Stymied - A Manifesto
Welcome to the first of many...a blog about a love affair with the beguiling mistress that is golf...
Golf has been a key part of my life for over 35 years at this point. Since the teachers’ strike in the mid-80’s, when my panic-stricken parents realised that the cancelled football practice would no longer absorb the energy of this 10 year old, and instead invested in a single golf lesson, the absurd notion of chasing a small, often disobedient ball round a field with a stick has never been far from my mind.
In a sense, it is now my most longest term relationship, and like all such arrangements, we’ve been through highs and lows together. The early years were passionate, intense - hours of enthralled practice over the park, a wedge and three balls in hand come rain or shine, perhaps heading home every few hours to refuel - either food or golf balls.
In those timeless days, I was often alone with just the rustling sound of my tartan waterproofs and the inner narrative of yet another major championship victory being described in hushed tones for company. I now see this focus reflected in my son as he kicks a ball round the garden, one-two’s with the shed, deep in the simple joy of that other beautiful game. This singular passion for play is easily forgotten, but I believe it is still available to us; we just need to stoke the embers, and reignite the flame.
Soon afterwards, I would play on proper courses, my tumbling handicap helping me pick up the odd ball as a prize, and somewhere there is an engraved shield for the Junior Invitation, the last thing I won (c. 1986, a good, final vintage for Nicklaus also). A few years later, when the competing distractions of adolescence and university appeared, golf slowly disappeared from my daily life and thoughts..
I would still play occasionally, and be frustrated that my standard was no longer the same, that I was now “rusty”. And then, for a while, I hardly played at all, though I knew deep down I was neglecting something fundamental to me, and so instead of picking up the clubs, I spent time feeling guilty about it. I must have played no more than a couple of games a year between the ages of 18 and 27, so I probably spent more time regretting my absence from golf than playing it in those years. This was an impressive rut, the work of a master procrastinator.
I then switched paths to work in the game, first on a course, and then in various Clubs, administering golf but still seldom playing it. In the twenty plus years since that change, and despite my proximity and access to many of the planet’s greatest courses, my play remains infrequent, and patchy, and I have drifted away from watching events or knowing anything about equipment. My study of the latter really ended with the PING groove controversy, and the decline of the balata, though individual HT100’s were by that stage long subject to their own personal decline at the hands of my Mizunos.
To the outsider, it is the strangest of games, but for us golfers, we know what it is to find ourselves beguiled by its difficulty, and to ride the highs and lows that exist in every single round we play. It is also perhaps the hardest game I know, but therein lives much of its charm, and the reason we return to it, once bitten, over and over again. Golf is an addiction, but one that can enrich and intensify our lives more than ought to be possible, for decades. I know a good many worse vices than this.
This love we golfers have for the game often feels unrequited, but still we arrive at the first tee excited, hopeful. The hours ahead will dish out more humility than would seem possible, but golf is an honest teacher, and we students have much to learn.
So why am I here, typing away in the dark while the rest of the world sleeps?
That bit is easy. I am here to talk about golf so that it keeps this passion alive, keeps me in touch with this game that has brought me a living, but more importantly has provided countless moments of happiness, laughter, self-discovery. Golf has taken me halfway round the world, with many and varied friends, and we’ve marvelled at the landscapes we’ve explored on the way, both physical and mental.
It has brought tears of joy and pain, and with the many golf addicts whose company I’ve shared, there is a camaraderie that somehow honours our collective powerlessness in the face of this sporting challenge. I have met thousands of golfers over these decades, each at different stages of their journey through life and their golfing “career”, and have seen and shared what this game represents in their path.
There have been few conversations in my life as sad as those when a lifelong golfer, long since deprived of the strength and energy to play well, finally resigns, hangs up their clubs. This normally happens a year or more after it would have made sense, but in that reluctance to let go, we glimpse how much this mystical pursuit means to them. This day comes to us all in time, which to me makes each round, each fine drive, each cruel lip-out ever more valuable. These are moments to cherish.
So I am here writing this to put playing golf back where it belongs - a priority in my life - while I still can. While I am fit and well, and while my children can see what it means to me, and if they wish, pick up a club themselves, and begin that never-ending but beautiful challenge of hitting a straight one, or holing a long putt. Or of missing it, and the one coming back. The beauty, the poetry is in the pursuit, not the outcome.
Who’s with me? I’ve booked the 7.32am slot.