The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal [NOOK Book]


Perhaps the best golfer ever, Tiger Woods rocketed to the top of a once whites-only sport. Endorsements made him a global brand and the world’s richest athlete. The child of a multiracial marriage, Woods and his blond, blue-eyed wife, Elin Nordegren, seemed to represent a new postracial America. Then, in late 2009, Woods became embroiled in a sex scandal that made headlines worldwide. In this concise yet far-reaching analysis, Orin Starn brings an anthropologist’s perspective to bear on Tigergate. He explores our...
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The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal

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Perhaps the best golfer ever, Tiger Woods rocketed to the top of a once whites-only sport. Endorsements made him a global brand and the world’s richest athlete. The child of a multiracial marriage, Woods and his blond, blue-eyed wife, Elin Nordegren, seemed to represent a new postracial America. Then, in late 2009, Woods became embroiled in a sex scandal that made headlines worldwide. In this concise yet far-reaching analysis, Orin Starn brings an anthropologist’s perspective to bear on Tigergate. He explores our modern media obsession with celebrity scandals and their tawdry ritualized drama, yet he offers much more than the usual banal moralizing about the rich and famous. Starn explains how Tiger’s travails and the culture of golf reflect broader American anxieties—about race and sex, scapegoating and betrayal, and the role of the sports hero. The Passion of Tiger Woods is required reading for all those interested in the high-stakes world of professional golf, the politics of sports and celebrity, and the myths and realities surrounding the flawed yet riveting figure who remains among the most famous athletes of our time.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An in-depth study of the sport's exclusionary reputation, the celebrity industry, racial stereotypes, marketing and media avarice, Starn's treatment of the Woods scandal delivers layers of perspective to what, on the surface, was just another cheap tabloid feeding frenzy.” - John Jeansonne, Newsday

“[A] very engrossing read. . . . [T]he value of The Passion of Tiger Woods is simply that it is thought provoking. Starn provides readers with plenty of issues to consider about sports in culture, along with his own unique perspective - Steven Campbell, American Athlete Magazine

“[A] fascinating and thought-provoking look at how society gets its information and, often immediately, hands down its judgments.” - Ron Kaplan, ForeWord Reviews

“Orin Starn’s excellent examination of Tiger Woods offers deep insight, original thinking, and valuable new perspectives. This book tells us a lot about Tiger, but even more about ourselves.”—Jaime Diaz, senior writer, Golf Digest

“The next time someone asks me about anthropology’s value to contemporary cultural debates, I’ll just tell them to read Orin Starn’s The Passion of Tiger Woods, a funny, engaging, readable, and unapologetically anthropological take on celebrity scandal, popular culture, and American sports. From playful musings on a potentially recessive ‘golf gene’ to critiques of (wildly popular!) speculative genetic theories about black athleticism, Starn takes us on an entertaining ride through the history of golf, the rise of its current superstar, and the media maelstrom of racial and sexual imagery that followed from a relatively minor car crash in Florida one fateful Thanksgiving night. I’m one of those people who was tired of hearing about Tigergate almost as soon as the story first broke, but Starn does a convincing job of showing me why I should have been listening and watching even more closely.”—John L. Jackson, Jr., author of Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness

Newsday - John Jeansonne

“An in-depth study of the sport's exclusionary reputation, the celebrity industry, racial stereotypes, marketing and media avarice, Starn's treatment of the Woods scandal delivers layers of perspective to what, on the surface, was just another cheap tabloid feeding frenzy.”
American Ethnologist - Robert H. Lavenda

“An excellent example of the power of anthropology to illuminate popular culture at the national level for a nonanthropological audience. . . . This report would be an excellent text for introductory anthropology classes, for those rare classes in the anthropology of sport, and as a gift to nonanthropologist friends who are curious about what anthropology might have to say about culture in the United States.”
Sociology of Sport Journal - Katherine M. Jamieson

"Starn’s clarity about the cultural significance of sport and specifically of golf is refreshing. . . . The Passion of Tiger Woods offers an important entry point to thinking differently about sport."
American Athlete Magazine - Steven Campbell

