Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Par for the Course -- Get It?

Historically it’s been hard to get people excited about golf cards, and I can prove it. Golf cards. There. I said it. You excited yet? I rest my case.

Beyond the overwhelming dullness of the concept – and it’s like South Dakota in its bleak vastness, with the Corn Palace on one end and Wall Drug on the other – the demographics don’t line up. Now, granted, in the heyday of trading cards no one talked about demographics. They were too busy talking about debentures and annuities, and reciting the Greek alphabet to one another. When they weren’t doing that, it was a Cherokee Strip land-grab for licenses, and when the dust settled only a few odd stragglers like Calvin and Hobbes and the Hanna-Barbera cartoons (note to self: why?) had retained their dignity.

No, the truth is that eight-year-old boys and golf have never exactly seen eye-to-eye. Granted, I played a variant of golf when I was eight years old. I have the scar on my jaw to prove it. (I stood too close to Bobby Miller on his backswing.) We hacked around in our backyard, seeing how far we could drive a green plum, which lacked the dimpled aerodynamics of a Top-Flite XL but made a much better sound (and stain) when it struck the garage wall. Even so, golf was a poor 10th, behind baseball, football, basketball, tennis, swimming, green-plum fights, rotten-tomato fights, and currant wars, and in a league with Jarts and roller-skating (with the skates that clamp to your feet, fall off at a frequency in direct proportion to the steepness of the hill you’re descending, and throw a bearing anytime you utter a preposition).

So would I have bought golf cards when I was eight? Sure – but you have to realize: I was not the target audience. I craved the unusual, the weird, the off-the-beaten-middle-of-the-road stuff. I made (okay, my mom made) the local candy distributor order hockey cards in a market where the nearest NHL team was a four-hour drive away but none of the locals knew that. I bought (okay, my mom bought) Fleer Cloth Patches and Topps Jumbos and World Series cards and any other sporting confection Lang’s or Northside Drug wanted to carry (but not Odd Rods or Gomer Pyle, USMC cards, because they weren’t sports cards, silly). I did not chew the gum but stuck it in a candy jar. I did not stick the cards in a back pocket or flip them but put them in the boxes model train cars came in, and the most physical thing I did with them was build card houses.

So, yeah, I probably would have bought (or had my mom buy) golf cards.

Not these golf cards, though. ’65 Topps AFL golf cards, definitely. ’69 Topps Cap Peterson golf cards, for sure. ’64 Philly golf cards, more than likely. But not Imperial Sporting Collection Ryder Cup golf cards.

Still, I get where these cards are coming from. England, if I read the box right.

I mean, I actually get these cards’ raison d’être. They’re meant to resemble old British cigarette cards without the cigarettes, which is about as fair a trade as I can imagine.

British cigarette cards used sketchy art, and often this same sort of portrait-hovering-above-action (sic)-shot art, to showcase many of the action sports that cram the isles. You know – cricket, golf, bowls, fox hunting, darts, snooker, pub-crawling.

They didn’t often come in this size, though. The Imperial Sporting Collection cards are 2-3/8x3-1/8, smaller even than the old square Goudeys, and that makes them poor fits in just about any media you might use to display them. Not that you would, but you have to do something with them, because once you’ve bought the set that’s it. There’s nothing else to do but sit back and baste in the glory.

And there’s not a ton of that to be done, either. In contrast to many complete-in-the-box sets, there’s not much to this set – only 15 cards, including two recap cards. (I mean, it is a Ryder Cup set. If it didn’t just show the Ryder Cup team and get the heck out of there I’d be accusing it of set-padding, and who wants a padded Ryder Cup set? Not me.)

The combination of small cards, small set and wispy packaging makes this the skimpiest set of trading cards ever. This is an SI-swimsuit-edition-bikini of a trading-card set. Honestly, a single Ghirardelli chocolate square takes up more space, only the chocolate weighs more until you eat it, then it’s about even.

Ah, but the talent. There is more talent in the Ryder Cup set than in the aforementioned chocolate but not by much, since this is the Ryder Cup team from 1987, when European golfers, while not exactly inferior to the American models, largely kept to themselves on their tour. So while there’s Seve Ballesteros – the main reason for buying this set, now as then – there’s also lots of chumps with side partings that wouldn’t come apart at Royal Troon, guys like Ken Brown, Gordon Brand Jr. and Jose Riviero. They’re not duffers by any means, but they’re the Booth Lustegs of the golf world – which made their triumph in 1987 all the more surprising. It was like Florida Golf – excuse me, Gulf – Coast, in white belts.

Even with the included glassine wrap, the Imperial Sporting Collection Ryder Cup set is the lightest complete trading-card set I’ve ever encountered – not the optimum combination of attributes. It’s like having the best-smelling car. What does it get you?

In the case of the Imperial Sporting Collection, it didn’t get them sales. There was this set, a larger and somewhat more weighty set of American golfers (same size cards, though), the deathless Panasonic European Open set, and a set of “All Time Great Quarter Backs” (think Joe Montana with saddle shoes, or the Bernhard Langer art done up with shoulder pads), and then the Imperial Sporting Collectors were gone back across the pond, presumably to peddle their art to grownup eight-year-old boys with plaid slacks and Hush Puppies and vacant spaces in their offices just the right size.

And walls that can’t take a lot of weight.

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