Golf Digest Index is the newest entrant in the ha-ha-I'm-richer-than-you and my-wife-has-larger-breasts category. Its formula may not be novel -- pricey golf, pricey cars, pricey booze -- but the publication goes about its business in a distinctly different manner. I'm not sure how to put it, other than to say that you don't hate the people featured in it. Sure, you secretly hope a plumbing apocalypse soils their Oriental rugs beyond repair, but Golf Digest Index does the nigh impossible in making them interesting subjects of discourse.
It doesn't hurt that the mag ignores the Donald Trumps and Larry Ellisons of the world in favor of golfers (duh) and less overexposed titans of industry: faucet magnate Herb Kohler, bond monster Bill Gross, coverboy Seth Waugh of Deutsche Bank Americas. Too, Golf Digest Index has the good sense to hire legit writers, as opposed to the fluffers-with-thesauruses who work for other luxe-life books. Texas Monthly's Gary Cartwright does the honors on the Kohler profile, while a former USGA president chimes in with a surprisingly lyrical take on the "Perfect Day" (hint: it involves golf). The mag does, however, waste New York Times op-ed page stalwart Tom Friedman by having him lob softballs like "How do you balance family, business and golf?" at Waugh.
Even the front-of-the-mag "The Life" section avoids most outward manifestations of business-king assholery. It presents the spas of St. George, Utah as "the anti-Scottsdale" (oh my -- Arizona Chamber of Commerce, you got served!) and a golf club's renowned collection of scotch as something other than a wealthy-guy indulgence. Cleverly diverting as it is, I still wish the short story on pro golfers who fish came appended with an Oprah-ish addendum ("...and the sea hags who love them"). And it's worth noting that golfer Stuart Appleby drives a "Lambo" that resembles nothing if not a particularly aerodynamic banana.
The "50 Greatest Golf Retreats" feature neatly envelops its topic with a comprehensive chart, though its greatest triumph might be Photoshopping out all of the "your type isn't welcome here" signs. For verisimilitude, Golf Digest Index features two photos of black men on private courses (eight if you count Bryant Gumbel, which I don't) and even two women, one a golfer. America, you've come a long way, baby.
I kid because I love -- and I'm legitimately impressed by "The Game," the golf-first collection of stories that occupies the mag's second half. The item on a builder of golf caves comes across every bit as cool as it sounds, while the report on a golf-buddy weekend with Steven Tyler, Mark Wahlberg and a bunch of corporate types ably captures its semi-rowdy spirit. Want to jump in a boat and traverse the Atlantic, hitting a whole lotta golf courses when the mood strikes you? Or wander off to Dubai to golf, ski and inhale l'eau de camel? Golf Digest Index has your back.
The issue's finest moment might be the "Fraud on the Fairway" investigative piece, in which Marcia Chambers reports on a guy who swindled millions from a bunch of his golf cronies. Yes, any number of magazines have chronicled Ponzi schemes that target clueless rich dudes, but Chambers subtly details the enforced chumminess of a golf foursome -- and thus shows why such schemes thrive in that environment.
I don't think much of the mag's photography -- except for the from-above shot of a Dubai hotel that sorta resembles the object on the cover of Led Zeppelin's "Presence" -- and I outright dislike the drippily nostalgic "Going Home" piece on returning to a childhood course about to be razed (heaven forbid for something like a public park). Overall, though, Golf Digest Index transcends the smarminess usually associated with publications of its kind. I guess it's possible to be luxe-niche without being vulgar after all.