God and Golf. I know for some folks, that's redundant. Golf is their god. Not me. But I confess: I love to golf. I love it for three reasons – all of which cause me to love God more. I call them the ABC's of Golf: Adventure. Beauty. Competition.
"Golf is a good walk, spoiled." – Mark Twain
(That's funny, Mr. Twain. But if you'd kept your right elbow in, you would have enjoyed your walk much more.)
Ok, I admit golf may seem the most predictable, sanitized adventure ever imagined. 18 consecutive holes hitting a dimpled ball into a tin cup, with aggravating inaccuracy. And, while most adventures pose a risk of danger, the only possible peril of golf is getting bushwhacked by a green-side goose. Nevertheless, adventure can be found on the links, as I first discovered as a young boy ...
My introduction to golf began around age 10, when my brother Mike and I found some old golf clubs and ventured off to Hansen golf course, a par-3 beauty in Wauwatosa, WI. We were just kids, paying a buck or two to play nine holes. It was a glorious new adventure with failures and victories.
But a second, surprising adventure nearly supplanted the game itself. It wasn't hitting golf balls, but finding golf balls. Each new discovery (in a pond or thick brush) was a glistening treasure, a pirate's booty.
I caught this adventurous bug when I was ~12 years old. My friend (Brad Stenz) joined me for an early round of golf at Hansen's 9-hole course. We were the first players off the tee, before 6am. As the morning dew soaked our shoes and the sun began to rise, we hit our tee shots on hole #4. Then, shouldering our bags, we trudged around a pond via a murky path through the woods, to reach the putting green. Then, we saw them. Hundreds of them. Golf balls everywhere, strewn throughout the woods – like gems and rubies cast upon the pine-needled floor. Apparently overnight, someone drained the pond of its gold, hurling rescued balls into the woods. Brad dove left as I scrambled right, plunging into the forest to pluck white orbs of wonder. Every pocket of our shorts and golf bags was packed with newfound treasures, like bulging chipmunk cheeks storing a winter-trove of nuts.
To this day, my love for finding golf balls is exceeded only by my love for the game of golf (and only by a small fraction). There is a boyhood adventure in every round of golf!
God has left artifacts of His beauty throughout nature, but (in my opinion) there is no natural beauty as captivating as a well-maintained golf course. In fact, when I think of heaven, I think of a restored Eden on the New Earth that we will walk. And the closest thing I can think of to Eden is a beautiful golf course. Nature, under control.
I once had the privilege of watching a round of golf for the Masters Tournament, at Augusta National (my friend, Mike S, won tickets to the Wednesday practice round). Many who have visited Augusta National deem it to be one of the most beautiful venues in golf. Vivid green grass, tailored fairways, blooming azaleas surround Bobby Jones' architectural masterpiece. While there, it was nearly like breathing celestial air.
So ethereal was the experience that I paused, got down on my hands and knees, and carefully inspected the grass for any weeds. Nope, I couldn't find one. Blue skies, puffy clouds, a refreshing breeze, and the most beautiful green lawns I'd ever seen. Even as I type this, my smile is broad and my eyes are aglow in the memory. Nature under control, breathtakingly on display. A pinnacle of beauty.
I know not everyone sees glory in competition, but I do. In fact, I think I was made by God to relish it. Not necessarily to beat everyone else, but rather to attempt to excel at something ... to be the best I can be. To master a task. To enjoy the shalom of (near)-perfection. Competition can bring out the best (or the worst) in us, and golf is inherently competitive, whether one is playing against buddies or simply against the course.
I've never had a hole-in-one, though I've come close twice. Both times, my tee shot hit the pin (flag) on the fly. Ironically, one shot hit the pin so flush that the ball ricocheted directly back at me – rolling the length of the green, down a slope, and into the pond for a two-stroke penalty. Ouch! That added insult to injury. My score jumped from a 1 to a 5 on that hole.
But here is the surprise: you wouldn't have seen disappointment on my face. I knew I'd hit a fantastic shot, and I couldn't keep from smiling. It was beautiful! I was competing against The Course, and today it won. Sure, the result (ball in water) left a lot to be desired, but I wasn't only looking for the result. I was admiring the beauty of the process. The flight of the ball. The perfection of hitting the pin. The joy of making ideal contact with my 9 iron. The striving to bring The Course under my domain. To subdue it.
Perhaps that doesn't sound like competition to you ... so maybe competition is the wrong word. What is the right word? Maybe it's excellence? Or perfection? Aspiration? Striving? Exertion? Whatever you call it, it's the desire to be your best and give every ounce of devotion, passion and energy to a noble task. What I love about golf is that it asks that of me. It reminds me of God's original mandate to mankind:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over ..." Genesis 1:28
Subdue it and rule over. That's what I'm trying to do to a golf course. ☺
So, that's why God and Golf are good friends to me. Adventure. Beauty. Competition. God made me, in part, to experience these three.
P.S. Two weeks ago I golfed with my friend, Mauri. Guess what? I found ... 59 golf balls. 59! So fun.