Washington isn't a major golf center of the world. In fact, Spiro Agnew used to leave town so he could slice his five-iron shots off the frontal lobes of innocent onlookers.
But no golf enthusiast will leave town this week. The professionals are coming to Congressional Country Club, the best in the world. And these guys don't slice much. And if they do, the Kemper folks will be right there to insure the victims.
It's not often area aficionados get to see the great ones up close. Besides, travel agents in San Diego rarely mention Washington's great golf courses when trying to push a trip to the nation's capital. But this week the eyes of the golf world are right here.
Big deal, you say. Golf is a boring sport (sic). It's more manual labor than a game. Who would want to watch it? There is a cade to be made for this viewpoint. You have to wonder about a sport that involves replacing divots, but golf can be quite enjoyable to watch. It has properties unlike any other spectator sport and, with the right attitude, attending the Kemper Open won't constitute a loss of weekend privileges.
Some aspects of watching golf can be underwhelming. Examine them and see if your persona can adapt. Remember:
You must be very quite. Golfers are slow. Professionals line up putts as if they're waiting for Godot. And if a tie forces sudden-death overtime, the spectator should consider subletting his apartment.
You must be very quiet. Don't ask why, but golfers demand silence. If you're the type that tends to suddenly belt out a chorus of "Gimme Shelter," avoid Congressional this week.
You have to walk a lot. Golf is one of the few sports in which the spectator gets as much exercise as the athlete. Make sure you have the legs for a par-5 dogleg.
You can't see anything. Pros hit the ball very far. Realistically, on a clear day you can't see forever. If, after his shot, the professional fails to wrap his club around the nearest weeping willow, applaud. He's hit a fine shot.
For those of you who haven't dropped this course or taken an incomplete, we now move on to the game's positive points. Golf boasts unlimited physical and spiritual enrichment for the spectator.
Spiritually, the golf course is a cultural breeding ground. It's a sport of the highest class. Valuable contacts are there to be made in the gallery.
The golf course gallery also is a place to get away with wearing clothes that would normally have you permanently banned from New York, Paris, Florence and Palm Beach. On the course, however, anything goes -- striped doubleknits, argyle jodhpurs, oven mittens -- whatever. Just be your outrageous self.
To go with these outfits, you can get a magnificent suntan watching golf. This is particularly true if you catch the action from the center of a sandtrap, although these positions are tough to come by and often require advance booking or inside contracts.
The major difference between golf and other spectator sports is your proximity to the players themselves. Golf fans actually stand right alongside their heroes. This can be most revealing.
If you get close enough, you can explore the complex symbiosis between player and caddie. If the golfer is having a good tournament, the caddie is headed for a neat percentage of the winnings and the interaction between the two is fascinating. If the player's final four-day total goes up into four figures, forget the symbiosis and get your face back in the sun.
You can rub shoulders with the pros, but these guys are not socializers. Talking to a player is out of the question. He must concentrate. If the pro seeks out a conversation with you, something is wrong and you should race across the fairway and watch another threesome. But the key is to be considerate of the golfer's concentration. If a player is within earshot, avoid wondering aloud, "Do people inhale and exhale on their backswings?"
While one should keep his distance from the players, golf is, nonetheless, and undeniably, an audience-participation sport. The avid television golf fan has seen more than his share of golfers hit a dismal shot, only to be saved when the ball caroms off a spectator's kneecap and back onto the fairway.
There is big money on the line in these tournaments and you should realize you have a choice of blocking a stray drive back onto the fairway or disgustedly kicking the feeble shot out of bounds altogether. It's like being an infielder in baseball -- know what you're going to do if the ball comes to you. When someone yells "fore," that's your cue.
By now, you should be more than ready to wake up early, get out to the country club (just as if you belong) and psych yourself up to take part indirectly in this great American spectacle.
And if you can't make it, don't sweat. Tom Watson wins all the big-money tourneys anyhow, so he'll probably take this one by at least nine strokes. If you do go, enjoy the fight for second place.