Immigration reform is all over the news pages, and it occurs to me that there might be only one degree of separation between the resolution of the immigration issue and the future of golf in America.
Every small town I drive through in the southeastern U.S. - and I do a lot of driving from community to community - every one seems to have a bodega (Hispanic grocery store). These are towns with populations of fewer than 1,000 and no commercial district to speak of. The number of Mexican restaurants has blossomed as well over the last decade. Immigration is not just a border state issue; immigrants who make it across the border, legally or illegally, aren't stopping only in Texas or Arizona. Like water that seeks its own level, people who need to earn a living find the jobs that are available. And in the southern U.S., many of those jobs are on golf courses.
Golf course maintenance is a brutally tough job, especially in the south in the summer when temperatures can reach well into the 90s before lunchtime. Virtually every course I have played in the southeast over the last two years -- and that amounts to nearly 90 -- employs Hispanics to do the manual labor of course maintenance. They do the jobs the local kids long ago stopped doing for pay or the privilege of playing on Monday, otherwise known as caddies' day. There is no question that, with an estimated 12 million non-resident aliens in the U.S., some of these workers - maybe many of them - are in the country illegally.
These golf course workers are a metaphor, it seems to me, for a larger issue. There are lots of jobs that American workers just won't do, for love or money, jobs that immigrants will do gladly for an honest day's pay until such time something better comes along (This, of course, is the first rung in the ladder known as the American dream). There is a great tradition of migrant workers on farms to harvest the food to feed the nation, but we need people to do many other jobs, such as to keep our cities clean. If I lived in a city, I wouldn't care who did the work. Golfers who count on pristine conditions at their country club likely don't care who cuts the grass.
I have no clue yet who will get my vote for U.S. President in 2008. But I do know the one who has the most creative ideas about immigration will have a leg up.