“[A] very engrossing read. . . . [T]he value of The Passion of Tiger Woods is simply that it is thought provoking. Starn provides readers with plenty of issues to consider about sports in culture, along with his own unique perspective
ForeWord Reviews - Ron Kaplan

“[A] fascinating and thought-provoking look at how society gets its information and, often immediately, hands down its judgments.”
American Studies - Thabiti Lewis

"The Passion of Tiger Woods is a wonderful example of the types of anthropological studies that are necessary and possible. Despite the obvious pitfalls of the anonymity of his subjects, the approach lends itself to useful, fresh, honest tracking of true public perception that ensues in the social media world, which cannot be ignored."
Golfweek - Bradley Klein

“Orin Starn’s elegant little essay, The Passion of Tiger Woods, arrives from the outside and looks at the public spectacle of Woods’ stunning crack -up.” - Jeff Silverman

“With Tiger as its springboard, ‘Passion’ dives into some big themes the subtitle barely supplies the half of it and comes up with a short, compelling and eminently engaging postulation that goes well beyond its own titular transgressor.”
Times Higher Education - Sharon Wheeler

“Starn, an anthropologist, promises us not only golf but also the steamier topics of betrayal, raunchy sex and race conflict. And once we’re past an early trot through American history and golf, that’s exactly what we get. Starn is a perceptive guide as he ranges from the Frankfurt School to social media with an enviable lightness of touch.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822395195
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Series: a John Hope Franklin Center Book
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 715,693
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Orin Starn is Professor and Chair of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes and a co-editor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, both also published by Duke University Press. His most recent book is the award-winning Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian. An avid golfer with a five handicap, Starn has written about golf for the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers and provided commentary on ESPN and NPR. He blogs about golf at and regularly teaches a course about sports and society.

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Read an Excerpt

The Passion of Tiger Woods

By Orin Starn


Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5199-3

Chapter One


Golf attracts among the most fanatical devotees of any sport. A group called the Golf Nut Society of America gives out an annual prize for "Golf Nut of the Year." One recent winner got the award for having collected more than 1,200 golf pencils; assembled a library of more than 2,820 golf books; and "struck all three of his sisters with golf shots." The former basketball superstar Michael Jordan won the prize for skipping the ceremony where he was to receive the NBA Most Valuable Player award in favor of thirty-six holes with friends. Every year, dozens of golfers ignore subzero temperatures, cracking icebergs, and roving polar bears to compete in Greenland's World Ice Golf Championships. Competitors use bright red and orange balls so as not to lose them in the snow.

Many other Americans detest golf as a boring, snotty game for rich white men with too much free time on their hands. "I'd rather," the comedian George Carlin once said, "watch flies fuck." The World Anti-Golf Movement, based in Japan, cites the game's supposedly harmful environmental and social consequences to advocate that courses everywhere be converted into public parks or restored to their natural state. It's a familiar component of Left-leaning, Whole Foods-shopping, Prius-driving white identity to dislike golf, or tolerate it as at best a useful, somewhat pathetic diversion for older relatives.

The negative stereotypes do not always hold up. Golf has a democratic tradition going back to its hardscrabble Scottish origins. In America, ever since the golf boom of the early twentieth century, there have been plenty of affordable public courses for the golf-minded. You'll find everyone from high-school kids and Walmart cashiers to retired plumbers at these plebeian tracks nowadays. Indeed, most American golfers come from the middle and working classes. Golf also has the oldest and among the most successful women's professional league of any sport. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the legendary Olympic champion and protofeminist godmother to the Title IX generation, cofounded the Ladies Professional Golf Association back in the 1950s. Unlike, say, soccer or football, golf can be played by people of any age; and it's a myth that the game has to be expensive. Affluent golf nuts will spend thousands on the latest shiny high-tech clubs, but you can get a perfectly good used set for a hundred dollars on Craigslist. The game even has an admirable charitable-fundraising tradition, with dozens of benefit tournaments nationwide for causes from Teach for America to disabled war veterans. The men's professional tour raises more money for charity than any other major sport. One young star, Ryo Ishikawa, donated his entire 2011 prize money to earthquake relief in his native Japan, more than a million dollars.

