Golf is a lot of fun, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
I love the idea of playing golf, of walking across perfectly manicured fairways on a sunny afternoon, of hitting that perfect pin-high 5 iron on one hole and draining a twenty-foot slider from the fringe for a birdie on the next.
However, in reality, golf can really, really suck. Shanking sleeves of balls out of bounds, collecting your eighth three-putt bogey of the day, and skulling chips over the green can make you want to systematically feed yourself to the course’s alligator to finally end the nightmare once and for all. Nothing is longer than a bad round of golf. You’ll feel like you’ve been playing for hours, then you sneak a peek at the scorecard and realize you’re shooting a 27 and are about to tee off on the fourth hole. This only sends you deeper into a galaxy of foggy self-doubt and the nearest sand trap, from where you’ll emerge eons later to collect your double bogey.
Yet despite golf’s inherent ability to inspire terrifying, lusty rage in even the meekest of souls, golf might be the most important sport you can pick up as an adult. Say nothing about its ability to bring people together; whether inspired by competition, escaping a spouse, or just a chance to drink a few brews outdoors, the bonds of a solid, regular golf foursome could put most cults to shame. But that can’t be all golf is. That doesn’t explain why we, gluttons for punishment, go back week after week like sheep to slaughter, off to smack a ball into a hole with clubs that are hardly up to the task.
No, golf is more than just merely having fun with the lads on a Sunday. Golf goes deeper than that.
You never only play the course, and I can’t stress this enough. You’re also playing yourself, every stroke, every swing, every hole. You can’t hide from yourself on the golf course, and your deepest character, both strengths and flaws, will always be revealed. Interestingly, this is why golf is such an important tool of business. You think the VP doesn’t get a feel for the real you after 18? Heck, after the first hole he can tell who you really are. Are you a cheater? Are you overly emotional, spiking a club or tossing your ball out of bounds after a bad hole? Do you seem have the patience of the Dalai Lama after a few bad shots but are secretly actually fine with mediocrity? Do you hit a breaking point after a few bad holes and have trouble bouncing back? Golf will draw this out of you with surgical precision, baring your soul for all to see.
But, as they say, knowledge is power. What was hidden is now revealed, and golf allows you a chance to improve on your strengths and to patch up your weaknesses. Maybe that’s why we play so much. It’s a form of group therapy that’s palatable enough for even those deepest in denial.
But there’s got to be more than that.
There’s a reason why Alan Shepard risked literal life and limb and snuck a golf club and a sleeve of balls with him on the Apollo 14 mission. He wanted to crank two massive drives OFF OF THE DAMN MOON, and no one was going to tell him otherwise. Shepard understood golf’s truth and realized that golfing on the moon was a symbol to all that humanity has conquered space.
See, what Shepard understood is that golf is the most primal of all of man’s games. It represents the human condition in its entirety. You experience a microcosm of all human emotion on the golf course, falling from the peaks of the highest high into the the lowest low, and then climbing right back out of that valley on the very next shot. You live 18 lifetimes on those 18 holes, a beautiful metaphor for reincarnation. Each hole is a birth, as you once more start fresh, swinging on the tee box alone, always alone, teeing your ball up as the ultimate master of fate. And despite the different journeys you take to get there, whether it’s a hole in one or a triple bogey, all holes ultimately end up in the same place–the bottom of the cup, victim once more to the whims of the gods and a beautiful death.
This is why it’s so important to play golf. When you understand golf, you understand yourself at its basest state. You understand your strengths and weaknesses, both on the course and in the heart. You understand life’s long, difficult journey, making do with flawed equipment and imperfect knowledge, and you gain insights onto how that journey ultimately must always end. You understand the beauty of the natural world, recreated in painstaking detail on the golf course, and the beauty of man’s achievements as you walk over it with a single goal in mind. And you finally understand why there’s no better symbol for humanity than a tiny, almost imperceptible, dimpled ball, searching, reaching, traveling forever through the stars..