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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — January 30, 2004


The Golf Gap

Commentary by MICHAEL AMES

Michael Ames is a retired golf caddy and former publisher of The Street.

For his last act in office, former Sun Valley Mayor David Wilson decided to widen the gap between the valley’s conspicuous Haves and its silent majority of Haves-not-as-much. The having in question here is access to the Elkhorn golf course.

The summer of 2003 marked a change in management at Elkhorn. It seemed the facility was underachieving on its Robert Trent Jones potential. So Troon Golf, a global golf empire managing 140 courses in 26 American states and 11 countries, was called in to remedy the profitless, brown-by-mid-summer course.

Troon runs over 20 private clubs where play is limited to annual fee-paying members. Full memberships at private Troon courses in Colorado and Arizona have initiation fees costing upwards of $47,000. Annual fees are tacked on later. Troon is now contemplating making Elkhorn golf its 21st private course in the U.S.

For those of us who live and play in Sun Valley year round, the golf options would change drastically were Elkhorn to privatize. Elkhorn would become the lush-green forbidden fruit, a scenic though unattainable tableau of privilege. Nonmembers living on the course would literally be banned from setting foot in their own backyards.

The Sun Valley City Council foresaw this problematic and entirely plausible future when it proposed to draft a letter signifying its opposition to such a move. Mayor Wilson said he would refuse to sign any such letter. Shot dead, kaput, finished; the motion was never realized. The council appears powerless and its wants, fairly representing its constituency, lie limp on the ground, trampled by the arrogant boots of Wilson’s Last Stand.

This move is all the more disheartening when one considers the trajectory of the golf industry over the last decade. With the outbreak of Tiger-mania, it was prophesied that golf would break free of its elitist confines—that the sport, with its minority golden boy, would reach open arms into the inner cities. For those of us who love the game it was a great moment, a welcomed chance to shed the burdensome skin of white-guilt for playing this snotty, argyle-clad, silly game. The great Golf Gap would be bridged.

Invented by bored Scotsmen, golf was never meant to be a classifying force. It was to be played in harmony with and against the challenges of nature. Americans, however, devised the social barriers of creed, color and religion that would cast golf as an exclusive, often bigoted pursuit, fit to entertain Wasp fat cats while their black, Jewish and female counterparts (wives!) busied themselves at dirty public watering holes. The richest players paid their dues at their private clubs, which in turn bought the best architects and greenskeepers, while municipal courses settled into trenches of mediocrity. All over the country, the glaring disparity between the flat, unkempt public facilities and their lush, manicured private counterparts became a larger and larger gap.

There are many fantastic public courses in our country. In the Wood River Valley, we have only two. No ill tidings to Bigwood or Warm Springs intended, but these are typical, second-tier golf courses, offering fun and affordable simple golf. For more challenging sport, heaps of greens fees must be forked over at Sun Valley and Elkhorn for their considerable upkeep.

It is disheartening to think that with Wilson’s apathy to his own townsfolk, he is widening the Golf Gap. It should be a right, not a privilege, to drop $100 for 4 hours of torture. With Wilson’s egregious erring behind us, the onus to remedy the ailing City Council now falls squarely with Dr. Thorson.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.