Golf lives down to its reputation in other respects. The archetypal blue-blooded East Coast country clubs were WASP-only. Some early ideologues went so far as to claim that the game, as a pastime of "merry old Eng land," was suitable only for those of "Saxon blood." Famous early American golf clubs, like Philadelphia's Merion Country Club, excluded blacks and Jews well into the twentieth century. "We just don't do things that way in Birmingham," explained the club president at Alabama's Shoal Creek Country Club, with regard to barring blacks as late as 1990. Golf was also the last major professional sport to desegregate. It had a "Caucasians-only" clause until 1961, almost fifteen years after Jackie Robinson had broken baseball's color barrier. Two of America's most storied clubs—New Jersey's Pine Valley and Georgia's Augusta National—still do not allow female members. As for golf garb, there's no denying its unloveliness, straight down to the garish pants, white leather belts and the two-tone, fake leather cleats. "Golf," as another comedian, Robin Willams, quips, "is the only sport where a white man can dress like a black pimp."

But country club bigotry led excluded minority groups to build their own golf courses. Already by the 1920s, Jewish enthusiasts had founded the Century Club in White Plains, Chicago's Lakeshore Country Club, and other new establishments. The black professional classes also banded together to start clubs, among them the legendary Langston Golf Club in 1939. This course was named for the black Civil War hero, pioneering lawyer, and Howard University trustee George Langston, who was also the uncle and namesake of the Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes. Black celebrity royalty like Cab Calloway, Billy Eckstine, and Joe Louis played at Langston often. A big oak on the fifth hole there became known as the "Joe Louis Tree" because the heavyweight champion hooked so many drives into it. (You can still play the course today, with its fairways bordered by the tough inner-city projects of Anacostia, Maryland, and the elevated subway clattering by.) In the age of Jim Crow, black baseball stars had been barred from the major leagues, heading instead to the Negro Leagues. The main professional golf tour, the pGa, also excluded blacks, and top black golfers turned to the United Golf Association, which was established with the financial backing of Joe Louis and others. This circuit played on substandard courses for small prizes, but nonetheless produced its own Satchel Paiges and Josh Gibsons, among them Teddy Rhodes, Bill Spiller and Eural Banks. Rhodes was so good that he'd later be dubbed the "black Jack Nicklaus."

Several black players, in fact, excelled on the men's professional tour once it dropped its "Caucasians-only" clause. The cigar-chomping Charlie Sifford, the first man to break golf 's color line, won three tournaments, despite being well past his prime by the time he was allowed his playing card (and, to anyone who asked, cited Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking as his favorite book). Other men of color from humble backgrounds also made their marks. Rod Curl, a Native American from a small California Indian tribe almost exterminated in the Gold Rush, stood down the blond über-golfer Nicklaus to win the prestigious Colonial National Invitational one year. The short, skinny Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez was a Puerto Rican street urchin who got into golf caddying at an island country club. Rodriguez defied the laws of physics by blasting some of the game's longest drives and was known for his trademark Zorro-like faux rapier thrusts of the putter whenever he holed a long one.

My favorite old-time golfer is Lee Trevino. Trevino grew up poor in a dirt-floored shack outside Dallas, with his washerwoman mother and gravedigger grandfather. He picked up golf while driving a tractor at a local practice range and was soon hustling locals by betting he could beat them playing with only a Dr. Pepper bottle wrapped in masking tape for a club. Even after becoming one of the world's best players, Trevino faced the syrupy condescension that is hatred's flip side of the American racial coin. According to one journalist, he was "a constantly chattering, joking little Mexican;" Golf Digest likewise noted the "carefree Mexican heritage" of this "gay young caballero." The tricksterish Trevino himself was not always averse to the old happy-go-lucky, Frito Bandito, Taco Bell, noontime-siesta image of Mexico and Mexicans. He billed himself the "Merry Mex" and once joked he'd buy back the Alamo for Mexico after winning the 1971 U.S. Open (only later to announce that he'd changed his mind on discovering that the old fort had no indoor plumbing). But Trevino's humor could also be biting about his hard childhood and the realities of American society. "I was twenty-one years old," he liked to say, "before I realized that Manual Labor wasn't a Mexican."

