Gladwell’s Golf Guff Gets Guffed

A small but vocal demographic (Gladwellocalypse, Part 2 Addendum)

In an earlier article, I characterized Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History (RevHist) episode on golf as a softball piece,¹ I found out there is at least one point of overlap between Gladwell’s audience and people who play golf: surprisingly, the answer is Larry Wilmore. And apparently, the RevHist episode ruffled a lot of other feathers as well.

Wilmore invited Gladwell to appear on his podcast² to talk about other things, mainly his take on Satire,³ which, of course, Wilmore pushes back on as well since it relates directly to his profession .But Wilmore begins by questioning Gladwell’s criticism of golf:⁴

Now, I feel as an attack of country clubs—completely valid. But you go after golf itself. And I’m like, “Wait, hold on a second, Malcolm. Why are you attacking the game?” […] This is what we call playa hatin’ on golf, because there’s no reason to go after the game of golf.

Both of them, people I respect (update: maybe not so much Gladwell anymore), take the opportunity to be both right and wrong on a number of scores. Gladwell contrasts golf with mahjong, saying the former is addictivein the RevHist episode he said golf was “crack cocaine for rich white guys”⁵—but mahjong is actually nearly inextricably associated with gambling in East Asian culture, as well as being well known for its addictive qualities, which have caused it to be banned in the People’s Republic of China since the Cultural Revolution.

Then Gladwell comes at the golf issue from a different angle:⁶

Gladwell: I cannot believe you of all people are calling me to task for taking on a sacred cow […]. Can I remind Larry Wilmore who Larry Wilmore is?

Wilmore: I’m keeping it a hundred: Larry Wilmore is someone who respects sports.

Gladwell: You served as the inspiration for people like me. I remember your absolutely brilliant [… White House] Correspondents’ [Association] Dinner [speech]: that was one of the high-water marks of my last decade […] watching those guys squirm. So […] if someone had come up to you afterward and said, “Larry, you didn’t have to go that far”? […] and the correct answer is, “Fuck you! I’m not going to pass up that opportunity. They’re all a bunch of fat cats. Let them squirm for 20 minutes.” That’s the right answer.

Wilmore backs down after the exchange, but continues to voice his love of the game of golf, telling Gladwell,

But we have to take you out and play some golf sometime.

Gladwell too backs down. And I suppose for both Gladwell and myself, we should be more cautious about criticizing things we have not experienced. When Wilmore says it’s “a very democratic game”,⁷ he’s actually right: 71% of all golf courses are accessible to the public, and certainly disparaging it because of its Jim Crow past would open that same can of worms for just about any other sport. And maybe my sport, fencing, might seem elitist to those viewing it from the outside, though I think it’s anything but. Still, for all the reasons Gladwell outlined, and from my personal experience of everyone I’ve ever known who was into it, golf seems pretty douchey.

Read Subsequent Articles in This Series

Part 3: Descent into the Absurd

Part 4: The Immaculate Miscegenation

Read Previous Articles in This Series

Part 1: The Limits of “Revisionist History”

Part 2: The Unfit “King”


  1. Malcolm Gladwell, “A Good Walk Spoiled”, Revisionist History, June, 2017.
  2. “Malcolm Gladwell on Pioneers, Tokens, and ‘The Satire Paradox’”, Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air (LM:BA), July, 2017.
  3. Gladwell, “The Satire Paradox”, Revisionist History, August 2016.
  4. LM:BA, July, 2017.
  5. Gladwell, 2017.
  6. LM:BA, July, 2017.
  7. Ibid.

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