(Source: New York Times)
By Memorial Day weekend, even the casual golfer should have dusted off the clubs and played at least nine holes. And at some moment in that round, perhaps after a perfectly struck shot, you smiled and remembered why you love this game. Nongolfers don’t get any of this, but who cares?
On a weekend that signals the start of the real golf season all over the country, I offer the 12 reasons we love golf:
Golf promotes freedom on a playing field with few boundaries.
What other game is played on 200 acres or more? Baseball, softball, football and soccer fields all have defined, rigid lines. So do tennis and basketball courts. Ice rinks have walls. Nascar has fences. For goodness’ sake, bowling alleys have gutters, how intimidating is that?
Yes, in golf you’re supposed to play the holes where the short grass is, but it’s liberating to know that you do not have to. (And probably won’t.) You’ve got this immense open space to play in. Play the holes any way you choose – just meet us on the next tee afterward.
The gear is cool.
It’s amusing, entertaining and even educational to get lost in all of golf’s little details: the dozens of different clubs, a glove, a ball marker, tees, green repair tools, interchangeable spikes, custom grips, shaft flexes, head covers, rain gear, global positioning equipment. And then there are the nicknames for this inner society’s tools: big dog, flat stick, belly putter, cavity back, hosel, kickpoint, camber, off-set, niblick, mashie, brassie, bounce, flange. I doubt that even the C.I.A. has this much fun naming its secret paraphernalia.
Golf is serendipitous.
Where else can you get sand in your shoes, pond water on your socks, ketchup on your shirt, sweat on your cap, mud in the cuffs of your pants, blisters on your hands, a farmer’s tan and a frog in your bag? And like it. If you make birdie on the 18th hole, you will spend the rest of the day excessively explaining how you acquired all the sand, water, ketchup, sweat, mud, blisters, color and the stowaway frog.
Golf has the best views.
O.K., so some baseball stadiums have good views of city skyscrapers. The rare college football stadium will glimpse a pastoral campus. Our indoor arenas increasingly all look alike and now they are louder than an airport runway. If you fish, hike, surf or ski, maybe you have an argument on this subject, but compared with all the mainstream sports, golf has no equal in terms of the setting. There are hundreds of golf courses that jut into the ocean, hundreds more that wind through forests, hundreds more with majestic mountain views and hundreds more that flow through parkland valleys.
Stand on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach, a few feet from the Pacific Ocean with the spray from the waves landing softly on your shoulders, and you will never again wax poetic about the Citgo sign behind the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
Golf is played with a host of wildlife partners.
Deer, turtles, foxes, woodchucks, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, moose, beavers, trout, bass, hawks, blue heron, eagles, geese, ducks, robins, blue jays, toads, armadillos, turkeys, otters, gophers, lizards, butterflies and even alligators. They come with the golf course for free.
You’ve heard of runner’s high? Golfers have their own version and it takes place on an uncrowded golf course, walking quietly around the green landscape, proceeding at any pace you choose.
Arriving alone and joining another group.
A completely different experience, this is more like a blind date, but it almost always ends up better since it doesn’t matter if you ever see your newfound partners again. You meet the most fascinating people with this little leap of faith and you are witness to the most bizarre approaches to playing the game. Who needs reality TV? Just walk into a pro shop on a busy Saturday and announce you’re a single.
Looking for lost balls in the woods.
I’m always amazed what I find in the woods. Like one boat shoe. Why and how did that get here? I’ve found a pocket calculator. A hat and sunglasses. Maybe I’m watching too much “NCIS,” but I try to reconstruct the scene:
O.K., guy tries to hit his second shot from the woods but it strikes two other trees and lands in some swampy moss. Disgusted, he throws down his hat (sunglasses were on the brim). Still, he takes an awkward stance in the swamp and swats at the ball, which soars onto the green to land two feet from the cup. In his follow-through, however, he loses his balance and falls backward. Boat shoe sticks in moss and calculator falls from pocket. He doesn’t notice; he’s shuffling down the fairway to make that par putt.
There is the crisp sound of a club face contacting the golf ball with no grass in between. The muted “thunk” of a well-played bunker shot. The soft, little plunk heard from the fairway when an approach shot lands on the green. The clatter of clubs in the bag bumping along the fairway, a practiced cadence of leisure on the move. There is the silence that follows a shot from the woods, the audio proof that your ball escaped without striking a tree. There is the sound of surprised, astonished laughter when you sink a 60-foot putt over hill and dale.
Auditory delights are par for the course.
Anyone can play golf.
It doesn’t matter if you are particularly tall or strong, all body types can succeed. Look on the PGA and L.P.G.A. tours, where the top golfers come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are from. Age doesn’t much matter, unless you want to be a touring pro. Even a lack of flexibility or athleticism can be counteracted with savvy and skill around the greens. Over the years, I have lost much money to the 60- or 70-year-olds at my home course who have the precision of surgeons from 100 yards and in. Just being a good putter will make you a good golfer. And who can’t putt a little white ball into a little hole?
You can, and should, play with your family or male and female friends.
The fact that men, women and children can play golf equitably on the same golf course is one of the game’s greatest benefits. It is the perfect blend of social event and exercise. And there’s something about golf’s humbling nature that brings everyone together. No one is immune from embarrassment, and that is liberating to the family dynamic.
The chance of a hole in one.
In what other game, in what other walk of life, can you perform something that in that moment is as good as it can be? The average person cannot go to a major league ballpark and hit a grand slam to win a game, but when the average person makes a hole in one, it is a shot that no one, not Phil Mickelson and not Jack Nicklaus in his prime, could have done better at that moment in that place. The chance of, and quest for, perfection is what keeps golfers coming back.
You gotta love that.
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