A Religious Philosophy of Golf: Golf and Alfred North Whitehead
Please be advised. This page does not reproduce the story or article in full. The full story or article is contained inRoybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf.
A Religious Philosophy of Golf:
Golf and Alfred North Whithead
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was among the most influential philosophers of the modern era. Though Whitehead’s philosophical writings touch on several areas of the humanities (history, art, religion, education, natural science, social theory), theology emerged as the most receptive field for Whitehead’s philosophy. Whitehead’s influence may be easily attested by the continued popularity of a movement that he fathered, namely, process theology. What is presented below as a “religious philosophy of golf” is based largely upon Whitehead’s philosophy of religion, but the material will also reflect the thought of Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1995), the most influential philosopher of religion/theologian in the twentieth century.Paul Tillich or Paul Johannes Tillich, pencil drawing by Jackson Lee Ice, 7/14/1972 Alfred North Whitehead, pencil drawing, based on photograph, by Jackson Lee Ice, 8/23/1988
Remembering the influences of his youth in East Kent, England, Whitehead writes about not living far from Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas Becket, the Archbishop, was murdered by the followers of King Henry II. Whitehead writes of Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604) who preached his first sermon in the village of Minster. He writes of the Norman architecture erected by the monks of Minster, and he writes of Sandwich.
Just beyond Richborough is the town of Sandwich. At that time it retained the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with its Flemish houses lining the streets. Its town-records state that in order to check the silting up of the harbour, the citizens invited skilful men from the Low Countries–’cunning in waterworks’. Unfortunately they failed, so that the town remained static from that period. In the last half century, it has been revived by a golf-course, one of the best in England. I feel a sense of profanation amidst the relics of the Romans, of the Saxons, of Augustine, the medieval monks, and the ships of the Tudors and the Stuarts. Golf seems rather a cheap ending to the story
It is unfortunate that a man who so highly valued “the adventure of ideas” (the title of one of Whitehead’s books) apparently never discovered adventure in the game of Golf. Golf is not, as Whitehead might have it, a profane game or a “cheap ending”; Golf represents the quest of the human spirit for the actualization of perfection. Golfers’ adventures are always different, which is why golfers never tire of playing the game even if their adventures are confined to the same course, but their adventures are always aimed at the utilization of their best possible skills. Ironically, perhaps because of his predilection for diversity and adventure, Whitehead advanced a wonderful axiology (theory of value) for understanding the merit of Golf.
The Supreme God of Golf, and of all else, is Reality-itself, Energy-itself, or Becomingness-itself, and this High God of Golf aims at beauty. Beauty, in other words is the goal or purpose of God. As Whitehead contends, God lures the process of reality onward to ever higher actualizations of beauty; and, thus, “beauty is the one aim which by its very nature is self-justifying.” The God of Golf is a God of Adventure, the very “processive” nature of reality, drawing golfers forward to ever higher levels of achievement.
The beauty towards which golfers are drawn manifests itself in two forms: a minor form and a major form. The minor form of beauty involves the absence of mutual inhibition among the components of the golfing experience. The experience is harmonious; the elements of the experience do not stifle or squelch one another. One’s round is comprised of a couple of birdies, a couple of bogies and fourteen parts rather than of ten triple bogeys and eight birdies. One hits a nice shot that lands close to a hole rather than a shot that travels quail high, hits the curb of a cart path, and runs up through a bunker onto the green. One finishes one’s swing posed in a balanced position rather than falling backwards. In a minor form of beauty there is “the absence of painful clash” or “the absence of vulgarity” among the elements. Depending upon the level of harmony in the golfer’s game, his/her adventure on the course is more or less pleasurable.
