Mark Steel: People would play golf if the sport wasn't so snobbish

Dress codes ban denim and inist on jackets and ties in the bar

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As the Open Golf Championship is about to begin, the question everyone must be asking is, "Why is a splendid game still allowed to be ruined by stuck-up condescending suburban snobs, who probably think the most scandalous aspect of the MPs' expenses issue is that Douglas Hogg let his moat get dirty in the first place?".

For example many clubs have an 'artisans' club attached to them, which allows commonfolk to play in return for labouring on the course. The secretary of a club in Yorkshire was quoted recently as saying: "The artisans may play on a Sunday after raking the bunkers, but they're not allowed at any time to walk in front of the clubhouse."

Because who hasn't, if we're honest, had our day ruined by unexpectedly catching a glimpse of a hideous artisan? If they broke the rule the club secretary would probably ring environmental health and scream "Come quick for God's sake, we've got an infestation of the working class. We've put powder down but they walk straight over it, it's terrifying."

This elitism oozes throughout golf. Dress codes bar denim and insist on jackets and ties in the bar to "Protect standards". They must fear that if they let the working class in, they'd drag a piano to the hole and all dance up and down to "My Old Man Said Follow the Van", until the green was ruined. Then they'd tape all the clubs together to make one long pole and use it as a chimney sweep, getting dirt all over the fairways, then turn the clubhouse into a shop selling everything for a pound. The place would be WRECKED.

A typical dress code, at the Oxford club, insists: "Caps must not be worn the wrong way round at any time on the grounds." Because if you relax that rule the Oxford spire posse would be down there yelling "Hey caddie I don't want no four iron muthah, pass me my Uzi, I'm gonna SHOOT the ball out the rough."

Representing one side of this elite cosiness over the next few days will be commentator Peter Alliss, conveying an Edwardian amateur unworldliness completely at odds with the fierce competitive nature of the players. And everything revolves around charming lunches and everyone's lovely as long as they're posh and you can imagine him saying: "Oh there he is there he is, the dear old Duke of Middlebury, right by the clubhouse, splendid fellow, hasn't missed an Open Championship for more than 70 years, except for 1943 when he commanded a unit of the SS in Bavaria and even then he found time to pop in to the Munich Masters, delightful wife too."

To be fair to the golf elite, they haven't just been obsessed with snobbery. They've managed to promote every other kind of prejudice as well. Hundreds of clubs refused membership to women until forced to by new legislation.

In America the Professional Golf Association adopted a 'Caucasian-only clause', that barred black players until 1962. Even now, a player in Yorkshire, Jay Athwal, has set up an 'Asian Open', because clubs make Asian players feel unwelcome. He said "A steward at one club told me not only could I never join, nor could my children's children." Of course the clubs don't officially practise segregation. They'd probably say "Coloured folk are more than welcome to join, as long as on the first tee they're accompanied by a missionary who converts them to Christianity."

But the frustrating part is far more people would play and watch the game, if they could feel comfortable doing so. In Scotland and Ireland, where it doesn't have the same image, golf has a much wider appeal. Putting greens and pitch and putt courses are hugely popular. But somehow society is so riddled with division, the simple joy of whacking a ball is organised to exclude most of the population.

So the first step to popularising the sport should be to change the commentators. This year's open should be covered by a DJ from Kiss FM, going "Big shout out to Lee Westwood and the fourth tee massive, put that bunker behind you bro. And here's a text from MC 2wood of Oxford saying Tiger is FIT, now down to the tenth for some Ernie Els action".

Peter Allis can be employed at crazy golf courses, muttering "Oooo my my my she's over-chipped that right over the windmill, and well, well, well she'll be lucky to make it into the funnel in two from there, what a funny old game this is."

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