The Nineteenth Hole: Golf, Death, and Afterlife

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

The Golf Gods: Towards a Religious Philosophy of Golf

The Nineteenth Hole:

Golf, Death, and Afterlife

Death gives all human beings pause.  They, with Hamlet, consider “what dreams may come when [they] have shuffled off [their] mortal coil.”  What awaits them in that “undiscovered country, from whose bourn [or region] no traveler returns”?[1]  In golfers’ language, what happens when one’s round is complete?  What awaits a golfer in his/her Nineteenth Hole?

Golfers are comprised by a concrescence or “coming together” of components that are rooted in or find expression because of God or Energy-itself. The conjunction or concentration of components, as with all occasions of experience, arises out of the not yet, the empty barrel of potential reality, the unconditioned condition.  In a quest for the realization of beauty, golfers find expression through a bundling of form, sensation, conception, cognizance, and will.  They can play the game because of this conglomeration of physical presence, feeling, perception, self-awareness, and direction.  Death, on the other hand, is constituted by the deterioration and dissipation of these elements. The bundling is decreased and dissolved.

A golfer’s life is like the seasons.  The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter are recognizable from year to year; they remain somewhat the same.  Similarly, a golfer is recognizable from day to day, or from year to year, because there is continuity among the characteristics or constituents of that golfer. A golfer has a distinctive swing or makes a peculiar move that follows him/her throughout the years of his/her game.  Yet, just as the seasons are different from year to year, so golfers are different from day to day or from moment to moment.  The person who finishes reading this sentence is not the same person as the person who began reading this sentence.  Something, by virtue of the “processive” nature of reality, has changed.  To rephrase Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, a golfer cannot hit his ball into the same lake twice.[2]  The lake is never precisely the same.

Reality is a process which passes from potential reality to actual reality and, then, to influential reality. Humans pass from the void of the not yet to the void of the having been, yet both the “not yet” and the “having been” have a reality of their own. The reality of the “not yet” is tied to its potential actualization, and the reality of the “having been” is tied to its influential actualization. Actuality is built upon the influential and entertains the potential. Actuality exercises its freedom out of its destiny; it embodies the new based upon the old. Actuality, in other words, realizes its potential by feeding off the influential.

Golfers have a tendency to believe that reality is all about them.  They are the supreme life forms in their little universe; and, consequently, they are willing to bore one another with the tiniest details of their rounds.  Ask a golfer how he/she hit his/her tee ball, and one will get a detailed analysis of where the tee ball went on each of the eighteen holes. A player will inform you about how he/she went wrong with every blow, explaining why each ball behaved as it did.  Quoting an early golf writer of St. Andrews (mid eighteenth century), Kevin Cook notes, as “one timeless feature of the game,” “how in the evening each [golfer] dilates on his own wonderful strokes, and the singular chances that befell him – all under the pleasurable delusion that every listener is as interested in his game as he himself is.”[3]  Somehow, a golfer thinks that every round of golf is about him/her.

The religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam support a similar illusion about all of humanity.  In Judaism, God creates the world for humans to subdue and enjoy.  God’s chosen people, the Israelites find themselves captive in Egypt, and God delivers them from their bondage.  They are to live according to God’s covenant, working and finding pleasure in the world around them.  Many Jews, not all, look forward to a day of resurrection, a last judgment, and an eternity in paradise.  In Christianity, God creates the world, but humanity falls into sin and finds itself in need of a redeemer.  God sends his only son, Jesus, to the earth so that his blood can be shed for the remission of humanity’s sins.  Christians, too, look forward to a day of resurrection, a final judgment, and an eternity in paradise.  In Islam, God or Allah creates the world, and humanity finds itself in need of guidance.  Allah sends the last and greatest of all prophets, Muhammad, and gives to him the final word concerning proper faith and practice.  Muslims also look forward to a day of resurrection, last judgment, and an eternity in paradise.  In all three traditions, humanity is central.  Meaningful history revolves around human redemption.  Reality is all about humanity.

