MLK, Thoreau and ‘Unimproved Ends’ on the Eve of the PGA Merchandise Show
Tomorrow is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. As fate would have it, it’s also the day I fly to Orlando, Fla., to partake in the golf industry’s stuff fest, better known as the PGA Merchandise Show. At least a dozen years have passed since I attended this paean to all things golf. And, to put it mildly, I’m jazzed—like a 7-year-old on Christmas Eve.
But, truth be told, I’m also a little wary. Seems to me that many who work and play in this space have grown increasingly fixated on the accouterments that can be bought and sold, to the detriment of golf’s true gifts which can only be experienced. The common lament these days is that the game is in decline. But I’m convinced those statements only apply to the golf industry that must continually boost sales to survive. The game’s internal benefits—a meditative-like time out of time, the satisfaction of embracing and meeting a challenge, the camaraderie of kindred spirits, the restorative qualities of walking, a respite from 24/7 multitasking, a clearing of the mind, a reconnecting with the soul—remain alive and well, though too often lost amid a flurry of external distractions.
This tension between the tangible and the experiential came into sharper focus for me today when I stumbled upon a sermon delivered by Dr. King in Montgomery, Ala., in 1956. In it, the American civil rights icon questioned whether America’s “moral and spiritual progress (had) been commensurate with its scientific progress.” In making his case that the former lagged dangerously behind the latter, he quoted the 19th century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau who, in warning of the dangers of technology in those pre-Industrial Revolution days, said: “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive it.”
Now, I doubt Thoreau carved out a golf hole or two amid the forest surrounding Walden Pond. And I can’t imagine that Dr. King ever tried his hand at the game we love. But their sentiments would seem to apply to our current predicament. At least that’s how I see it, especially as I prepare to immerse myself in a convention center filled to the rafters with the latest golf equipment, training aids, accessories, apparel and more. Much more.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s going to be blast. I’ll be the proverbial kid in an enormous candy store. But amid all the stuff, I hope to cross paths with folks who know that’s not where the game’s real treasure lies. It’s those connections, rather than getting my hands on the latest over-engineered and over-priced driver, that will make the journey worthwhile.
In the meantime, I’ve got a suitcase to pack and a 6:25 a.m. flight to catch. And as far as I’m concerned, it can’t come soon enough!