Golf and Social Status in
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction
A. Fletcher Cole
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked in his short story “The Rich Boy” that “the very rich … are different from you and me” (317). And Ernest Hemingway famously retorted: “Yes, they have more money.”1 Hemingway might also have said that they play more golf. Through a number of his writings, Fitzgerald posits golf as a marker of success and social elitism. The importance of tradition and “fair play” in golf and its sharp division between amateurism and professionalism help inform his masterpiece The Great Gatsby and the stories “Winter Dreams” and “What a Handsome Pair!” The country club often occupies the center of its community, and it provides a gate that both excludes the lower classes but also admits them for mingling with their superiors. Membership in a particular club acts as a determiner of social—even moral—acceptability in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “A Freeze-Out.” Golfing prowess is occasionally mentioned to establish quickly a character as a member of the elite class. Thus the reader finds golf intertwined with some of the class-related themes that concern Fitzgerald most: social position and acceptability, mobility, and the interclass romance. This interest in the sport and the choices Fitzgerald makes about when to employ golf—even as a minor detail—reveal that he saw the sport as a reflection of his understanding of the effects of America’s social stratification.
A few critics have considered Fitzgerald’s work in light of sports, and others have mentioned golf as part of a broader explication of particular texts. Christian Messenger devotes a section of Sport and the Spirit of Play to Fitzgerald, and Michael Oriard’s Sporting with the Gods gives Fitzgerald several pages, but both focus mainly on his obsession with football.2 Alice Hall Perry and John Kuehl each mention “Winter Dreams” but only in passing as part of broader readings. In a 1984 article, Richard Lessa deals with sports in Gatsby, including a helpful section on the role of golf in defining Jordan Baker’s personality, but does not examine the short stories. Neil Isaacs’s