sobel mentions, and outside of the four majors and events like the Ryder Cup, there’s very little coverage afforded to the game unless you cover golf exclusively. The only other time that golf, as it stands right now, will ever move the needle is if Tiger wins a tournament, and even now, I’m not sure that carries the same effect that it used to. Places like Golf Digest and Golf Channel and Golf.com will always do well because there’s enough golf fans out there to provide interest and traffic, but it’s also that current crop of fans that poses one of golf’s biggest problems.
It’s no secret that golf tends to skew towards an older group of fans, and that has started to carry over significantly to those who cover the game, which is a big problem. I’m not saying that the established writers who are out there, like Ron Sirak and Alan Shipnuck, can’t cover golf anymore because that’s simply not true, but in every other sport, we have seen a younger crop of writers appear and along with that group comes new angles to cover the game and those who play it. That hasn’t happened on a critical level when it comes to golf, despite the best efforts of people like Jamie Kennedy and Richie Hunt who are pretty consistently bringing some new stuff to the table that people should be paying attention to.
The list of younger golf writers at established outlets that cover more than golf is a short one, with Shane Bacon of Yahoo and Kyle Porter at CBS being the most notable names. Stephanie Wei and Ballengee have done very well on their own and working for numerous places, as has Adam Fonseca, but at least from my perspective, that’s pretty much the entire list, and as good as those five are, it’s not enough to warrant much attention from those making the lists that I linked above. Realistically, it shouldn’t be as much about getting content on those lists as it is just an overall improvement of the industry.
Sure, Charles Pierce will write the occasional piece about Tiger, or someone who covers another sport full-time will attempt to do the same, but in a lot of cases, that’s as far as it goes from the mainstream outlets. Most of the time, that person who attempts the crossover is someone who knows little about the game but thinks they can cover it like they do know it anyway. Or, ESPN trots out Rick Reilly, which let’s be honest, doesn’t do much good at all.
Golf doesn’t have a Wright Thompson or a Don Van Natta, even if there are several good writers who cover the game. The bigger problem is that there also isn’t a Rembert Browne or David Roth or Flinder Boyd and there certainly isn’t a Drew Magary, at least that I’m aware of. A lot of golf writers seem to be stuck in a Grantland Rice style purple prose rut, unable to get out. Outlets like Grantland, SB Nation, The Classical, Deadspin and others that have established themselves as authorities in “new sports journalism” have very little golf coverage, especially when compared to their coverage of other leagues and sports.
Sobel mentioned that he thought the medium was improving, and I completely agree. There’s more quality writing about sports available now then ever before, and the internet makes it so much easier to access your favourite writers, regardless of where you live around the world. The state of golf writing though, while not bad, will not improve like the other sports have until some new writers emerge with different approaches to covering the game and the bigger multi-sport entities start paying more attention.
Until those things happen, I can’t see much changing.