The Golf Gods

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 Golf Gods

Throughout the history of religion, sacred reality has been associated with three primary considerations, and these considerations are just as important for golfers as they are for the practitioners of more traditional religions. In other words, the divine energies reflected by these considerations have been known to bless, bewilder, and thwart golfers in a manner similar to what has been reported by more conventional religious devotees. In playing the game, golfers acknowledge their limitations, and in acknowledging their limitations, they nod their heads to the Golf gods, those forces beyond their ken and orchestration.

Firstly, sacred reality has been associated with those forces of nature that lie beyond human comprehension or manipulation. Primal humans could not understand or control the growth of crops or the migration of animals, the two primary sources of their survival. Primal humans could not control the seasons, the winds, the rains, the soil content, or the sun, yet human survival, to a large degree, depended upon those forces. Those forces of nature that appeared to be involved in agricultural production and the hunting of animals were deified, that is, they became gods and goddesses. They were construed as superior determinative forces that could exercise a great deal of influence over humanity’s survival. Further, these apparently capricious powers of nature were personified, that is, transformed into human-like energies that, hopefully, could be entreated and cajoled in order to enhance success. Like people, the energies of one’s climate (such as, the sun, moon, earth, sky, waters) acquired names and histories.

Golfers, too, acknowledge those deities of nature who stand at the edge of their limitations. Golfers know, for example, what the gods and goddesses of the winds can do to them. One day, the winds carry the ball further than ever, enabling a golfer to hit par fives in only two shots. On another day, the menacing face of the north wind bites coldly at the golfer’s ears while it stalls his/her balls over sand traps and water hazards. Golfers know the capricious nature of tree deities that kick balls back out to the fairway on one hole and knock them out of bounds on the next. Golfers know that bodies of water can have voracious appetites, gobbling up every ball they can. Golfers know how rocks can throw their balls onto the green on one occasion and into the ocean on other occasions. Golfers may rant and rail against these gods and goddesses of nature, just as much as they praise them, but golfers do not deny the existence of these deities.

If I were a golfer in ancient Greece, I would call upon the Dryads (tree nymphs) to throw my ball from the woods into the fairway. I would appeal to Psamathe, a goddess of the sand, that she not be greedy and swallow up my ball but that, if she did, she would allow me easy exit. If I were a golfer in ancient Rome and my ball were to veer close to the Tyrrhenian Sea, I would ask Neptune to energize his trident to my benefit. If I were a golfer in ancient Egypt, I would sacrifice to Shu so that he might calm the winds and provide pleasant days.

Secondly, and not necessarily unrelated to forces of nature, sacred reality has been associated with forces of life that lie beyond human consent, forces of destiny that exercise a tremendous amount of influence over human lives. Humans have identified powers that dictate the time into which they are born, the culture into which they are born, the family into which they are born, the ability they may possess, and the talent they may develop. Such forces of life, which may also be forces of nature, are also deified and personified because they exert a great deal of power over the lives of human beings. No one gives humans a choice as to the century into which they will be born, as to how much wealth their parents will have, as to what ethnicity their parents will be, as to what part of the world they will live, or as to how much mental or physical skill they will possess. Yet, to a very large degree, humans are determined by the time, family, culture, location, and capacities into which they are born. These are gods and goddesses of destiny, the background and environment from which human freedoms are exercised. They do not necessarily determine who humans become, but they do exercise a great deal of influence.

Golfers, too, acknowledge that their play is, to no small degree, governed by factors over which they have no decision. Golfers recognize that they were fortunate to be born an era of Golf. They know that had they actually been born in the time of ancient Egypt, Greece, or Rome, they would not have had the joy of playing the game. Golfers know that people who live in Florida or California have the weather to play Golf all year round while those who live in Illinois or Michigan do not. They know that while courses are plentiful for them if they live in the United States, courses are much less available for others living, for example, in Afghanistan. Golfers are aware that there is probably something, in terms of raw basic ability with which Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods were born that others were not.

In ancient Egypt, the god/goddess of destiny or fate was Shai. Shai determined the boundaries and course of one’s life. If I were a golfer in ancient Egypt, I would pray to Shai that my days would be long and that my abilities and decisions would take me on a path that was free of hazards. In ancient Greece, the deities of fate or destiny were the Moirae and Zeus. They, too, determined the course and span of life. If I were a golfer in ancient Greece, I would sacrifice to the fates and Zeus so that they might arrange for me to hit the ball long and straight. I certainly would not want to play like Oedipus.[1] In ancient Rome, I would appeal to Fortuna and Jupiter. I would agree with Horace that we should cape diem or “pluck the day” for we do not know whether Jupiter will grant us many more winters or make of this our last.[2]

Thirdly, and not necessarily unrelated, humans have associated sacred reality with a source and sustainer of all reality, or, in other words, God. In Hinduism this reality may be referred to as Brahman; in Sikhism, as Sati Nam or True Name; in Taoism, the Tao; in Islam, Allah.

The Supreme or High God of Golf is the creative energy behind all things, Energy-itself, Becomingness-itself, Reality-itself, the God of Adventure who finds expression in the ongoing, processive nature of the universe. God is a guiding force that lures humans unto the best possible, an energy that draws them toward a maximization of harmonious intensity or a unity of diversified contrasts, a power that aims at perfection, at bringing about the best possible actualization given the limitations imposed.

Conceive of God in the following manner. What is that that golfers have in common with their clubs? What is it that golfers and clubs have in common with balls? What is it that golfers, clubs, and balls have in common with the planet Mars? What is it that golfers, clubs, balls, and Mars have in common with all things in another galaxy? What is it that golfers, clubs, balls, Mars and another galaxy have in common with everything and everyone that exists? The last part of the last question provides the best hint. Everything and everyone “exist.” God is the essence of this existence, the underlying energy of the universe.

The very fact of a golfer’s existence verifies the existence of this God. Without God or Being-itself there could be no beings who play the game. Realties playing the game presuppose Reality-itself. Put another way, God is the “isness” behind all that is, and without “isness” nothing could be

Golfers worship this God because he/she provides them with the opportunity for adventure and with occasional glimpses of perfection along the way: a sixty-foot put that winds its way to the hole, the backspin of a sand shot that feeds into the hole, the well hit six iron that dances around the hole and falls in. God is the raison d’être (“reason for being”), the very reason why golfers can play on their courses.

God may be conceived of as Reality-itself, but not as a reality or a being. God may be personable, but God is not a person. One cannot show God to someone else, but God is, nevertheless, visible through all that is. One cannot pick God up and carry him/her around, but neither can one be anywhere without God. In that sense, God may be described as omnipresent. God may also be described as all-powerful or omnipotent in the sense that he/she is the power of being in all that is and at all times. God lies behind all that is, but cannot be limited to that which is.

The other deities of the game and golfers themselves may be understood as expressions of this ultimate God of Golf. Golfers and their gods are faces of Reality-itself, products of the expressive structure of reality. As finite or particular energies themselves, they are their own centers of power, centers of self-determination or self-creativity. Yet, those reflective centers of power referred to as humans or golfers recognize their limitations, and at the edges of their knowledge and power lay their gods. Most golfers have acknowledged these gods; most golfers have, at some time, thought or proclaimed, “that one is up to the Golf gods.”

[1] Sophocles’ famed mythological character who, in trying to avoid a fate of killing his father and sleeping with his mother, ended up killing his father and sleeping with his mother.

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