By Rep. Renee Ellmers
This month the eyes of the world were focused on the greens of an American pastime and a sport's crowning achievement. The emotional bond between Bubba Watson and his mother after winning the Masters brought tears to our eyes and reminded each of us of the American dream. Golf is more than a sport - it teaches the values of self discipline, dedication, and that even though you have some "misses," the opportunities for recovery and success are available to anyone who stays focused, overcomes, and persists in the face of countless obstacles.
In North Carolina, golf is more than just a pastime - it's an economic job engine. Home to over 550 facilities, golf's total economic impact exceeds $5 billion a year while supporting 68,000 jobs and $1.7 billion in income. Yet it seems that for some policymakers and opinion leaders, golf remains a mere stigma of the privileged and barrier to the middle class.
When you look beyond the dated stereotypes of the game, you will find a vibrant industry where millions of Americans spend their weekends honing in a skill and love of a game that can benefit them throughout their life. The United States is home to approximately 26 million golfers - and of those, the vast majority come from the middle class, according to figures from the National Golf Foundation. Today, nearly 11,000 of the country's 16,000 courses are open to the public, and as PGA Performance Trak estimates, this accounts for more than 76 percent of the rounds of golf that are played each year.
As we celebrate National Golf Day today, it's important to illustrate the families, jobs, and industries that have come to rely on this great pastime. Golf is a $76 billion industry - even larger than the motion picture and recording industries - and supports nearly 2 million American jobs. The game fuels business activity in sectors as varied as manufacturing, real estate, travel and publishing as more and more men and women of all ages discover the rewards of mastering their performance.
Moreover, while mostly a middle class sport, golf contributes generously to those in need. The industry contributes about $3.5 billion a year to charities and professional golf tournaments have donated close to $1.5 billion. The careers of millions of Americans rely on the industry's success, and millions more have benefited from the charities that would otherwise not exist.
Golf courses are not immune to natural disasters however. A year ago in my district we experienced a rare but devastating series of tornadoes that killed 22 people and caused severe damage to homes, businesses, community centers and even golf courses. When acts of God such as these happen, there is little to do but comfort, rebuild, and prepare for what lies ahead.
As with all natural disasters, the federal government steps in to offer aid and help businesses, individuals, and families to regain their future. But recently, different businesses have been targeted and excluded from receiving this form of disaster relief. Beginning with the post-Katrina Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, golf was excluded from receiving disaster tax relief, somehow getting lumped together with massage parlors, tanning salons and liquor stores.
Small golf course owners and operators attempting to get back on their feet in the wake of devastating floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, are now at a fundamentally unfair disadvantage compared to other small businesses. Outdated stereotypes and the politics of envy and division caused previous Congresses to look down on the sport of golf and punish an entire industry.
The time has come for a "do-over," or in golf terms, a mulligan. That's why I am proud to cosponsor HR 2718 - The Disaster Tax Act of 2011. This legislation allows golf courses to be included as recipients of much-needed tax relief and support in the wake of natural disasters.
I came to Washington to protect the free market and remove the government's barriers to the American Dream. This bill paves the way toward protecting the injured parties that are so critical to the economic vitality of my district and state.
As we continue to contemplate legislation for storm-ravaged communities, small businesses, and families around the state, this year's anniversary of those tragedies reminds us that the time has come to repeal an exclusion that never made sense in the first place. I am proud that HR 2718 does just that.
Rep. Ellmers (R-N.C.) is a registered nurse for over 21 years and is serving her first term as U.S. Congresswoman representing North Carolina's second district.