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Blog // Travel
July 13, 2006

Golf As A Spiritual Activity?

I like golf and I like martial arts movies. I like watching tiger woods hit drives and I like watching sword fights. I wish I could chip a ball like Phil Mickleson and putt like Retief Goosen and I also wish I could do those cool Samurai sword flicks and those slow rehearsed moves on […]

I like golf and I like martial arts movies. I like watching tiger woods hit drives and I like watching sword fights. I wish I could chip a ball like Phil Mickleson and putt like Retief Goosen and I also wish I could do those cool Samurai sword flicks and those slow rehearsed moves on the Buffy and Angel TV shows. I’m an OK golfer, but I’ll probably never be anything other than a pretender with a sword, or broomstick in hand.

But the other day, in a half-empty carpark in Aberdeen I saw someone who was good, very good indeed with a sword in hand. Walking along, I heard some vaguely familiar Chinese film music and then spotted a lone guy practicing his sword-craft in a carpark of all places. He was methodical, precise and very, very disciplined.

It struck me that what I was watching was not unlike watching a great golfer practice (at my old home course I had regular opportunities to watch the top Indian golfers, like Jyoti Rhandawa practice, as well as top visiting pros). Actually, it is not the first time this connection, between martial arts and golf has hit home. A while back I picked up a book on Japanese Sword-craft, inspired in part by the similarity I saw between the frame by frame descriptions of the Samurai’s moves, and the swing sequences one sees in every golf magazine.
Matt Stone has been asking some questions on the relation between disciplined physical movement and spirituality and I find myself wanting to ask the same sorts of questions about golf and spirituality (for more on movement and Christian spirituality, check out Matt Stone’s recent thoughts). The best books I have read on golf psychology, by Bob Rotella and Fred Shoemaker, do not hold back on making the connection.

Golf as a game reveals one’s character and tests one’s emotions. The ultimate why questions of golf, why can I play this shot on the practice range but not on the course, why do I putt well somedays but not others, why do I play well on this course but not that one and smaller versions of the why questions we ask of ourselves in everyday life.

I still recall the moment that sparked on of the greatest runs in short return to the game. I had started poorly and after three holes saw one ground-person who had caused me some hassles a few weeks back. I smiled and said hello, he smiled in return and for some reason I asked after his family. He was warmed by my interest and we spoke pleasantly and briefly for a few seconds only. As I walked to the next tee my thoughts were on the interconnectedness of all of us playing on this course, a kind of extended web of relations. It was a moment of awe, of beauty and reflecting back I realised that my frame of mind changed, that I was enjoying my environment for the rest of the round; a round which despite a very poor first four holes, turned out to be my personal best score up to that point.

Of course not every good golfer is a spiritually well formed being and just playing golf won’t form you fully in your chosen spirituality. But for those who care to look for it, golf can well provide some clues, some disciplines and some opportunities to know ourselves better and to grow in our spirituality. This makes me wonder if maybe more churches that run golf programmes should explore this and maybe if they already do, it should be written about and discussed more broadly.

[tags] Spirituality [/tags]

Responses
Matt Stone 16 years ago

You post reminds me of similar conjunctions between spirituality and musicianship. Why do I always play better in a practice session than in front of an audience? It reveals something does it not? Something to work on. I’ve often thought that the true test of spirituality comes after the meditations in the sphere of our everyday life struggles. It’s where the rubber hits the road.

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