I Buy All My Golf Balls at Costco, and Other News


On the Shelf

Andrea Benetti, Golf, 2010.


  • The man entering the White House today is many dubious things, and here is one: he’s an avid golfer, so much so that he’s just appeared on the cover of Golf Digest as our “golfer-in-chief.” Let me be clear: I don’t trust golfers. They have an almost coagulated aura of excess leisure about them, like pet beds or angina. If your idea of a good time involves puttering around manicured country-club greens in an ill-fitting polo shirt, teeing off with the rich and idle while the hired help lugs your heavy bags of long metal rods, then, brother, you are no friend of mine. The Wall Street Journal has cut to the golfer’s rubberized core with a report on their collective obsession with Kirkland-brand golf balls—you know, from Costco. Such balls are so ideally plotted on the affordability-quality matrix (unit price $1.25) that they’re the envy of every Palm Beach–dwelling retired partner from Deloitte. Brian Costa writes, “What made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much … That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for … The ball was such a curiosity to one major equipment company that employees there cut one in half to study its interior, hoping to discern more about its origin and composition.”
  • Relatedly, if you find yourself dwelling, for some reason, on notions of vulgarity these days, seek refuge at the Barbican, where an exhibition called “The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined” aims to rehabilitate the concept. Hilary Reid writes, “The show takes shape around eleven categories of vulgarity conceived by writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, like ‘Puritan,’ ‘Impossible Ambition,’ and ‘Showing Off.’ Each is explored through clothing, shoes, and texts spanning the eighteenth century through the present … To call something vulgar may say more about oneself than the thing in question, Phillips argues. One employs the word, he writes, to ‘reassure oneself of one’s own good taste’ and to reaffirm ‘the fact that there is such a thing as good taste, and that it protects us’ … Through humor and style, the exhibition hints at what might be gained if we loosen our grip on good taste. Strolling through the rooms of the Barbican, one can’t help but feel a kind of optimism that vulgarity, when carefully applied, can rattle the existing order.”

  • When we talk about “the existing order,” we’re talking about the Davos Man, that model of globalized citizenry who jets around the globe watching liberal democracy flourish with Bono by his side and Fukuyama in his briefcase. Rebecca Liao traces the history of the Davos mentality in the twentieth century: “Soon the Davos set, always spuriously intellectual, developed into a complex network into which actual historians and intellectuals were being drawn. Figures like Francis Fukuyama and the aforementioned [Niall] Ferguson—trained as scholars—were paid top dollar for empty and often reactionary prognostications about the future of civil society, war, empire. It was not just independent organizations like Davos and Aspen. Top universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale began to host affiliated think tanks that welcomed fellows like Fareed Zakaria and Samantha Power, members of the globalist intellectual class who work outside of academia. For the length of their tenure, the fellows at these university arms are essentially paid speakers, rather than scholars and teachers.”
  • Does the global elite have anything more than a token role for artists? The answer, reinforced yesterday when rumors spread that Trump plans to cut the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, is an easy no. Jillian Steinhauer offers a reassuring, if depressing, history of the federal government’s vexed relationship with the arts: “This is hardly the first time the NEA and NEH have been targeted by conservative politicians. In 1980, just three weeks after his election, Ronald Reagan reportedly considered the abolishment of both agencies. (Trump’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ also comes from Reagan.) In the end, he opted to cut their budgets, which were further reduced drastically in 1996 after a series of controversies involving the work of the NEA Four, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others … Fortunately, the president’s budget request is only the first step in a long, complicated budget approval process that involves negotiation with both the House and the Senate—though how much the Republican-majority Congress will push back against Trump remains an open question.”