The Golf / Driving Metaphor

[Ninth in the highly unpopular "metaphor series." See also: New OrleansBicycling/DancingVikings stadium/Star Wars, bikes/guns, gas/pop, NIMBY/Amtrak, soup/housing and Cat training / Driver training.]

[A golf course in Ramsey County.]

For a select segment of American society, a golf course presents the epitome of nature. The greens and fairways, the manicured lawns, the bespoke trees all greet the mind of the golfer, stately strolling through rolling hills. Everything assembles on the course. 

On the course, golf is nature at its most natural, a synonym for landscape. The course is the standard to which all parks, lawns, pastures, and horizons can only hope to meet.

[Filling in a Cozy Lake in 1929.]
And yet the golf course is the farthest thing from the land. Even five hundred years ago in Scotland, there was no little human intervention.  Today's elaborate holes are engineered to the extreme, roughs and traps and manicured lawns the result of thousands of hours of human labor, the movement of dirt on an epic scale, the manipulation of earth papered with a veneer of selected grasses.  The natural landscape that greets the golfer is anything but. This greens lay on a foundation of Earthen fabrication, standing in for land. An alien world with a garden facade. A fantastic landscape for a lifelong of game of pretended control.

The nature of the golfer and the sculpted golf course is the nature of the automobile and the driving landscape. Both worlds require extreme interventions, after which we treat them as natural. 

For the driver, there is nothing so mundane as the curve of the road, the asphalt path seen through the windshield. How normal to speed over the landscape, how boring that the trees out the window fade to a green blur. The undulations of the roadway unreeling unbroken like a film to which we can barely pay attention. How natural to hop to a waiting vehicle, drive to the store, and return in minutes with a bottle of wine, a box of cereal, and a bag of kitty litter.  

Yet these pavings, curbs, and 80-mile-per-hour freeways are the most extreme possible examples of re-engineering the land. The acres of concrete, asphalt, steel bridges over which we together speed untrammeled and blithe have been designed to the millimeter, each street carefully curved to reduce runoff, concrete formulated to reduce wear, and grooved to increase traction to a million rubber tires. Every inch of dirt under the blacktop has been sketched out, thought through, and placed by great machines. Every steel girder, metal abutment, gusset plate, or cantilevered concrete guardrail has been placed, at great expense, to facilitate the thoughtless trip through the city. Driving past the farm field marks the legacy of generations of painstaking struggle against the earth, the massive moving of land, the transcendence of floods, swamps, quakes, and snows.

The modern road is like a golf course. We act like these are natural spaces. We disregard their effort. We take them for granted as we play our expensive games. Nothing could be more natural.

1 comment:

Joy Benn said...

Mark Twain said, “Golf is good walk ruined.” Same can be said for highways. Your metaphor works for me.