The Mean­ing of Golf

In this new col­umn, we will pub­lish ex­cerpts from The Mean­ing of Golf, writ­ten by Craig Mor­ri­son, who seeks to find the beat­ing heart of golf through its his­tory, its tour­na­ments, its char­ac­ters, sto­ries and chal­lenges. This is a book that all lovers and

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Craig Mor­ri­son

A new col­umn pub­lishes ex­cerpts from The Mean­ing of Golf that seeks to find the beat­ing heart of golf.

What is the mean­ing of golf? It’s a disappointment, rarely en­tirely grat­i­fy­ing. It al­ways sees us hit im­per­fect shots and we believe we have let our­selves down. In all ac­counts of the great­est rounds, the sub-par rounds, the sub-60s even, there ap­pears al­ways to have been the pos­si­bil­ity of at least one stroke less. The world’s best golfer in 2000, when win­ning 12 tour­na­ments, reck­oned he hit only one per­fect shot in an en­tire sea­son.

So, golf is a game of mishits, but in this way, it’s a great plea­sure, the per­fect pur­suit. It is ex­ceed­ingly sat­is­fy­ing be­cause it leaves us, ul­ti­mately, un­sat­is­fied. So, we crave more. It’s crack co­caine (though some drug ad­dicts func­tion more ef­fec­tively than golfers: burn­ing less money, spend­ing less time away from loved ones, be­ing more ef­fec­tive in the work­place…)

In golf, each shot is unique. In bas­ket­ball, say, every free throw is made from the same spot, the same dis­tance in a sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­ment. This can­not be said of golf where every strike is quite dif­fer­ent. That much is ob­vi­ous when one con­sid­ers cli­matic con­di­tions, laws of prob­a­bil­ity, the com­pet­i­tive cir­cum­stances, the end­lessly dif­fer­ent cour­ses world­wide… In this way golf teaches us adapt­abil­ity.

Golf worked for poor shep­herds in Scot­land just as it works for bankers spend­ing their week­ends in The Hamp­tons. It re­minds all of us that what­ever we want for will ul­ti­mately be de­prived us. The first eco­nomic prin­ci­ple is that peo­ple al­ways want more. It’s part of the hu­man con­di­tion. And golf - in spite of the lux­ury it some­times af­fords us and the sums it can cost us - al­ways bites back, re­mind­ing us we can’t have ev­ery­thing. In this way, it’s spir­i­tual. Through golf we can mea­sure our­selves not wholly by money, not even by hap­pi­ness. It sees us mea­sure our­selves against na­ture, or an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of na­ture, and we find our­selves re­as­sur­ingly want­ing.

Can we live with our­selves? Can we stand the truth of ex­actly what and who we are? Is it pos­si­ble to know one’s weak­nesses, one’s fail­ings, and still carry on? This is the sort of stuff one might learn in a life and death sit­u­a­tion. At a push, we get some ideas about it in the mid­dle of a long train­ing run. But we can learn a lit­tle of such things through golf as well. When fully en­gaged with golf it be­gins to ask ques­tions of us.

Golf is both triv­ial and sig­nif­i­cant. To be ger­mane about it, golf is a game in which one tries to put a small ball into a hole from dif­fer­ent dis­tances, eigh­teen times, in as few shots as pos­si­ble, the shots be­ing struck with a va­ri­ety of im­ple­ments (vary­ingly un­fit for the pur­pose is the usual ad­den­dum). To take a grander

view, to look for the sig­nif­i­cance, golf is the most in­ter­est­ing of all sports, the one in which de­mand­ing phys­i­cal skills - dex­ter­ity and tim­ing es­pe­cially - must be used along­side con­sid­er­able men­tal skills, not ex­actly in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity, but at least the abil­ity to con­trol or qui­eten the mind.

It can­not be sold to those who don’t play it. The el­e­va­tor pitch for the game, the one just pro­posed, is not great. But many ex­quis­ite joys are in­ex­pli­ca­ble to the unini­ti­ated. Who re­ally liked their first strong drink, their first cig­a­rette? A favourite piece of mu­sic - one’s desert is­land disc - is rarely a tune so catchy it was ap­pre­ci­ated at first lis­ten­ing. The hit sin­gle (to use a dated term), doesn’t al­ways last like the trick­ier al­bum track (to use an­other). Golf is like that. There are bar­ri­ers to en­try which, when over­come, in­crease its de­sir­abil­ity. For the first-time player, un­less their in­au­gu­ral strike takes glo­ri­ous flight, golf’s ap­peal is not ob­vi­ous. But it grows on you, like a dan­ger­ous ill­ness. Hope­fully, you learn to live with it.

