About this time every spring I seem to have in one hand a well-worn Bible and a booklet of Lenten meditations, and in the other hand, equally well-worn copies of Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom and M. Scott Peck’s Golf and the Spirit.
Why, you may ask? Please read on.
As Lent cascades into Holy Week and Easter, it frequently weaves into or collides with Masters Week. For example, this year the Sunday Masters finale overlaps with Palm Sunday, the start of the holiest week in Christendom.
This juxtaposition in 2014 shouldn’t be much of a problem for golfing Christians, but when Holy Week and the tournament are superimposed, that’s when the fun begins!
Jim Hawkins, in his book Tales from Augusta’s Fairways, relates this vignette: “When co-founder Clifford Roberts proposed moving the tournament to the first week in April in the late 1930s, an Augusta National club member noted: ‘The problem is, that we’ll finish on Easter Sunday.’ Roberts then inquired, ‘Well, who’s in charge of scheduling Easter this year? We’ll get them to change it.’ ”
Well, the church didn’t change the dates for Easter, which by the way, were set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, and Roberts didn’t change the week of the Masters, which was moved to April in 1935.
This admixture of seemingly diverse events on the surface may seem to be mutually contradictory, but as an avid golfer and an even more ardent Christian, I submit that God and golf are inseparable.
Some have said that “golf is a metaphor for life,” with the idea being that the challenges experienced on the golf course teach us how to face similar challenges in day-to-day life.
This has certainly been my reality and many others’ as well – just check out the many books and monographs about “golf and spirituality” on the shelves of any bookstore in Augusta.
God has laid out for us certain rules of behavior. Golf also has rules of conduct. Both sets of rules have a common absolute – the players (we) are in charge of the enforcement of the rules. If we play golf and life with integrity, then we call the penalties on ourselves because we are the only ones who know the truth.
This expression of God-given free choice is epitomized by the iconic Bobby Jones when he called a one-stroke penalty on himself in the 1925 U.S. Open – he was the only one who saw the infraction. He would eventually lose the Open by a single stroke, but he gained worldwide respect and admiration worth far more than his loss.
In Stephen Pressfield’s mystic golf novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, the Christ figure Bagger says to the spiritually broken Capt. Rannulph Junnuh, “Golf is not a game to be won, only played.”
Isn’t it the same with life? How much time and energy do we spend trying to win at life and forget to live? How much time do we spend working on our golf game and forgetting to just go and play and enjoy the sheer breathtaking beauty of the golf course?
William Wordsworth hit the nail on the head when he penned these words: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, little we see in nature that is ours; we have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
God created everything and called it good. Jesus the Good Shepherd came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Golf is meant to be played and life is meant to be lived, and at the end of the round the score doesn’t matter much.
May I suggest this: play your next round of golf without keeping score – live the next 24 hours without keeping score. You may find this a liberating experience!
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.