In addition to an overarching harmony, the major form of beauty adds variety and intensity. The major form adds “Strength,” which, according to Whitehead, consists of both “Massiveness” (“variety of detail with effective contrast”) and “Intensity Proper” (“comparative magnitude,” significance, or importance). At its best, the Golf swing is an expression of the major form beauty. The swing is symmetrical, rhythmic, and balanced at the same time it is powerful, quick, and sure. The swing starts out in one direction and ends in another. The golfer’s weight shifts to one side, and then to the other. The upswing begins with a blend of motion from shoulders, arms and hands followed by hips; the downswing begins with the hips followed by a blend of motion from shoulders, arms, and hands. In a drive, paradoxically, the ease of one’s swing produces greater speed. In a sand shot, the power of one’s swing produces a soft landing. Golf, as the adage goes, may be a game of opposites, but the opposites are united in overarching concordance. The golfer’s goal is to harmonize the intense contrasts so as to maximize the experience of beauty.
The character of Shivas Irons in Michael Murphy’s popular book, Golf in the Kingdom, recognizes the harmonious demands of Golf. In an exposition of his own philosophy of Golf as a means of self-discovery, Shivas, in his Scottish brogue, says,
In gowf ye see the essence of what the world itself demands. Inclusion of all our parts, alignment o’ them all with one another and with the clubs and with the ball, with all the land we play on and with our playin’ partners. The game requires us to join ourselves to the weather, to know the subtle energies that change each day upon the links and the subtle feelin’s of those around us. It rewards us when we bring them all together, our bodies and our minds, our feelin’s and our fantisies – rewards us when we do and treats us badly when we don’t. 
Golfer’s aim at putting “it” all together for a glorious, harmonious, experience.
The full version of this story or article is contained inRoybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf.
 I agree with Whitehead that Creativity or “Becomingness-itself” is a more accurate description of reality than Tillich’s “Being-itself.” I agree with Tillich, however, that “Reality-itself” (what he called “Being-itself”) is the correct definition of “God.” In Whitehead’s philosophy God is a structural element of Creativity. Creativity, in other words, is more ultimate in Whitehead’s philosophy than his God. Students of Whitehead have argued that Whitehead did not want to establish Creativity as God in order to avoid making God responsible for evil. I do not find that recognizing Creativity or “Reality-itself” as God necessarily makes God culpable for evil. As to Tillich’s influence, Thor Hall, in his Directory of Systematic Theologians in North America, requested that the 554 theologians who responded to his questionnaire indicate who they would regard as their “Major Mentor.” The person of Paul Tillich was most frequently cited. While John Calvin was designated forty-seven times, St. Augustine fifty-one, Karl Barth seventy-six, Karl Rahner seventy-eight, and Thomas Aquinas eighty-seven, Paul Tillich was designated 123 times. (Thor Hall, Directory of Systematic Theologians in North America as cited in John J. Carey, ed., Kairos and Logos: Studies in the Roots and Implications of Tillich’s Theology (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1984), p. xvi, n. 2.) Hall’s questionnaire also asked the respondents to list their major teaching texts or sources. The full bibliography included 575 different authors with almost 1,000 titles. The author most often cited as a source for teaching was Paul Tillich with seventy-seven references over the nearest second, Karl Barth, with only fifty-five. Moreover, “the particular work most widely used as a textbook among North-American systematic theologians in the twentieth century is Tillich’s three-volume Systematic Theology.” (Thor Hall, Systematic Theology Today: The State of the Art in North America, Washington, D. C.: University Press of America, 1978, 1: 93-93b, 1: 94.)
 Saint Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until is martyrdom in 1170. Followers of King Henry II, upset by Becket’s defiance, murdered Becket inside the Cathedral. When Geoffrey Chaucer published his stories (Canterbury Tales, c. 1370), he set them in the mouths of pilgrims who were traveling to Canterbury in order to visit Becket’s shrine.
 Augustine of Canterbury should not be confused with Augustine of Hippo.
 He is referring to Royal Saint George’s Golf Club, home of several Open Championships.
 Alfred North Whitehead, “Autobiographical Notes,” in Paul Arthur Schilpp, ed. The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1951), pp. 4-5.
 See R. Maurice Barineau, The Theodicy of Aflred North Whitehead: a Logical and Ethical Vindication (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1991), pp. 97-119.
 Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1933; reprint edition, New York: The Free Press, 1967), p. 266.
 Ibid., p. 266.
 Ibid., p. 253.
 Michael Murphy, Golf in the Kingdom (New Yok: Penguin Books, 1972), pp. 66-67.