Essays On Golfing

By Alex Burge, University of Illinois (Click here to read Laura Lonardi's winning essay)

The saying “it’s more than a game” may be cliché, but to me golf truly is more than a game. I have been playing golf for 15 years, and it has taught me many life skills and offered many incredible experiences. But when I tried to zero in on one way it has changed my life it dawned on me, my relationship with my father, my hero, was developed through this game.

Until a few years ago, my father was deaf. Without a doubt, this was a difficult thing to overcome as a young boy; the impatient eight year old I used to be did not want to spend an extra five minutes to have a simple exchange. After injuries ended my father’s tennis career, he picked up the game of golf. I tagged along when I could after school, and we would play a few holes most evenings. The slow pace of the game created an atmosphere where communication at his pace seemed normal, my anxious eight-year-old self began to listen to his great stories and advice. My father and myself were becoming best friends through the game of golf.

As my game grew and I began to take it more seriously, we started travelling to tournaments together. At this point the communication barrier had mostly been broken, I had become patient enough to easily communicate with him. For years and years we spent weekends in hotels together, breakfasts at the local pancake house, and countless hours of car rides to talk about whatever we could think of. Reflecting back on these moments, I cannot imagine growing up without golf. It’s not that I cannot imagine playing the game, it’s that I can’t imagine what it would have been like if golf hadn’t given me the opportunity to build an everlasting relationship with my father. Listening to my father’s stories, watching how he conducted himself and treated people while we were travelling, and realizing how blessed I was to have him as my dad are moments and lessons I have learned that will never be forgotten or underutilized.

As a young boy, I always wanted to move from activity to activity. One moment it may have been BMX biking, the next I wanted to play basketball with my friends, the next moment I wanted to swim; but none of these activities provided an outlet and built-in time to spend with my father. Golf did. Golf had an inherent slow-pace that relaxed me and had me stationary enough to build this relationship. Golf has been the easiest way for my father and I to spend quality time together and just be boys playing a game.

My father is my hero; he served in the United States Army, played junior tennis events against Arthur Ashe, built a company from the ground up, had a scholarship offer to play quarterback for the University of Miami, and countless other accolades. But the thing that comes to mind first for me about Wilson Burge is none of those, I think of him as the greatest father I could ever dream of. Without the game of golf, I’m not sure if the impatient eight year old I used to be would have taken the time to truly get to know this amazing man. Golf changed my life, and continues to change my life, because it introduced me to my father the way a young boy should be introduced, with patience and a willingness to listen and learn. Golf introduced me to my hero. 

A. A. Milne

The charm of golf

When he reads of the notable doings of famous golfers, the eighteen-handicap man has no envy in his heart. For by this time he has discovered the great secret of golf. Before he began to play he wondered wherein lay the fascination of it; now he knows. Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.

Consider what it is to be bad at cricket. You have bought a new bat, perfect in balance; a new pair of pads, white as driven snow; gloves of the very latest design. Do they let you use them? No. After one ball, in the negotiation of which neither your bat, nor your pads, nor your gloves came into play, they send you back into the pavilion to spend the rest of the afternoon listening to fatuous stories of some old gentleman who knew Fuller Pilch. And when your side takes the field, where are you? Probably at long leg both ends, exposed to the public gaze as the worst fieldsman in London. How devastating are your emotions. Remorse, anger, mortification, fill your heart; above all, envy—envy of the lucky immortals who disport themselves on the green level of Lord’s.

Consider what it is to be bad at lawn tennis. True, you are allowed to hold on to your new racket all through the game, but how often are you allowed to employ it usefully? How often does your partner cry “Mine!” and bundle you out of the way? Is there pleasure in playing football badly? You may spend the full eighty minutes in your new boots, but your relations with the ball will be distant. They do not give you a ball to yourself at football.

But how different a game is golf. At golf it is the bad player who gets the most strokes. However good his opponent, the bad player has the right to play out each hole to the end; he will get more than his share of the game. He need have no fears that his new driver will not be employed. He will have as many swings with it as the scratch man; more, if he misses the ball altogether upon one or two tees. If he buys a new niblick he is certain to get fun out of it on the very first day.

And, above all, there is this to be said for golfing mediocrity—the bad player can make the strokes of the good player. The poor cricketer has perhaps never made fifty in his life; as soon as he stands at the wickets he knows that he is not going to make fifty today. But the eighteen-handicap man has some time or other played every hole on the course to perfection. He has driven a ball 250 yards; he has made superb approaches; he has run down the long putt. Any of these things may suddenly happen to him again. And therefore it is not his fate to have to sit in the club smoking-room after his second round and listen to the wonderful deeds of others. He can join in too. He can say with perfect truth, “I once carried the ditch at the fourth with my second,” or “I remember when I drove into the bunker guarding the eighth green,” or even “I did a three at the eleventh this afternoon”—bogey being five. But if the bad cricketer says, “I remember when I took a century in forty minutes off Lockwood and Richardson,” he is nothing but a liar.

For these and other reasons golf is the best game in the world for the bad player. And sometimes I am tempted to go further and say that it is a better game for the bad player than for the good player. The joy of driving a ball straight after a week of slicing, the joy of putting a mashie shot dead, the joy of even a moderate stroke with a brassie; best of all, the joy of the perfect cleek shot—these things the good player will never know. Every stroke we bad players make we make in hope. It is never so bad but it might have been worse; it is never so bad but we are confident of doing better next time. And if the next stroke is good, what happiness fills our soul. How eagerly we tell ourselves that in a little while all our strokes will be as good.

What does Vardon know of this? If he does a five hole in four he blames himself that he did not do it in three; if he does it in five he is miserable. He will never experience that happy surprise with which we hail our best strokes. Only his bad strokes surprise him, and then we may suppose that he is not happy. His length and accuracy are mechanical; they are not the result, as so often in our case, of some suddenly applied maxim or some suddenly discovered innovation. The only thing which can vary in his game is his putting, and putting is not golf but croquet.

But of course we, too, are going to be as good as Vardon one day. We are only postponing the day because meanwhile it is so pleasant to be bad. And it is part of the charm of being bad at golf that in a moment, in a single night, we may become good. If the bad cricketer said to a good cricketer, “What am I doing wrong?” the only possible answer would be, “Nothing particular, except that you can’t play cricket.” But if you or I were to say to our scratch friend, “What am I doing wrong?” he would reply at once, “Moving the head” or “Dropping the right knee” or “Not getting the wrists in soon enough,” and by tomorrow we should be different players. Upon such a little depends, or seems to the eighteen-handicap to depend, excellence in golf.

And so, perfectly happy in our present badness and perfectly confident of our future goodness, we long-handicap men remain. Perhaps it would be pleasanter to be a little more certain of getting the ball safely off the first tee; perhaps at the fourteenth hole, where there is a right of way and the public encroach, we should like to feel that we have done with topping; perhaps—

Well, perhaps we might get our handicap down to fifteen this summer. But no lower; certainly no lower.

(1920)

Milne, A. A.. “The charm of golf.” 1920. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 19 Jan 2007. 10 Mar 2018 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/milne/charm_of_golf/>.

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