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Golf is a great game and there are millions of people who can attest to that. Some 66 million golfers teed it up around the globe in 2021. It is a game played most obviously with the hands and arms holding a club and swinging it at a small ball. The physical dimension of golf demands great timing and exacting accuracy off the tee and ground toward the target, whether it be fairway or green. Mastering this outer manifestation of the game is no easy task. There is another aspect to golf, however, which is characterised as the mental game. Perhaps, a game within a game? Golf and the Glass Bead game could be a worthy comparison for those familiar with the idea from the novel of Hermann Hesse.

Golf & the Glass Bead Game Hermann Hesse

What Is The Glass Bead Game?

This analogy may perchance be a bridge too far and too obscure for many, but what the hell here goes anyway. Hermann Hesse was a Swiss German author (1877-1962) who was part philosopher and part novelist, as many of the best novelists were back in the day. I read his entire canon when I was a teenager. The concept of the glass bead game was almost a sporting contest for great intellects.

“the glass bead game is practiced by its participants as a universal science (mathesis universalis), governed by the pure and abstract equations of mathematics and music.”

Tempo is very important in the golf swing and understanding it from an engineering or biomechanical standpoint can be incredibly useful as well. The difficulties inherent in the game of golf from a strategic perspective have found it being compared to the game of chess on this basis. There may, indeed, be parallels with the world of elite chess masters in The Glass Bead Game.

The Hessian world revolves around a spiritual dimension, however, and the struggle between the material world and a spiritual one is a familiar Hessian theme. Transporting these concerns to golf’s dominion is not without merit, in my own experience.

man in white t shirt and black and white checkered pants playing golf
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Golf’s Artificial Realm & Glass Bead Reflections

We are out there on-course, in an artificial realm made up of manicured strips of nature to play a game. We suspend our engagement with real life for the 4 to 5 hours in which we play golf. Everything coalesces into a battle of economy, in terms of performing our sojourn around 18 holes in the least number of strokes. There is a spiritual dimension to this in that we delve into intangible parts of ourselves whilst going about our business on the golf course. Our thoughts become much more apparent via the self-analysis of performing simple physical strokes like putting. Many of us experience strong emotional responses to our mishits and undesirable outcomes from shots. Perceived failure can be felt as damaging to our spirit during a round of golf.

Persistent failure or underachievement can have noticeable negative effects upon our sense of self-esteem. Golf is a game that all too many individuals take far too seriously in the opinion of many life partners.

Narratives & Human Lives

The human inclination it to create narratives out of things that happen to us in our lives. We choose bits and pieces to fit a self-constructed storyline. Random events are interpreted in light of these overarching narratives. This can lend a spiritual interpretation to the things that may challenge us in our lives. Religious folk, often, borrow stuff from their understanding of the stories that underpin the lives of their messiahs and holy personages. We seek to find meaning in our lives and the lives of our nearest and dearest. Spiritual motifs and themes tend to imbue lives with far more gravitas. The battle between the earthly plain and that of the spirit is a constant theme in many traditions. It can be likened to the battle between good and evil or the sacred and the profane. Golfers go through their own battles with form and the consequent diminishing enjoyment from playing the game. These outcomes come from intangibles and often offer no clear determinants for why we lose our ability to perform.

I have frequently promoted the concept of a church of golf, where those low in spirit can confess their failings and ask for redemption out on the links. Some smoke, incense and chanting may just do the trick for some.

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The Glass Bead Game is a strictly male domain and this reflects the era in which Hermann Hesse was writing in, I suppose. Golf, too, has been mainly a male dominated game for much of its few centuries of life. This, however, is thankfully changing with more women enjoying the game in the 21C. The great thing about golf is that it has a physical, dare I say, athletic, element. This is a saving grace in terms of the grounding nature of exercise. The rarefied realm of the glass bead game is a wonderful intellectual challenge but the descendants of apes need to swing to stay in touch with their best selves, in my opinion. Golf has become much more the people’s game of late, whereas it used to be restricted to the privileged wealthy.  Golf, is however, more than a stick and ball game. It is more than its equipment, despite the shiny high tech nature of that equipment in 2023 and beyond. The game of golf is played on real ground and is not a video game. On the best courses, it invites nature to be a part of the experience with birds, bugs, and beasts going about their business. In nature, even in its manicured form, we can breathe in fresh air and be in tune with the pulse of life.

We can swing our clubs in harmony with the sublime experience of golfing amid great natural beauty. It doesn’t get much better than this for the biped with a big brain enjoying some healthy recreation.

The Stoic Golfer by Robert Sudha Hamilton

“In order to train its members, Castalia must carefully eliminate from their souls such organic turbulences as love, family life, psychology, and fear, committing them to a highly sophisticated science of interdisciplinary cultural associations based on numerology and music.”


The above quote, from an essay reviewing Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, could refer to the discipline required by the aspiring single figure golfer. Discipline comes from the root word ‘disciple’; and it takes great devotion to hone an elite golf game. Golfers cannot be thinking about relationships and family if they are to excel at the game during a competitive round. No, they must be at one with their tempo and understanding of the correct angles operating within their swing. Psychology and mastering performance anxiety issues must come to the fore for the topline golfer. A certain level of Stoicism is required to cope with the vicissitudes demanded by the game at its pointy end. I have called the golf course ‘the green cathedral’ and it has this cloistered sanctuary feel away from the urban concrete jungles in which most of us live.  The greenery is soothing to the soul for those sensitive enough to perceive it. Golf and the glass bead game share a few distinct elements upon which a wise head may make some reflection upon.

Wisdom from The Stoic Golfer: Finding Inner Peace & Focus on the Fairway by Robert Sudha Hamilton

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