Like all good pur­suits it is im­pos­si­ble to mas­ter. Even golf­ing medi­ocrity is tough to achieve. De­spite that, in fact be­cause of it, golf is end­lessly ap­peal­ing to those who will em­brace it. But it’s not easy to love. Fall­ing for golf is a bit like fall­ing for your kid­nap­per. It’s a kind of Stockholm Syn­drome.

In stroke­play golf a round is con­structed shot by shot. Like a house of cards, it doesn’t take much for it to col­lapse.

It be­gins hope­fully with one pass­able strike out on to a suit­ably wide first fair­way. The player then gin­gerly knocks one onto the first green. Two putts and they’re on their way. They take the ig­nominy of some silly dropped shots and per­haps even make them up with a birdie or, de­pend­ing on am­bi­tion, a smat­ter­ing of pars. As the round goes on the im­por­tance of each shot grows. The va­lid­ity of every shot al­ready gone hangs on the one about to be played. Shot adds to shot un­til a bit­ter end or per­haps a sweet fi­nale. But what’s the use of 17 good holes and one shocker?

And so, it is the player be­gins to ‘feel the heat’, to soak up pres­sure ‘down the stretch’. Af­ter a run of great holes, a golfer finds him­self in un­charted waters and be­gins to panic... It might all be triv­ial in the grander scheme of things. No­body dies. All con­cerned will get home to their beds just the same. But in the mo­ment, it is crush­ing. And in the mo­ment, at the top of the game, a Ma­jor tour­na­ment per­haps, the heat is white hot, the sort of sensation few of us will ever know.

In cricket, the bats­man ap­proaches a high score in a sim­i­lar way, for a while at least, build­ing his in­nings, each shot tak­ing on in­creased im­por­tance. To get over the cen­tury is tough and when it hap­pens it is mon­u­men­tal. But then the pres­sure’s off. 110 runs is a glo­ri­ous score. More would be bet­ter. But the anx­i­ety is gone. Ar­guably the pres­sure’s off when he has made what he knows to be an ac­cept­able score. For the first few bat­ters 50 might do. Tail-en­ders could be happy with 20. When they pass these scores, they can re­lax. But in golf the bur­den only grows and the ten­sion is there till the fi­nal putt drops.

In match­play, golf we can free our­selves of such fears. We play against our op­po­nents, the over­all tally not be­ing part of the equa­tion. Play­ing alone, we com­pete sim­ply against our­selves and the course. But in all golf­ing for­mats we know, with com­plete clar­ity, if we’ve done well or oth­er­wise. We don’t need a score­card or a re­sult to tell us if we have done our­selves proud.

Golf is full of con­tra­dic­tions. Con­sider these.

It is ther­a­peu­tic but vex­ing. It can be cruel, tor­tur­ing the mind, yet it is a pleas­ant es­cape. It might be played with friends but is in essence a soli­tary pur­suit. And play­ing this sport well of­ten leads to panic which in turn brings on poor play.

But golf’s not a sport, is it? How can this in­her­ently safe, low-im­pact, non-con­tact hobby be con­sid­ered sport? You don’t nec­es­sar­ily work hard, phys­i­cally, when golf­ing. You don’t re­ally have to change your shoes. Surely, it’s sim­ply a pas­time.

Yet golf’s ad­her­ents believe it is a sport, a su­pe­rior sport even (and not just in the at­ti­tudes of some of its snob­bier in­sti­tu­tions). Most def­i­ni­tions of sport re­fer to skill and phys­i­cal ex­er­tion, com­pe­ti­tion in the name of en­ter­tain­ment. Older def­i­ni­tions re­late to fun, as in he’s a good sport. Golf meets and ex­ceeds the phys­i­cal skills and com­pet­i­tive cri­te­ria while also func­tion­ing as a pas­time for the less than ath­letic who hap­pen to be good sports.

That the bat­tle be­tween play­ers is ab­stract, that it can be sim­ply a player ver­sus the course, that the win­ning is in num­bers and not blows landed, puts off those want con­tact in their games. There’s no ac­tual phys­i­cal­ity, no rough and tumble, yet most of us have met golf club sec­re­taries we’ve wanted to punch. And many of us have thrown a club or at least an in­vec­tive.

Dis­cover the mean­ing of golf by down­load­ing a copy at: www.ama­zon. com/Mean­ing-GolfCraig-Mor­ri­son-ebook/ dp/B074C2LBRH

Craig Mor­ri­son is the author of 18 Great­est Scot­tish Golf Holes and 18 Great­est Ir­ish Golf Holes. He is a free­lance golf writer, a con­trib­u­tor to many in­ter­na­tional ti­tles, in­clud­ing HK Golfer. An An­glo-Scot, he lives in Som­er­set, Eng­land.

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