Watson Fellow Studies the Slope of the Green Around the World
Saroff is the recipient of a prestigious Watson Fellowship - an annual award given to 60 college seniors to travel to foreign locales and study a particular subject over the span of the year.
For Saroff, an observer of several Northern New Jersey golf clubs during his adolescence, this fellowship will enable him to travel to Scotland and South Africa to study the socio-economic and cultural boundaries of that obsessional sport that spares no one.
A year after Tiger Woods wowed the crowds at The Masters, Saroff said he was intrigued at the social aspect of the sport and how it is perceived in different cultures as both the great leveler of rich and poor or the great divider.
"In Scotland the sport is considered an every man's sport, and its most famous course, St. Andrews, is a municipal course. There's much more of the phenomenon of the rich guy and the common guy playing golf together," Saroff explains. "In South Africa the attitudes toward golf are obviously more tense and tight. All of the golf is played by whites in exclusive clubs."
From his own experience in Northern New Jersey as a member of country clubs with membership selection committees, Saroff also has witnessed how the same sport can be used to divide people by wealth, gender, social status and ethnicity. He's also seen the same divisions in the caddie system, where the ranks were split between wealthy white adolescents and immigrant, low-income caddies who were not permitted to be members of the same club.
"That dichotomy showed me more about golf than anything else," says Saroff.
To prepare for this endeavor, last summer Saroff interned at the United States Golf Association headquarters and museum in Far Hills, N.J. As a history major at Haverford, he also studied the growth of the sport and clubs in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia.
With a current handicap in the mid-20s ("It's embarrassing," he says.), Saroff plans to head to Scotland in the middle of July where he will caddie, work in the pro shops, maintain the greens, work the business end and play as many courses as possible. When the weather turns cold, he'll take his clubs and head to South Africa for its summer season and do the same. He hopes to return with a wealth of insights into the sport, the people who play it and its impact on social, racial and gender interaction. And - yes, he hopes to improve his handicap to around ten. Fore!