How Goofy Can One Game Get?

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Golf has always seemed to me to be a strange way to spend your time.

You chase a little ball all over hell's lushly landscaped half acre, becoming increasingly frustrated as you attempt to get it in the hole. Then, to compound the absurdity of this pursuit, you do it 17 more times.

A recent item in this paper's "Strange But True" column emphasized just how serious this frustration can become:

"In Gloversville, N. Y., 16-year-old Jeremy T. Brenno made a bad shot at the Kingsboro Golf Club. He was so upset by his poor performance that he smashed his No. 3 club across a bench. Unfortunately, the broken shaft of the club twisted back and pierced his pulmonary vein. He bled to death before appropriate medical health could arrive."

In the old days, when I last played golf, at least you got some exercise walking around the course -- although not enough to justify four hours of wasted time. But with the advent of golf carts, even that small redeeming grace is gone.

Today, with the state beset by drought, golf makes even less sense. How can you justify perpetuating this "sport," when it takes so much space and so much water.

And don't tell me a lot of golf courses are watered with effluent, because there are far better uses for effluent. In Payson, for example, it's used to recharge our drinking water aquifers.

The Valley of the Sun, located right in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, is home to some 300-plus golf courses. In fact, Maricopa County has the most golf courses of any county in the U.S.

Here, according to a recent article in The Arizona Republic, local enthusiasts have taken their passion for golf to a new level of stupidity.

It all began three years ago, when the City of Phoenix, showing a rare interest in water conservation, decided not to overseed the fairways for the winter on eight city-owned golf courses. Failure to overseed does not render the courses unplayable; it merely makes them brown instead of green.

When the city announced that it would continue this practice again in 2004, many local golfers came unglued. In fact, they were so passionate about the city's decision, you would have thought somebody was trying to deprive them of, well, water.

"I know it's difficult for a lot of people to be sympathetic about putting water on a golf course," Don Chambers, president of the Cave Creek Men's Golf Association, recently told The Arizona Republic. "But the longer that continues, the more people are going to play other places, and the more revenue will be lost."

It's nice that Chambers is so concerned about the local economy. But I'll bet we'd have even more problems attracting tourists if the streets were littered with the bodies of dogs, cats and an occasional person who died from thirst.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope for those of us who believe golf should be banned outright, especially in a desert state where water is a precious commodity. According to Shawn Connors, president of the Arizona Golf Industry Association, fewer people are playing golf in Arizona.

In fact rounds of golf played on the state's 230 public courses fell 5.9 percent last year, the third consecutive year of decline. And lest you think this coincides nicely with the three years that Phoenix has let its eight courses turn brown, allow me to point out that the Arizona numbers are in line with a decline in the popularity of golf throughout the Southwest.

Are we to think that golfers are suddenly realizing the folly of their ways? If you think the human race is becoming more respectful of the environment and our natural resources, I can offer you a great deal on a natural bridge.

No, I suspect the answer is that golfers are finding even more sedentary ways to "exercise." And that's a shame considering that they could be switching to Wiffle Ball, arm wrestling or baton twirling -- a few of the more strenuous "sports" offered, along with golf, at the Grand Canyon State Summer Games.

Besides providing more exercise than golf, they offer a couple of other advantages -- there are no recorded cases of punctured pulmonary veins and, of course, they don't waste water.

As the drought lingers, it might be prudent to remember that there's more than one way to bleed to death.

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