Golf has often been labelled as a sport of relaxation and self-composure. However numerous seasoned (and not so seasoned) players would smirk that it is a really relaxing way to get overly frustrated and depressingly disappointed with yourself – just to repeat the process again next week!
Despite the occasional spiked stress levels, the relaxing characteristics of golf are widely known. The Scottish were acutely aware of this and promptly banned golf in the 1450s to ensure citizens weren’t wasting any time in preparing to resist the expected British Invasion. After the British decided that an invasion would be unwise against a nation willing to give up their golf the Scottish monarch himself became more “relaxed” and also converted to the ”game-of-kings”. With the only signs of British invasion to capture the cricket fields of South Africa against our dwindling Protea Cricket team, all seems well and so the golf culture in South Africa is better than ever.
Although traditionally seen as a sport “played by those who can no longer play other sports,” golf is increasingly gaining support from amongst younger audiences. Internationally the largest group of golfers (a golfer being defined as someone who has played 18 holes in the past 12 months), are in their thirties with more than 50 percent of all golfers being under the age of 40. Due to the Internet boom and increasing levels of prosperity amongst youngsters participation in the game of golf is no longer defied by age.
As with most other spectator sports a modern audience (governed by the demands of an instantaneous, multi-tasking, technology-driven society) is indirectly affecting the way and tempo in which the game of golf is being played. For the pro-golfer the element of “relaxing” has long since disappeared in favour of a broadcasting schedule while crowds have been replaced by audiences and live television commentators who intensely observe and describe every stance and swing in detail – turning the golf course into the new battle ground where individuals have to resist the foreign invasion and keep the national flag flying. Even the not-so-pro “relaxed-golfer“ does not escape the battlefield syndrome as he or she battles week after week against him- or herself. Victory or defeat is savoured (or mourned) week after week in the club house. Fortunately, the “relaxed-golfer” can still pursue his or her favourite pastime – thanks to the technological wonder of the golf cart which is however threatening the age old profession of caddy.
To the beginner or outsider the game of golf may seem like an enigma where you are simply playing fetch with yourself. To the uninformed the “battleground” experience is accentuated by the offensive swinging action where your golf club seems to make contact with everything but the ball – including your partners head! The only direction you gravitate towards is the comforting club house away from the wretched sand pit, from which there seems to be no escape. Pleasurable memories of hours spent in your beloved sandbox as a child are replaced by a yearning desire to return to the dance floor. And then…you hit it!
After centuries of being practiced by kings and the man in the street alike golf remains an enigma that the committed golfer cannot do without. It simultaneously is the one activity that can alter a feeling of stress into that of ecstasy just to cast the golfer into the depths of despair the next moment. It is both a tranquiliser and a stimulant that the avid golfer cannot do without. But it is more than that. It is a social equalizer, an experience that for a few moments (while hitting that ball) lets you escape from everyday reality. It is a place where the stressed soul can refocus, a social gathering in the small where the outsider can feel welcomed, a battlefield where the Individual can achieve victory and dream of victory – if not with the next shot, than with the next game. It is perhaps the greatest social experiment where the golfer learns to adjust to and control emotional highs and lows associated with unexpected success or failure. It is the place where dreams are shared and deals are birthed. It is the playground of both captains of industry and those who aspire to their greatness. And it is the place where political enemies and opposing diplomats find common ground.
Golf is the great equalizer – on the course and off the course. This is the true beauty of golf, anybody can play it and its doors are open to everybody. Strategically designed with a handicap system, golf ensures that an amateur begins on a level par to that of an experienced player, making it the fairest game in existence. No one can claim responsibility for a triumph or a tumble but you. In this ever evolving world, golf returns a degree of agency where you can drive your golf cart, and ball, as fast and as far as you want it to go. Golf, despite and perhaps because of all its traditions, embodies freedom.
That’s why I play.