Just as golfers find it hard to believe that others do not care to hear about and savor every shot they hit, humans have always been unsettled by the prospect that they are not the primary concern of reality.  When Europeans in the sixteenth century were informed that their planet, Earth, was not the center of reality, they refused to believe.  The idea that the sun did not revolve around the earth went against scripture and church tradition; and, besides that, Europeans did not like the implications.   They found themselves demoted to a peripheral planet that was not the center of reality, but just one planet among many others revolving around the sun in this one galaxy.

Unfortunately, but unavoidably, humanity’s view of reality revolves around what humans encounter in their day-to-day experience, and since “earthlings” do not experience other galaxies or other solar systems, their view of reality tends to neglect such considerations.  Yet, reality is infinite, without boundaries of time or space, and it is quite possible that our own little reality is like a speck of dust in another reality.  To borrow a metaphor from Voltaire, it may be that humans are like rats in but one of God’s many ships.  Or, as Dr. Seuss conceives in Horton Hears a Who (1958), humans may be like the Whos of Whoville, inhabiting a tiny speck of dust in the much larger universe of someone like Horton.  Or, again, as Professor Dave Jennings suggests in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), ”our whole solar system could be like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being.”  Or, “one tiny atom in my fingernail could be one little tiny universe.”  In consideration of the infinitude of time, I would have reservations about rewarding humanity, or anything else for that matter, supreme importance.  It may be that, billions of years from now, humanity will be forgotten.  Yet, humans continue to display a hubris which probably exaggerates their importance.

I do not believe that humans survive death in any subjective form.  I did not know myself before I was born, and I will not know myself after I die.  I do not believe that I have a soul that migrates from one body to another (reincarnation) or that survives for eternity (the immortality of the soul).  I do not find credible the notion that I have a crowd of ancestral spirits watching over me (“spiritism” or spiritualism).  As a golfer, I wish the spirits of Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Walter Hagan, or Ben Hogan could manifest themselves and offer advice on my upcoming shot or guide my ball into the hole, but I do not believe that can actually occur.  Nor do I find credible the belief that I will be raised up in some psychophysical form on a last day of judgment (the resurrection of the body).

Rather, the temporary concrescence of components comprising my subjective experience will diminish and disperse.  Death entails the disjunction of the conjunction, the dissolution of energies that ebb into the nothingness of history, the nothingness of that which has been but is no more.  The flux of reality requires what Whitehead referred to as “perpetual perishing,” the constant death or elimination of the present for the sake of the future.[4]

When golfers have played their final round, they pass into the realm of the influential.  They enjoy what Whitehead referred to as “objective immortality”[5] or what others have labeled “symbolic immortality.”  Golfers do not live on in any subjective sense, but they live on in an objective sense, as objects of influence.  Golfers live on through the memory of their etiquette, their shots, the other golfers they nurtured, the stories of which they were a part.  Golfers live on through their impact on the courses and the clubs where they played.  One could even speak of a symbolic hell for those whose influence is mostly negative, or one could speak of a symbolic heaven for those whose influence is positive.  Golf history certainly remembers cheaters and poor sports differently than those who played the game with decorum and graciousness.

Golfing is both a blessing and a curse.  Hopefully, the pleasures of the game outweigh the pain and suffering, but I doubt that is true for all golfers.  Some do give up the game.  Some end their game because of their misery.

No matter how much joy the game brings, though, there is one overriding compulsion that can never be sated.  Indian philosophy and a German philosopher, Arthur Shopenhauer, have recognized that desire or the will is never fully satisfied.  Thus, golfers remain in a constant state of frustration and discontent.  If they score their lowest round one day, they want to score an even lower round the next.  Though they may have recently acquired a new driver or putter, they are soon looking for an even better club.  Golfers learn how to hit a sand shot one day, but their happiness does not endure.  Soon they desire to learn how to hit a flop shot or a high, tight, draw.  Will or desire never rests.

