Exercise, camaraderie, solitude – the soul of golf
I play golf every chance I get. Not because I’m obsessed with getting better, but because of what the game brings to my life – exercise, camaraderie, being outdoors, escaping life’s pressures.
This stick and ball game soothes my soul.
My clubs came out of the garage yesterday afternoon for the first time since I went into lockdown on March 16th. They’d been there since the last round I played, a medal over Woburn Golf Club's Dukes course on March 15th. (Don’t ask!) They only came out because I was clearing out the garage. I took my first swing in seven weeks, and only took two more before returning the 6-iron to the bag.
Golf is such a big part of my life yet I haven’t chipped a ball in the back garden (much to my wife’s delight), nor have I watched one re-run of old tournaments on TV. It’s been puzzling me why I haven’t rigged up some sort of net and spent part of each day hitting balls into it. Ditto for not watching reruns of old tournaments. Goodness knows I’ve got plenty of material to choose from without resorting to Sky Sports.
It’s not the actual playing I miss, it’s everything that goes with it. Grantland Rice got it right 100 years ago when he wrote in American Golfer Magazine:
“Golf is 20 per cent mechanics and technique. The other 80 per cent is philosophy, humour, tragedy, romance, melodrama, companionship, camaraderie, cussedness and conversation.”
I miss the banter. I miss the competition. I miss the solitude of nine holes, just me and my dog Izzy. I miss the normalcy of just getting out of the house and going to the golf club. As William Wordsworth once noted:
“Golf is a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness.”
Robert Harris also got it spot on in Sixty Years of Golf when he wrote:
“Golf is … a relaxation from the worries of life.”
Trying to describe my obsession with golf to non-golfers is never easy. It isn’t really about shooting the best score possible or winning every match. Yes, that helps, but I gave up any idea of getting that much better years ago. To borrow the phrase that gave us so much hope just a few days ago, I’m past my peak.
I’m lucky as I have a lifetime of experiences playing this great game. I’ve got lots to fill my imagination. Yet my mind is not filled with good scores, winning performances (of which there have been few before John Huggan, Tony Johnstone or quite a few others chip in to remind me). My imagination is filled with memories of everything that goes with playing this great game: the camaraderie of the 72 Club; the banter of playing with mates at Woburn, especially winding up Steve Coates; the smile on my brother in law's face when he holed that fluke 35-foot putt on Merry Hill's 18th green to tie the match; sitting under an umbrella on the seventh tee at Rosapenna as the mother of all hailstone storms turned the atmosphere electric; the eternal game of steal the head cover Izzy has played for the last 11 years; standing on the first tee with my dad in 1985 when we played the Old Course for the first time; the thrill of playing Prestwick with my best mate Paul Anderson after climbing Munros the previous day.
I get the same joy from actually being on a golf course as I do walking up a Munro. My Munro obsession isn’t really about ticking them all off, it’s about the solitude of the great outdoors. There’s no greater satisfaction than sitting on a mountain peak looking at miles and miles of emptiness.
I miss hillwalking right now for the same reason I miss golf: it’s good for the soul. And right now my soul needs the goodness of a round of golf with mates or Izzy or both.