Academic journal article Journalism History

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Golf Balls: Magazine Promotion of Golf during the 1920s

Academic journal article Journalism History

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Golf Balls: Magazine Promotion of Golf during the 1920s

Article excerpt

Golf became part of the American landscape in the 1920s, both literally and figuratively. Many factors contributed to the tremendous growth of the game, including urbanization and increased leisure time. This article shows how national, mass-circulation magazines also contributed to that growth. How media frame an issue influences how the public perceives it, and that influences public opinion. A frame analysis of 250 magazine articles from thirty-five magazines revealed four frames: game enhancement, benefits, mythical nature of golf, and Bobby Jones adulation. These frames all helped promote the acceptance of golf and increased participation in it. Thus, magazines, which were one of the true mass media of the decade, contributed to the sport's growth by the way they framed it.

Tiger Woods has become one of the most recognizable athletes in the United States, if not the world, and his golfing success and his charisma have ignited the popularity of the game for spectators and players. While his face, form, and story appear in all media, television plays a crucial role in his success and his impact on golf. As Richard Sandomir wrote in the New York Times in 2002:

And the best sports tale told by Nielsen numbers is about Tiger Woods. He plays, ratings rise. He wins, ratings soar. He alone justifies scheduling a golf tournament like the United States Open to end one hour into prime time Sunday. And who minds an extra 45 minutes because of a rain delay if Tiger is leading during the approaching darkness? Woods has more power to extend the ratings of his sport beyond its core audience than any current athlete or team.1

Wood's success and the ensuing popularity of golf are played out on courses around the country. But Americans do more than merely watch golf. The National Golf Foundation reported there were 25.4 million adult golfers in the United States in 1999, with more than 17,000 courses, including the 12,000 courses open to the public. Golfers spent $22.2 billion on golf equipment and fees and another $24 billion on travel for golf purposes.2

The impact of Woods, as well as the media coverage that surrounds him, serve to reinforce golf's place in the American culture. But golf and sports in general were certainly not part of the social fabric of the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Several key events and developments occurred during the first two decades of the century that helped make sports and golf part of American culture, and media coverage, in the form of mass-circulation magazines, boosted golf's popularity. This article explores the role non-sporting magazines played in helping make the game part of the American landscape in the 1920s, both literally and figuratively. The decade, called the Golden Age of Sport in America, offered wide prosperity, more leisure time, and a growing menu of media choices, all of which contributed to the popularization of this individual sport that practically anyone could play.

Americans learned about golf from reading the exploits of its stars on the sports pages of newspapers and from reading about all aspects of the game in the pages of national mass-circulation magazines ranging from Country Life to the children's magazine St. Nicholas to the Saturday Evening Post. How those magazines framed golf in the 1920s provides a way to explore how golf became part of the American sporting life.

The 1920s were a perfect incubator for golf and other sports that dominate popular culture today. The decade will always be the Golden Age to sports fans because the sports world produced perhaps the greatest collection of athletes of any decade before or since. The pre-eminent sports writer of the 1920s, Grantland Rice, attributed the growth of sports to the "greatest collection of stars, involving both skill and color that sport has ever known since the first cave man tackled the mammoth and aurochs bull. [The star athletes of the era] had that indefinable quality that comes from championship ability plus the love and admiration of the masses on the personal side, which sport has never approached since and probably never will again in the life span of this generation. …

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