Ordinarily I’m not a language snob. Does it truly matter if people incorrectly refer to concrete as “cement,” or say “fortuitous” when what they mean is “serendipitous,” or use “enormity” as a synonym for “immensity,” or complain about their “arteriosclerosis” when what they actually have is atherosclerosis (unless it’s the other way around)? Life is too short for brooding about the vocabularies of strangers.
Surely you, too, have noticed that at least half the people in America unashamedly use golf as a verb: Do you golf? My brother-in-law golfs. Did you ever see Tiger Woods golf? My wife and I golfed on our honeymoon. I’m thinking of teaching my cat to golf.
The problem has been exacerbated by having a president who, even by presidential standards, spends a remarkable amount of time playing golf. When reporters who aren’t sportswriters report on his weekend activities, they say that he “golfs.”
People who use that word in that way are almost always non-players or neophytes. It’s your great-aunt, not Jordan Spieth, who asks you if you “golfed” over the weekend. The pro at your club doesn’t “golf.” The other members of your foursome don’t “golf.” And Ben Hogan never “golfed” in his life.
This linguistic form is unique to our game, incidentally. Nobody tennises, or baseballs, or billiardses, or soccers. The people who use golf as a verb could cite the dictionary in their defense, but the dictionary is not enough. Using golf as a verb is like using sex as a verb (a usage permissible only for people who hold certain unglamorous jobs in the poultry industry). Using golf as a verb demeans golf.
I don’t mind golfer (although a few purists insist on player). I can even stand an occasional golfing. But the entire conjugation of to golf makes me want to grab a four-iron and golf somebody in the head with it.
While we’re on the subject of golf-related annoyances, let’s spend a moment on ball washers. Beginning players are always easy to spot: They keep their tees in wrist bandoliers, and they can’t pass a ball washer without using it. You hear them pumping as you tee up your first drive of the morning; you hear them pumping as you consider your final putt of the afternoon. These new golfers need to be told that ball washers serve a decorative function only, and are never to be used. Real golfers clean their balls by spitting on them and rubbing them on their thigh, making a permanent stain near the pocket, and identifying them as players, not as people who golf.