Though there are differences between the Hindu and Buddhist views of nirvana, both Hindus and Buddhists employ the term as a reference to the end of an independent existence that is driven by selfish desire.  Nirvana is not a place or a space; it is an experience.  Nirvana, however, is an experience that lies beyond any human experience, an experience in which what humans knew as life is dead and what they knew as death is no more.  Buddhists liken Nirvana to the blowing out of the flame of a candle, a blowing out of independent existence and its selfish desire.  The will is extinguished.

In the context of the insatiable will, death may be viewed as the great redeemer, delivering players into the peace of nonexistence, the tranquility of no desire.  Death puts an end to the joys of existence, but it also extinguishes its sufferings and pains.  From this perspective, then, old or weary golfers may agree with Hamlet, “To die, to sleep – [to be] no more – and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to!  ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”[6]  In this sense, Death transitions golfers from a world of discord to the paradise of God or Reality-itself.

When they are born, humans pass from potential reality (the “not yet” of Reality—itself) into actuality (the “isness” of Reality-itself).  When they die, humans pass from actuality into influentiality (the “has been” of Reality-itself).  The migration into influentiality is a passage from the subjective condition of actuality into an objective condition.  The objective condition of influentiality, then, brings the peace of not being a subject, the peace of Reality-itself.

In Reality-itself there is no duality, no conflict, no misery, no pain, no suffering, no discord.  There is only peace.  Expressions of Energy-itself may be slices or hooks, “bladers” or “chunkers,” women like Michelle Wei or men like Fred Couples, courses in Dubai or courses in Israel, golfers as wealthy as Greg Norman is now or as impoverished as Francis Ouimet was in 1913, but in Energy-itself there is only Energy-itself.  In Reality-itself  there are neither birdies nor bogeys, neither cuts nor draws, neither dogleg rights nor dogleg lefts, neither sky balls nor stingers, neither Titleist nor Taylor Made, neither Tiger nor Phil, neither the PGA nor the LPGA, neither the USGA nor the R & A.  In Being-itself there are no female or male beings, no rich or poor beings, no “black” or “white” beings, no Arab or Jewish beings.  There is only being.  The destructive discord which is so much a part of the experience of human beings is not a part of Being-itself.  In death, then, lies the peace of God.

When I die, I want what remains of me to be cremated. I do not want my remains to be forever bunkered.  Put my ashes in an urn that bears the following inscription: “Roy M. Barineau — He was just two weeks away from perfecting his game.”  Set up the urn nicely somewhere on the back porch at Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club.  Even in my ashes, I can still be near the boys, their stories, and their fun.  Give my ashes a tiny drop of Crown Royal from time to time, but do not permit the boys to use my urn as an ash tray!  If anyone will come, hold a memorial service at Golden Eagle.  During the service, read this article and invite those who attend to recount humorous stories or reveal insights into my true personality.  Do not let anyone tell lies about the quality of my being.  At the close of the service, have someone perform Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.” After the service, provide whiskey, cigars, classic rock, and a place to share golf stories.  Just before the last Huck disappears, sprinkle my ashes in the flower beds next to the porch and throw the urn away.


[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3:1.56-89.

[2] Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 B.C.E.), as quoted by Plato in his Cratylus (402a), said that “you cannot step twice into the same stream.”

[3] Kevin Cook, Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son, New York: Gotham Books, 2007, p. 16.

[4] Barineau, The Theodicy of Alfred North Whitehead, pp. 81-82, 128-130.

[5] Ibid., pp. 81-82.

[6] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3:1.56-89.

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Woody simmons February 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I truely hope it will a long time until you receive your eternal reward as you will be greatly missed. However, please consider leaving us enough money for a huge party or we will put your ashes on the other side of the bush.

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Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. February 20, 2012 at 5:22 pm

That would not be right! I’ll leave plenty for the party. You should be careful about the threats though; you are a bit older than I.

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