Salvo 09.18.2023 5 minutes

Country Club Nationalism


Populism can be broad enough to include the bourgeois virtues of the golf course.

It’s no secret that America’s institutions have been thoroughly gutted. Our elected representatives, bureaucracies, agencies, and federal government face a crisis of meaning and legitimacy. But there’s one institution that hasn’t been completely hollowed out: our nation’s beautiful golf courses, and more specifically, our country clubs.

Why is this? What immediately comes to mind is they offer quality public spaces, hospitality, competition, friendliness, and high-trust environments. 

Thinking back on my recent trip to Pinehurst Resort in a beautiful village of North Carolina (the course on every golfer’s bucket list, Pinehurst No. 2, is the location of the 2024 U.S. Open), what strikes me most is the sheer excellence of the experience.

For one, Pinehurst maintains strict standards and a code of ethics. You are expected to arrive in certain attire, well-dressed and formal, holding yourself to a higher standard. Worthy conduct is required of any member in good standing. Because of its noticeable emphasis on etiquette, goofing off, getting too drunk/loud, or causing a scene are highly discouraged.

Next, there are lofty barriers to entry. You need money, status, or both to join. Average Joes will often never see, let alone play, premier clubs such as Pinehurst. “Equity” mandates do not exist here. For better or worse, members and their guests seldom interact outside their own class group. The clubhouse grill rooms are filled with old family money and newcomers who worked to gain approval from seasoned and reputable members. Social capital plays a huge role, allowing for a selective process that’s all but lost in America today.

The game of golf itself provides key insights into God’s creation and how man should interact with nature. Opposed to ugly climate activists screaming at a camera and pouring fake blood all over themselves, golf courses show us how humans should work in tandem with the outdoors, creating and bettering our surroundings while preserving what we’ve been blessed with. It’s hard to look over golf’s most picturesque holes—#17 at Sawgrass, #7 at Pebble Beach, #18 at Harbour Town—and deny the existence of God the Creator.

The sport also gives its participants crucial life lessons. The phrase “Nothing worth having comes easy” might as well have been formulated regarding the improvement of one’s golf skills. Anybody who has ever picked up a 5-iron and tried to hit it perfectly at a target knows how difficult this task is. It teaches humility through embarrassment. It teaches patience through practice. It teaches acceptance through defeat. It’s a rigorous mental game that strengthens convictions. Contrast these virtues to state lawmakers voting to eliminate the A-F grading scale and teachers announcing trigger warnings to their classes every five minutes.

Leftists despise all of this. They hate decorum. They hate refinement. They hate order. They especially hate individualism and the thought of bettering yourself without help from the state. They hate spaces they are excluded from. In sum, they detest everything about country clubs, which is why you never find leftists there. On the occasion they broach the topic, they call to remake timeless American golf staples into “public sex forests” and disrupt the peace in their usual fashion. 

It’s no coincidence that golf is easily the most right-leaning sport. The evidence is overwhelming. In 1993, several Ryder Cup players refused to meet with President Bill Clinton before the matches due to his policies. 2012 data showed “engaged Democrats like tennis and the WNBA. Engaged Republicans are really into the PGA tour, college football and NASCAR.” A 2016 poll revealed that golf pros, both male and female respectively, tended to show a soft spot toward Donald Trump and an aversion to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. After the death of George Floyd in 2020, Tiger Woods, the top golfer of the modern era, released a statement condemning the riots that ensued: “We can make our points without burning the very neighborhoods that we live in.” In 2022, an iconic photo showing Trump and Tucker Carlson laughing over “Let’s Go Brandon” chants during an event at Bedminster Golf Club broke the Internet. In 2023, Republicans outranked Democrats by more than three to one on “D.C.’s top golfers list.”

While right-wingers should and must make populist appeals to rural forgotten America, “Country Club Republicans” tend to get a bad rap. Now, the old GOP does deserve all the scorn and mockery they get. Whistling away as the country burns and worrying about tax cuts while the culture shifts dramatically to the Left was never a strategy for long-term success. On the other hand, cultural issues should not always take priority when the American dream is slowly fading away for the younger generation.

“We can do both” is a popular line establishment Republicans use to advance neocon foreign policy while neglecting the deterioration of the heartland. However, we can win again both culturally and economically. The New Right does not accept the failed status quo. And as Trump shows effortlessly, it’s nice to cultivate popularity with the grassroots as well as the upper crust, staying grounded while channeling energy through each vehicle. We can only replace our current elite with a different elite, and the new generation of right-wing golf bros/frat buddies/disaffected Zoomers are poised to take over. 

If conservatives want to conserve something—anything at this point—they should look to golf culture for guidance. 

We need an America where greatness becomes not just achievable again, but expected. We need to move forward, responding to the challenges that confront us, while honoring what came before. We need COUNTRY CLUB NATIONALISM.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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