In the Beginning, There Was Golf
It’s not a well-known historical fact, but the Garden of Eden was originally called Eden Country Club & Golf Links. Man would hang out there playing his favorite game, smoking cigars and drinking single malt. Then God — a decent stick by the way, but sometimes known for coaxing the ball into the hole by decree, which his foursome mates didn’t always appreciate — grabbed a rib right out of this guy’s chest, and instead of fashioning a new putter with the damn thing, he decided to create woman. It was a tough choice, and one he’s been struggling with ever since. But truth be told, there was probably a little too much male energy (and cigar smoke) around the clubhouse.
Beginnings. That’s what I love so much about the game of golf.
No matter how well or poorly we played the last hole, we get a fresh start 18 times a round. That’s double the lives of Morris the Cat!
Of course golf is also about middles and endings, how well we hold up under pressure, how we react when we get a bad break, or a good break for that matter. Do you parade like a peacock when you get close to the pin? Is that when your inner Don Rickles comes out and you start needling your mates? As celebrated author Rick Reilly once pointed out, “Like bike pants, golf tells you a lot about a person.”
Remember, golf spelled backward is “flog.” Or, to revive another saying, They called it “golf” because all the other four-letter words were taken. Meaning, if it were all sunshine and oak trees, it would be called “walking in a meadow.”
Personally, I go out expecting the best, ready for the worst, and certainly do take a beating once in a while. I try hard to take poorly struck shots in stride, calmly chase my ball and hit it again with a smile on my face. But too many poorly struck shots in a round (or on the first hole) can too often ruin my mood. “There goes the round!” is way too frequently my thought when I double the first hole, and the ensuing four hours are just a waste of time and money … and not very good for my blood pressure, either.
If I can get that impulse under control and remember that I get 17 more fresh starts, I’m much better off. I think they call that match play.
A 25 Handicap friend of mine named Bob once told me about the day he hacked and hewed his way around his home course in Atlanta. “I was having the worst day I had ever had,” Bob said. “I couldn’t hit a thing. Nothing was working and I kept getting madder and madder. Finally, about 150 yards out in the 16th fairway, I took a big whack at the ball with my 8-iron and hit the ground hard. The ball moved about 10 inches forward and there was a deep, nasty gash in the turf staring up at me.
“That was it — I turned, flung my club into the woods and finished the hole with a putter. After the round I went back to get my 8-iron. When I found it, I saw that the club head had snapped off when it hit a tree and was nowhere to be found. So I took the shaft to the pro and asked him if he could straighten it and put a new head on it.
“‘What happened?’ the pro asked. ‘I can send this back to the manufacturer. The club head shouldn’t be falling off like that. It’s obviously faulty.’
“So I told him how it happened. Suddenly, his tune changed. ‘Bob,’ he said, ‘you’re a 25-handicap golfer — you’re not good enough to get mad!’”
The light bulb came on in Bob’s head and his perspective on the game changed from that day forth. Indeed, what is accomplished by a mad hack? If anything at all, it’s still on the south side of nothing.
That’s what makes the beginnings so precious, the chance to redeem all that has come before, to make a fresh start. Were you a complete boob on the last hole? Not when you start the next hole — now you’re a champion again!
No sport has had as much written about it as has golf, from John Updike and Herb Warren Wind to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. No other sport can pair a 90-year-old man with a seven-year-old girl and have them play with parity. No other sport asks the participant to call penalties on themselves, or to play their own foul balls.
Another sage pointed out that people don’t travel thousands of miles to play old tennis courts. But they will go halfway around the world to play golf in Scotland, Australia or Hawaii. The opportunity to play a new course is as powerful a lure as there is in the world of sports, and we dream of the experience for months in advance.
Presidents, kings, rock stars, actors and the common man all meet on this ancient playing field. How beautiful is that? You can pay $5 and play all day at some courses, or you can pay $200,000 and join a country club. It’s your choice.
Even environmentalists have calmed their fury at golf. The chemicals found on a golf course these days are by far safer than those found on most lawns. Ask the birds, the deer and the other critters who live on golf courses if they’d rather see a housing tract or a golf course. Audubon International has a certification program for golf courses and many, many courses are following their prescription.
I’ve been lucky enough to play some of the best golf courses in the world: Augusta National, the Old Course at St Andrews, Cypress Point and Bandon Dunes among them. To me, the Alister Mackenzie course at Cypress Point is the best of the lot, followed closely by (in order) St. Andrews, Bandon and Augusta. We each have our own lists, and that’s the beauty of golf. There are horses for courses and courses for horses, and the sooner we get back to the Garden the better … women included.
All of which is to say, you can go halfway around the world to play new courses, and meanwhile others are coming from halfway round the world to play in your backyard. Makes you feel like singing “Will the circle be unbroken? By and by lord, by and by …”
And while we’re at it, we can think of golf as a circle, because as we finish one hole we begin the next. In my end is my beginning. The Buddha smiles.