Charlie's Blog: Golf Versus Bowling


Golf Versus Bowling

The bowling alley is the poor man’s country club.

I have never played a game of golf in my life. I have played mini-golf many times with friends and family, but a true golfer will tell you this doesn't count. I went to the driving range once with a friend where I learned that golf is a game of skill, and it was a skill that I did not possess. I also despise golf. It is an expensive game for rich people. My disdain for the game of golf can be explored in full here.

Bowling is a different story. I have lost count of the times I have gone bowling with friends and family. I stopped bowling in the nineties when I injured my wrist. That wrist has never been the same, and it has killed my ability to send a bowling ball down the lane. I have tried, and it was pathetic. This is sad because I think bowling is a great sport and social activity.

I was never a serious bowler. I didn't bowl for a league or spend countless nights working on my game. The reason for this should be obvious. I didn't have the money or the time for that sort of thing. Bowling is relatively cheap in comparison to golf. But it isn't cheaper than walking which is the closest thing I have to a sport now. Walking is free. Bowling is not free.

Bowling is in serious decline today. I call them bowling alleys not bowling centers. Whatever you call them, they are going out of business all over the place. This has caused some people to try and explain the phenomenon such as Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone. Putnam argues that American society has become more individualistic and uses bowling as an indicator of this individualism. People lack a sense of social cohesiveness which is why they don't belong to bowling leagues. This extends to other things like declining membership in civic organizations. I don't buy Putnam's argument.

Sports and games have a certain fad quality about them. Right now, cornhole and pickleball are all the rage. I can't explain their popularity. Then, there is golf. As bowling has declined, golf has grown immensely in popularity. This is odd considering that golf requires massive chunks of real estate that must be maintained to exacting standards. It is an expensive game that is difficult to play. Yet, my mostly rural county has three golf courses. Our one bowling alley closed years ago and has been demolished. Why is this?

Once upon a time, bowling was more popular than professional football. A professional bowler could get rich from the sport. It was a big deal. The decline in bowling began in the 1980s and has fell over a cliff since then. This coincides with the bull market in stocks and the tech boom. People became materially better off, and I think this had an effect on the culture.

Bowling is an activity for blue collar people. The industry is at pains to tell the story that white collar people are into bowling, but I don't see it that way at all. In the popular mind, bowling is something for factory workers and their wives. The culture hates blue collar people. Both political parties hate the working class now. It has never been rougher for people who work for a living. Bowling suffers from this hatred for the working class.

Golf is seen as the sport of the elite. Naturally, people want to be like the elite, so they adopt their game. This includes working class people. I don't know how they afford it, but these working class golfers aspire to be something more than what they are. So, they golf. It's not complicated.

Deer hunting has a similar decline to bowling. This is because deer hunting is seen as a blue collar activity. Fishing has grown in popularity and seems to have escaped the same fate as hunting. This is because rich people fish, too. The choicest real estate in my county is on the lake.

People don't want to be seen as blue collar even if they are blue collar. Putting on a bowling shirt and hitting the lanes pegs you as blue collar. You are a working class stiff who can't afford to play the real game of golf. What was once a fun way to pass the time has become a stigma.

The decline of bowling and the rise of golf is just a symptom of the larger trend of people rejecting the working class and aspiring to join the middle class. As they say, don't dress for the job you have. Dress for the job you hope to get. This is why the young and stupid pile into four year universities instead of trade schools even if it leaves them unemployed and indebted for the rest of their lives. All of this is vanity.

I remember a fellow who worked the scale at a local recycling center. It was a blue collar job. But I noticed he always dressed well in a golf shirt and was keen on playing golf. The recycling place would call the cops on him later and fire him for theft and embezzlement. This was an ironic but not surprising end. This guy wanted to be a big shot instead of a nobody. Golf was part of the package. Theft was how he financed this.

I am terrible at making predictions, but I can guess at the future of bowling. As the economy sours, people desperate for work will turn once again to blue collar trades and jobs. When this happens, they will accept their status as working class people and drop all vanity. Golf will decline, and bowling will see a resurgence in popularity. I see this possible future as a good thing. This country has had it too good for too long. We are a nation of vain and stupid people.