Golf has remained very much associated with the establishment, despite the Curls and the Trevinos. From its first years in America, after the Civil War, the game was the preferred sport of leading industrialists, the culture heroes of American business. Andrew Carnegie, that archetypal robber baron and philanthropist, loved golf from his Scottish childhood; Bill Gates got married on the twelfth tee of Hawaii's Manele Bay Golf Club, and was part-owner of a course; Warren Buffet, America's other richest man, also follows in the tradition of the golfing tycoon (and, for that matter, so do hip-hop moguls like Jay-Z and Kanye West). Then and now, joining a fancy golf club is a way to set yourself apart from society's lower echelons, a hoi polloi-free zone, where you can enjoy prosperity's rewards in a gated, bucolic exclusivity.

The game also suits the spirit of capitalism. If business enshrines the individual and the glories of competition and the free market, then so does golf. You're on your own, no team sport this. That avid champion of capitalism, Rush Limbaugh, a lousy yet avid player himself, calls professional golfers the ultimate free-market entrepreneurs. Everything comes down to the individual's performance in this brand of survival of the fittest, the game being about the bottom line of the scorecard and its dicey mathematics of risks and rewards. More pragmatically, golf 's pace is perfect for strengthening business relationships. A swing takes only about four seconds. This means that the average golfer spends just seven minutes or so of a typical four-hour round actually playing the game. That leaves plenty of time for socializing with your foursome and for networking that you can turn to your advantage. Also, many businessmen are of a certain age, and golf allows you to play almost to the grave (the singer and movie star Bing Crosby, for example, died of heart failure at seventy-four walking off the eighteenth hole at a Spanish course).

Golf has also long been the pastime of politicians. In the early twentieth century, it was still regarded as too much the rich man's sport for a political hopeful to enjoy, at least in public. "Horseback riding, yes," the ever manly Theodore Roosevelt advised his protégé William Howard Taft, "tennis, no. And golf is fatal." But as the middle classes took to golf, it was no longer viewed as a liability to a president's image, when enjoyed in moderation. The rotund Taft ignored Roosevelt's advice and was often photographed on the course with club in hand. Almost every president since then (the only recent exception being the NASCAR-loving Jimmy Carter) has golfed. The best player among them was John F. Kennedy, in spite of his chronic back pain. Although a hacker, Dwight Eisenhower was the biggest golf nut (and with his unassuming, grandfatherly profile did much to popularize the sport among America's expanding middle classes following the Second World War); the thirty-fourth president left spike marks across the Oval Office on his frequent way to practice chipping on the South Lawn. "Ben Hogan for President," read a bumper sticker in 1956: "If we're going to elect a golfer as president, let's have a good one." Barack Obama, who's not much better than Eisenhower, plays whenever he can get away for a few hours at military base courses around the Washington, D.C. area.

Golf would become associated with the very ideal of American power, prosperity, and luxury. "How many golf courses does Russia have?," crowed the famed golf-course architect Alister Mackenzie in 1930. According to a certain Cold War way of thinking, the Communist Soviet Union was a dreary limbo of cheap vodka, bad borscht, and gray Stalinist high-rises, while Americans cavorted in a shiny Technicolor wonderland of lush green courses, cute electric golf carts, cheery pastel polo shirts and bermuda shorts, and tropical cocktails with little paper umbrellas at the nineteenth hole. When the United States won the race to the moon, in 1969, the Apollo astronauts read a passage from Genesis just before landing and, of course, planted the Stars and Stripes in the lunar desert; on the third moon mission, the astronaut Buzz Aldrin brought a golf club and, as millions watched on television, took a one-armed, zero-gravity, slow-motion pass at a golf ball. The United States, or so the somewhat incongruous symbolism of the bible reading and that famous six-iron shot suggested, is a God-fearing, golf-playing nation. The affable Aldrin joked later that his shot sailed for "miles and miles" into the void; if this is true and not just a golfer's boast, some rough math indicates the little 5.2752 inch circumference sphere should now be halfway between Jupiter and Pluto. Golf was the first and, to this point, only sport played on the moon in the known history of the universe.

