Give Me A Pint Or Give Me Death
British Open winner Darren Clarke is not simply a golf champion. He is, unwittingly, a symbol of freedoms lost in the United States.
In 1987 Clarke arrived on the campus of Wake Forest University in North Carolina with a full scholarship to play on the school's fabled golf team. After a month he chucked in the free tuition ride and flew back home to Northern Ireland.
He left because he was annoyed that he could not smoke as a member of the golf team -- and amazed that he could not legally drink beer until he was 21 in the so-called land of the free. Cupping his smoke traversing Royal St. George's to win his first Open, and lifting a pint with friends afterwards to celebrate, the 42-year golfer serves as a reminder to Americans that we are losing the right to do what we please without interference from the State.
And Wake Forest presents an ideal venue for Clarke's ironic and valuable moral lesson. The school was founded as a Baptist general education college in 1834 in the small town of Wake Forest, NC, near the state capital Raleigh. In 1956, the heirs of tobacco magnate RJ Reynolds took over the college and relocated the campus to their hometown of Winston-Salem. The Reynolds family received inspiration from the heirs of Washington Duke, the founder of the gigantic American Tobacco Company, who purchased Trinity College in rural Randolph County and moved the school to their hometown Durham, NC creating what evolved into Duke University.
The Reynolds family lavished money and resources and turned Wake Forest into one of the better-known and respected liberal arts colleges in America. Everyone is happy, even the North Carolina Baptists, who retain a mild connection to the school. Students today can at least dance, a practice forbidden before the takeover.
A promising young golfer received a scholarship at Wake during the period of transition to Winston-Salem: Arnold Palmer, who played the key role in turning professional golf into the celebrated global institution of today -- and Wake Forest into the first college with a nationally known golf program. Until Palmer, pro golfers were considered hucksters by the golfing establishment, personified in the United States Golf Association -- the amateur-sanctioning body that still controls the rules of golf, equipment requirements, and hundreds of details that comprise the game.
Before Palmer, golfers who played for prize money performed on the periphery of the game. For example, playing professionals were not allowed to enter the clubhouse or locker rooms at private tournament courses. The flamboyant Walter Hagen once parked his Rolls-Royce in front of a host club where he changed his clothes in front of members and fans to dramatize the degradation heaped on his professional brethren.
To make the point, the legendary Bobby Jones remained an amateur his entire career, creating the paragon of the gentleman and lady club golfer. Palmer came along with his aw-shucks country boy good looks and demeanor at a crucial time that changed golf for the pros: President Eisenhower was an avid player, and television was on the rise.
Ordinary Americans could now enjoy professional tournament broadcasts, unaware of the class warfare between the amateurs and pros. The professionals could now flex their new muscles within the world of golf, eventually breaking away from their tenuous relationship with the USGA to form their own Professional Golfers Association comprised of club professionals and a tour division for money players. (The gripping book The Match chronicles the last throes of the romance of amateur golf, and the demise of a promising yet ephemeral career in amateur golf for North Carolina's Harvey Ward.)
When Darren Clarke arrived at Wake Forest a quarter-century ago, the school was a Mecca for golf, funded by a huge tobacco company. Only ungratefulness spawned by self-righteousness can explain why smoking was banned for college golfers old enough to decide for themselves. Yet by the time Clarke arrived in 1986, players could be kicked off the golf team for smoking the product that funded the school's existence.
And by the time Clarke came to the gently rolling Piedmont of North Carolina, another ban was in place, disguised as The Safe Roads Act of 1983. In a crusade to end highway deaths caused by drinking alcohol, the Wilmington, NC-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving petitioned then-Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole (herself a North Carolinian), who influenced Congress to pass a federal law which, among other things, usurped a state's right to regulate the legal age for drinking.
The states ignored the new requirements, so Dole, with backing from key members of Congress, informed states that unless they passed legislation to conform to the new regulations, their highway money would be withdrawn until they did. (States collect tax money for roads from gasoline sales and other fuel sales and send it to Washington where the cash is allocated back to the states.)
The states capitulated to federal extortion. The drinking age was set everywhere at 21 years old, even for beer. And the new laws are loose enough that targeted roadblocks -- a practice more in line with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia than the United States -- are commonplace. Once stopped by police, citizens are dragged handcuffed and helpless into a Kafkaesque nightmare where individual rights evaporate.
But the drinking age provisions are causing another deep-seated violation of what the framers called "natural law": the necessity that rules and regulations make common sense. As almost any parent can tell you, wagging a finger at an 18-year-old heading for college -- or to risk his life in the armed services -- with the dire warning not to drink a beer is ludicrous.
Horror stories describing the brutality of law enforcement against college-age kids abound across the land. Even young people who take cabs are not free from the vague and unconstitutional power granted to police for "underage drinking," whether driving or not. It is an extreme violation of the concept of a free country to be arrested for being in a state influenced by anything if no one is harmed and there is no probable cause and reasonable suspicion the subject under the influence has committed a crime. Now we are very close to the Stalin-like enforcement of how people should behave privately, or even how to think. The weight of the state is crushing us down in the name of a moral cause.
So what do college-age kids do? They remove themselves from social contact and binge, creating another set of dangerous consequences to the culture. Instead of learning to drink responsibly in public at age 18, young people are sequestering themselves from interaction and creating a separate dimension of behavior and values containing a deep resentment of a society that treats them like fools. This binge-drinking phenomenon has caused college presidents to state publicly that the drinking age needs to be lowered.
As for the young adults, they view the police as their enemy -- a disturbing attitude to develop. Drinking to them is not viewed as a pleasing social lubricant. Rather it is a means to alter reality. This mocking contempt for society has infiltrated the popular media where kids on TV and in movies have become surly and contemptuous of our formerly shared values. I point to South Park and rest my case.
Darren Clarke didn't stand for it, so why do we?