The Way We Were
I love golf.
I love to play (although I am not very good). And I love to watch it.
Perhaps it’s the connection to my late father, who was an incredible golfer. Perhaps it’s because, having tried to play the better part of my life, I can appreciate the skill and work necessary to succeed.
But I think the biggest reason I love it is the tradition. Golf grows, it changes, new faces come into the game, but at its heart, it retains a reverence for the history of the sport.
Interestingly, just a few years ago, golf’s epitaphs were being written. Golf was characterized as a dying sport, holding little interest for young people. Golf courses across the country were being plowed over to create subdivisions.
But the sport didn’t seem to panic, and didn’t jettison its past for new gimmicks or gambles. And then came COVID, and many folks took up golf, an outdoor activity in which participants can remain socially distanced. And the current slate of hot new talent found their stride and started winning major tournaments.
This past weekend was a perfect example of one of the most storied traditions in golf generating new enthusiasm for it. The Ryder Cup, started in 1927 and held every two years, brings together the best golfers from the United States and Europe in head-to-head, match play competition. In a sport that is focused on individual achievement, the Ryder Cup represents an opportunity to play for team and country pride.
It was thrilling to watch American golf’s current group of brash young guns set aside their egos, and fight, scrape and scramble for a point to ensure the win for their team. It was amazing to see them cheer on one another and be brought to tears by their collective team success. It was interesting to hear each one characterize being a part of the USA’s Ryder Cup win, and the tradition of the event, as more important than any individual win, including majors.
You know what else began in 1927?
Morris & Essex Kennel Club.
Founded by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, the club’s original show ran from 1927 to 1957, on the grounds of her estate. Resurrected in 2000 by the visionary Wayne Ferguson, the show in its current iteration is held every five years. Last year, because of COVID, it was postponed, and so, its return this year is highly anticipated.
Like the Ryder Cup is to golf, M&E is an homage to the origins and traditions of the sport of purebred dogs. It’s held at Colonial Park, near Mrs. Dodge’s estate, with all of the trappings that recall those shows put on by her: the tents, the trophy display, the halting of competition for lunch, the period clothing and, of course, the hats. (Pro tip: A lady does not wear a wide-brimmed hat after 5 p.m.)
But M&E is so much more. It reflects a reverence and respect for the true meaning and purpose of our sport that is arguably not found in other shows, save Westminster. It’s not about grabbing points, building majors, climbing in the rankings — it’s about being a part of something bigger, about being able to say you were there, and if you are so lucky, about being able to claim bragging rights for a win in such a prestigious and rare event. It is, at its essence, about showcasing, promoting and preserving our beloved purebred dogs.
This week marks seven years since I began writing for Dog News. After leaving AKC and being asked by Matthew to write a recurring column, I wrote my first, entitled, “Everything I Know I Learned at Dog Shows.” If I do say so myself, I think it still stands as one of my best columns. But what struck me, as I reread it this week, was how much of the focus of the column then has become the recurring theme of my columns since: that AKC needs to get back to making its business mission driven.
I wish that, seven years in, things would have evolved in such a way that I could now write about AKC successes, about AKC turning its full attention to fulfilment of its mission, about AKC pumping its profits (granted it went 2017-2019 without making one) back into traditional sports, supporting its clubs, and promotion of purebred dogs, rather than individual financial enrichment. But, alas, sometimes you establish a tradition without intending or wanting to.
Maybe we could try mothballing AKC for five years and holding M&E annually and see how that goes?