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Benefield: Critics love to slam President for golf hobby (w/video)

Why couldn’t he have just gone for a swim?

President Obama has been lambasted in recent days for his penchant for playing golf. The world is seemingly burning and the President of the United States is playing golf on Martha’s Vineyard.

Clearly it was the timing of it, with the murder of journalist James Foley, unrest in Ferguson, Mo., as well as in Syria and the Middle East. It was Obama’s “Now watch this drive moment.” Just after condemning the murder of Foley, the president was seen grinning and gripping his golf club.

But does the game itself inspire some of the disdain? Critics didn’t say Obama was simply vacationing, they said he was golfing — the derision palpable.

To the chagrin of coaches and enthusiasts here, people love to hate golf.

Obama, a guy who loves to play basketball, doesn’t get hammered for hitting the hardwood. It’s when he hits the links that people go nuts.

One doesn’t have to be paying too close attention to know he has tee’d it up nine times while on vacation. There is a Facebook page dedicated to his golf game. His virtual caddy has a Twitter account. His game has a hashtag dedicated to it.

It’s hard to imagine such vitriol if the president were an avid swimmer.

Area coaches get some of it but are left shaking their head most of the time. Why is a game that promotes discipline, fair play, etiquette, focus and precision so derided?

“Even though those of us in the game know it’s not true, some think of golf as an elitist sport,” said Chris Philbrick, head coach of the Ukiah girls’ squad.

We’ve shed that notion, right? Sure, courses like Pebble Beach charge — well, who knows what they charge? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right? But at Adobe Creek where Phil Emswiler, the head coach of Casa Grande High’s boys and girls golf teams works, the most you are going to pay for a weekend round — with a cart no less — is $66.

So say you finish your round in 41/2 hours — that’s $14.66 an hour. I’ve blown more at the batting cages.

It’s not just Obama who gets hammered for golf. Eisenhower got it, too. And both Bushes were criticized for time spent on the links. It’s not that we don’t love our presidential athletes. We found Reagan’s horse riding homey and charming. Clinton called himself a runner but there were a lot of snack stops on his jogs and we all ate it up.

But Obama is getting nailed for spending his earned vacation time golfing.

It can be a perception issue, Emswiler said. Golf has an air of leisurely abandon that some other sports do not.

“Going for a jog? I don’t think people would have a problem with that,” he said. “But golf — or tennis — he’s just doing it for fun. Especially with all the garbage that is going on.”

Backers of the game say golf is no longer the recreational bastion of old white guys. Fees are cheaper, equipment is better and easily accessible, and more kids play now than in decades past.

But still, area golf coaches acknowledge that the game, for some, has the lingering taint of only being for the leisure class. Why that is so remains unclear.

Maybe it’s the time it takes? That’s a point conceded. If time really is money, golf is the billionaire of sports perhaps second only to cricket, which takes approximately three months per match.

“People know when you go play golf, you are out there four to five hours,” Philbrick said.

But Philbrick, who leans more George Bush than Barack Obama, said he gives the commander-in-chief kudos for being able to shut out the media, the blogosphere, the trolls, and concentrate on his short game.

“I give him a lot of credit with what is going on if he can actually focus on his golf game,” he said.

But aside from all of its virtues, Philbrick said golf is just a game and even the most powerful man on the planet deserves to play a game while on vacation.

“When would he ever have time to relax? I think it’s unfair to challenge his vacation days,” Philbrick said.

Still, the shots of Obama smiling and swinging can make even the biggest golf booster cringe sometimes.

“They wouldn’t be as critical if he were deep-sea fishing for four hours,” Philbrick said.

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