Thursday, April 21, 2011

Horses and (Golf) Courses: What Was Nike Thinking? New 20XI Commercial Recreates a Hoofnote in American Golf History

I just had to share this video. Can someone explain it to me? I love Nike, love their commercials, love their stores, love their branding. Yet I don't get this commercial.

But then, I'm not in the market to buy Nike's 20XI golf balls, either.

Years ago I lived a few furlongs from a place called The International--just "The International". It was a golf course in Bolton, Massachusetts and a very exclusive place. Once--once!--my horses got loose and galloped over a green.

That late-night caper would have caused no more stir around town if a tornado had touched down. Each divot looked like a crater in the morning light. In fact, the scene looked almost exactly like the closing shot of Nike's commercial.

Here's an old lawn boot, courtesy of The Antique Horse blog, one of my favorite places to waste a few hours on the Internet. (I warned you!) Back in the days before there were motorized mowers, these boots were worn by horses while mowing golf courses and other lawn-like surfaces where a horse's hoofprints would be undesirable. This one appears to require the horse to be shoeless.

I found out later that when my horses tore up The International, they were merely carrying on a Boston tradition.

Golf, of course, is a Scottish game. It was brought to America by some Bostonians who decided to hit a ball around at a gentleman's racing and polo retreat called The Country Club. (That's right, just "The Country Club".) Golf became so popular so quickly that they kept extending the course and cutting down trees to make more greens.

What's an endangered horse lover to do? The equestrian members of the club revolted one night in 1899 and galloped their horses across the greens in protest.

Let's just say the horses weren't wearing lawn boots.

So the next time you go to a country club, or when Easter dinner conversation lags this Sunday, you can explain that the first country club was actually a racetrack and polo field. When it added golf, its fame spread; the name "country club" came to be associated with golf, but at those early clubs the most popular pursuits would have been horse sports, tennis and shooting. Golf was an upstart, but it certainly did catch on.

There's only one The Country Club. It's still operating, and hosted the 33rd Ryder Cup. The club ran its last horse race in 1935, and the final sections of the racetrack were finally sodded over in 1969. The horses may be gone but the legends live on.

How great would it have been if Nike had filmed their commercial at The Country Club?

Thanks to the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Harvard University Athletics, the Public Library of the Town of Brookline, Nike Golf, and The Antique Horse blog for assistance with this story.

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