America's Cold War opponents had no affection for golf. In 1961 Fidel Castro, Cuba's new master, played an experimental round with his fellow revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara (for which the two young, bearded comandantes both wore combat boots and their trademark guerrilla fatigues). Later, unimpressed by this pastime that stank to him of Yankee imperialism and big money, Castro ordered most of Cuba's courses plowed under. That other Marxist icon, Mao, also kept China a golf-free zone.

But golf was on the Cold War's winning side, and the post–1989 global ascendancy of American-style corporate culture, resort tourism, and the market economy has helped to spur a worldwide golf boom in the last few decades. The modern geography of sports, it should be noted, often points toward older histories of power, empire, and cultural capital. The British, for example, exported cricket to their far-flung colonies; the game remains a staple in India, Pakistan, Australia, and other former crown possessions even today. Outside Spain, you'll find bullfighting only in one-time Spanish holdings like Peru and Mexico where the conquistadores brought their gory pastime. And so, as America triumphed in the Cold War, the archetypal capitalist game has gained a growing foothold in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union with dozens of courses springing up in recent years. Golf had already been popular in parts of East Asia, and yet interest is now far more widespread there than ever before. More than twenty million devotees play in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea alone (and an astonishing forty of the top 100 female golfers in the world come from South Korea, for reasons that no one has yet adequately explained).10 Sweden has become the world's most golf-addicted nation, with golfers numbering roughly 10 percent of the country's ten million people. And though the Great Helmsman's embalmed body may be shuddering in disgust, rising global China has built more than two hundred courses, including its own gated golf "communities" for the new rich. "Green opium," some have dubbed the game's addictive power there. Golf tourism to tropical-resort enclaves like Malawi, Dubai, and the Canary Islands has become a multibillion dollar business, sometimes displacing poor villagers. The Castro brothers have even relented, now allowing luxury golf-resort construction to attract foreign vacationers to their cash-starved island. This is a golfing planet in the new millennium, the worst nightmare of those who detest the game.

Strangely, however, many golfers are not too sure they like golf so much themselves. On the face of it, the game would seem to be easy enough to master and then enjoy. Unlike in soccer or basketball, the ball is stationary, you hit only when you are ready, and you are not reliant on your teammates. The reality is that golf technique is hard to acquire quickly; it's not like, say, bowling, where you can get lucky and roll a strike the first time. Novice golfers often find themselves whiffing the ball altogether, and more practice by no means makes perfect. "Golf is a game," Winston Churchill complained, "whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill designed for the purpose." The perfectionist Ben Hogan, one of history's best players, calculated he hit only seven shots a round on the sweet spot. But the fact that the swing is always under your own control—and with no one but yourself to blame for that shank into the water hazard—makes the inevitable bad shots disheartening just the same, and many all the more so. Golfers frequently work themselves into thick lathers of despair, disgust, and self-loathing by a poor round's end. "Nice shot, asshole!," one of my playing partners will mutter to himself after snap-hooking a drive into the trees or some other miscue. The satirist P. G. Wodehouse noted that the game spells "flog" backward (both he and another early-twentieth-century literary notable, A. A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame, were nonetheless frequent players).


Excerpted from The Passion of Tiger Woods by Orin Starn Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Prologue ix

1. Golf Backward Spells "Flog" 1

2. The Tiger Woods Revolution 23

3. Tigergate, Celebrity Scandal, and the Apology Society 39

4. Internet Wars, Sex Addiction, and the Crucifixion of Tiger Woods 55

5. Postracial Fantasies, Racial Realpolitik 67

6. Tiger's Penis 85

7. Out of the Woods? 107

Notes 119

Bibliography 129

Acknowledgments 135

Index 137
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2012

    Right like tiger is so awesome

    Tiger is a fake! I hate him. Mcllroy is waaaaaayyyy better. He is a star. Woods is a scam.

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