After much head scratching, navel gazing, and creative napping I’ve come up with my reasons to like golf. These reasons apply solely to me. Any resemblance to the reasons of others is purely coincidental, although not necessarily impossible.
I mentally thumbed through my recollections of golf experiences, looking for the most pleasant memories. Three types of events stood out: Rare perfectly struck shots; fun and companionship with golf buddies; and losing myself in the beauty of nature or the experience of the game. I’ll call those achievement experiences, social rewards, and spiritual immersion.
Achievement Experiences: Golf gives me something to work on. It’s something I know I can never master, but I can expect those rare flashes of brilliance. Golf will always challenge me, but it won’t be impossible for me improve. It’s a challenge that will last a lifetime, and I can keep at it for a very long time. Golf is a complex skill and I’ll need to change my game as I age and find new ways to play, but as long as I stay in reasonable physical shape I can participate. Few other sports, if any, offer the possibility of such a long playing career.
Social Rewards: Golf provides me with a structure for social interaction. I’m not very good at small talk; I need to have something going on. Golf gives me that thing to organize friendships around. The people I’ve played golf with throughout my life have been among my best friends, and now that I’m retired and don’t meet people at work, I meet new friends on the golf course.
Spiritual Immersion: I can lose myself in the game. Some of my moments of deepest peace, of meditative calm, have come in the midst of rounds of golf. Sometimes it’s becoming lost in the beauty of a fairway at sunset, feeling the grass and the air cooling as the sun goes down. Sometimes it’s standing on the first tee at dawn, hearing the birds awakening in the trees. At other times it’s becoming completely immersed in the rhythm of the round itself, thinking only about the next shot and seeing nothing but the ball and the target. It’s a legal altered state of consciousness with no negative side effects.
Golf seldom gives me all three of these things in one round. In fact, it’s hard to get the social interaction and the spiritual immersion simultaneously because one is outer directed and one is inner directed. But I can choose what I need and play alone or with friends, depending upon my goals.
And on those rare occasions where all three come together, where I’m playing well with good friends and that feeling of peace overcomes me, it’s heaven.