• Alistair Tait

Golf or golfing? What do you say?


I’m thinking of going to play golf this afternoon. Or should I say, I’m thinking of going golfing this afternoon?

After I’ve finished should I say: “I played golf” or “I golfed?”

Does it matter?

I’m reading and hearing “golfing” and “golfed” more often. It jars with me, but not my relatives or family members. For example, my wife often asks me “are you golfing today?

I’ve started bristling (should that be I start to bristle?) whenever she uses this term. I’ve taken to correcting her. “No,” I say. “I’m going to play golf today.” She bristles back, and points out: “You never used to mind me saying ‘golfing.’ Why are you taking offence now?"

Good question. Again, does it matter?

A recent Guardian headline read:

“Trump’s presidency is like a dead man golfing. So will he drop out of the election?”

Again I bristled. Should I have.

Another Guardian article on Trump included a paragraph that read:

“The president has been frequently criticized for the scale of his golfing habit while in office. CNN – which tallies his golfing activities – said the visit to the Trump National course in Loudon county, just outside Washington DC, was the 271st of his presidency – putting him at an average of golfing once every 4.6 days since he’s been in office. His predecessor, Barack Obama, golfed 333 rounds over the two terms of his presidency, according to NBC.”

Three “golfing” references, one “golfed” and criticized with a z! What's the world coming to?

More bristling.

As RTE golf correspondent (should that be golfing correspondent?) and good friend Greg Allen pointed out on Twitter recently:

“This issue on whether ‘golf’ is a verb is so pressing that the Washington Post published a 2017 op-ed stating: ‘In the lexicon of serious golfers, ‘golf’ is exclusively a noun. Serious golfers play golf. They never golf or go golfing.’ So it depends on if you’re a serious golfer?”

One reader wrote to the Washington Post to point out the term “golfed” had been used by the St Andrews Town council, which in 1769 wrote “that the part of the Links as presently golfed upon…”

Many would argue if its good enough for use in the Home of Golf……

Fellow golf writer John Strege, who recently retired from Golf Digest after a distinguished career, wrote about this very topic following that Washington Post article. He said Golf Digest’s house style stated:

“Avoid: I golfed today. Preferred: I played golf. Avoid using as a verb except in quotes. No: I went golfing. Yes: I played golf. OK as a modifier: ‘golf buddies’ or ‘golfing buddies.’”

Why ok as a modifier but not a verb?

In my years of working for three major golf magazines and numerous newspapers, there was never a discussion about golf as a verb. There was no need: I don’t remember the terms “golfing” or “golfed” being used much. The language seems to have changed only in the last five or so years.

We don’t say I’m going footballing, or rugbying, or dartsing, or tennising. We do say we’re going skiing, cycling, walking, etc. So does it really matter if someone says I’m going golfing?

As a serious golfer, should I really bristle at others who use golf as a verb? After all, they might consider themselves serious golfers too.

As Greg Allen subsequently tweeted:

“Language evolves over time so you can say what you want.”

Robert Browning once noted:

“Golf’s lexicon of colourful words and phrases is its crowning achievement. For long after the urge of the ability to play the game leaves us, golf’s joyful adjectives and modifiers, it’s splendid superlatives and unequalled accolades ring in my ear the waves of familiar sound.”

Will “golfing” and “golfed” eventually ring pleasantly in my ear as part of golf’s colourful lexicon and become a familiar sound? It may take a while.

How about you?

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