In what might be seen as a risky move, my husband gave me golf clubs for my birthday last year. At 59, I never had any desire to take up the sport, but I graciously accepted the gift as a way for us to spend time together in our retirement. Although I’m still learning to play the game, I have discovered golf is an exceptionally elegant sport.
Nature was initially what got me on the course. While Mike recalls each hole by his shots, I remember the wildlife. “The second hole was my best drive,” he says. “Oh, that was the one where we saw the great blue heron. On the third hole, there were turtles,” I reply. There are golf courses all over the world known for their breathtaking scenery, but even an inexpensive neighborhood course can be a great place to appreciate flora, fauna, and animals in their natural habitat.
I was quickly impressed by the etiquette of golf. There is a clear tradition of customs and rules designed to make the game safer and more enjoyable for everyone. After thirty years in noisy middle school classrooms, I was thrilled to discover silence is golden on the golf course. Other elegant practices include punctuality, thoughtfulness, a respectful dress code, and self-discipline.
Self-control and golf can seem antithetical. It’s a frustrating game that can cause the most stoic player to lose all sense of dignity and restraint. At one Mt. Vernon golf course, a club dangles thirty feet high in an overgrown tree. Forty-five years ago my husband’s buddy threw it up there after an exceptionally bad round. Professional golfer Walter Hagen said long ago, “They called it golf because all of the other four-letter words were taken.” Golf is a great game for anyone wishing to practice the art of self-discipline.
Golf strengthens both the body and mind. The perfect swing requires smooth and graceful control of the physical body from head to toe, but most golfers agree, it’s a mind game. Golf teaches concentration and equanimity. Keeping a clear head when water taunts on the left and a sand trap teases on the right requires mental focus. Jack Nicklaus said, “The game of golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”
This elegant game can bring together people of all ages and genders. Children can learn to play and keep playing the rest of their lives. Mike frequently plays with his 83-year-old father, who can still hit the ball straight and far. I’m personally encouraged by female golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias who said, “Golf is a game of coordination, rhythm, and grace; women have these to a high degree.”
Like many sports, the game of golf possesses a unifying spirit. Personal politics and discord can be left off the course while players bond over 18 holes of shared challenges, simple victories, and friendly competition. In a testament to golf’s bipartisanship, former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both love the game.
Life and golf have a lot in common. Every day on the links is a chance to practice as much poise, precision, and elegance as possible, and that practice can be extended to life in general. As golfer Ben Hogan said, “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.” §
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening, and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”