Golfing Gods
0 11 mins 3 yrs

We live in a scientific age, where everything is measured and recorded digitally. The idea that there might exist such things as golfing gods is, of course, absurd. But is it? For all those who venture upon the first tee with a golf club in hand, a silent mumble or murmur of, “say a little prayer for me” is not totally out of character. You see, the very act of sending a small white ball hurtling over vast distances is a pretty big risk in itself. Entreaties to the golfing gods at the beginning of a round are firmly in the great human tradition of doing deals with deities.

Battling the Course like Golfers

If you want to understand the human fascination with religion a quick glance back into the pages of history will suffice. There are a hell of a lot of kings with armies calling upon gods to bestow victory upon them over their enemies. Soldiers on the eve of battles quickly become superstitious in the face of their likely impending death. Similarly, golfers are about to go into battle with the golf course, as they survey the scene from the vantage of the first tee. If you have watched a golfing newbie, go about his or her business on the tee you will comprehend what I mean by this. The amount of time taken addressing the ball is akin to prayer. These players seem frozen intently before they are willing to pull the trigger and take back the club to begin their swing.

God’s Rub of the Green

The golfing gods, like the more well-known invisible supernatural entities of the world’s main religions, exist in a parallel universe only accessible to the believer. Their actions are legible via the resultant journey of a player’s golf ball. Commonly referred to as the ‘rub of the green’ these fortunate and unfortunate bounces and other detours imbue the game of golf with mystical overtones. A golfer swings an iron club with a specifically designed head and face with which to strike a small dimpled ball. Scientists and engineers see this process in purely physical terms involving calculations about velocity, mass, and launch angles. The common garden variety golfer, however, is regularly amazed at the flight of the golf ball and its direction. This contributes greatly to the game’s obsessive fascination and grip upon his or her consciousness. Why else would a grown man or woman spend vast amounts of time and money on such a ridiculous pursuit?

photo of monumental sculpture
Photo by Spoortesh Honey on

Golfers & Gravity

The golfer pits her or his will against the physical universe and the law of gravity. The premise of the game is predicated upon covering physical distance in the least number of strikes prior to rolling a small ball into a smallish hole eighteen times. The golfer is armed with fourteen different clubs with which to achieve this mission or challenge. The round of golf frequently takes in excess of four plus hours. The competing players are dealing with distance, time, and the vagaries of geography and weather. No wonder that these doughty human beings are susceptible to the odd silent prayer to the golfing gods.

Putting and prayer
Putting & Prayer
Prayer & Putting

Putting is another realm where prayers are regularly invoked to the golfer’s cause. Here, we see the golfer, having achieved his or her aim of making the green, now faced with the tricky situation of sinking the putt. The Herculean task of transporting the small white sphere, perhaps, over half a kilometre is done but a more Mercurial challenge still remains. Greens can be quick silver and elusive in nature as to reading their contours. The golfer can be so close to that four and a quarter inch hole but still must navigate those last few feet correctly to achieve the desired result.  A missed putt of a few feet counts as much as a three-hundred-yard drive. Prayers and curses are frequently heard on the putting surface.

The golfer who stands before a shot requiring a water carry is another likely candidate for a quick conversion to the belief in golfing gods of some fashion. Here, in this instance, a shuffling of the feet, repeated waggles with sweaty palms, and staccato breathing are forerunners to deeply thought of prayers for salvation from icy waters. You see, the golfer lives vicariously through the fortunes of his or her golf ball. A splash in the pond or lake is not experienced vacuously but is rather a terribly personal affair of shameful consequences. The golfing gods hold the fate of each golfer in their potentially spiteful grip. The wrong swing can quickly see the hopes of said golfer fall like a stone from the sky into dark waters. Such is life on the links.

bridge clouds club countryside
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Extricating a half-buried golf ball from the sandy lie in a bunker is another likely grounds for religious entreaty. The golfer is equipped with a club called a sand wedge, which has been specifically crafted to meet this challenge effectively. However, many casual golfers do not know how to correctly wield this club, as it is designed to take sand and ball by striking several inches behind the partially embedded sphere. This counterintuitive action casts cold chills into the hearts of weekend golfers and they find themselves burying blades into volumes of sand for no return. Like Excalibur was plunged into solid rock the hacker hurls vast amounts of exerted energy into this pit of sand without shifting his or her golf ball. God help me!

Bunker shots instill fear
sandy lies terrify some golfers

Who then are these golfing gods, and do they have names?  I have heard countless times, the name Jesus Christ vehemently exclaimed on the links. I often silently reply, “I don’t think he ever played the game.” Of course, this is just an example of a well-known religious figure being invoked by desperate golfers, akin to a broad-spectrum prayer in the hope of some divine relief more generally. I am sure the same thing happens on golf courses in predominantly Muslim and Hindu countries, with Allah and Krishna or Shiva being invoked. I suspect, however, that there are specific golfing gods who rule over their territory like divinities of nature. Golf is a game played outside amid the elements and it is these geographical features that impact upon our games. Therefore, one must, for example, beseech a water god in the case of hitting over aquatic hazards. A short silent prayer to a well know water nymph before teeing off may be enough to ensure your safe passage. A nondescript tossing of a sacrificial golf ball into the pond in question may be another means of guaranteeing your dry journey to the promised patch of land or green. Some people like to mutter a prayer before their opening tee shot that goes something like this:

“Oh, dear Lord three things I pray,

To strike thee more cleanly,

To deliver thee more clearly,

And to hold the green more nearly,

To the hole, I say, if I may, I pray.”

You may, of course, craft your own words of prayer to the golfing gods in your neck of the woods. Local colour is a sure sign of respect to the deity in your particular place of play. Another powerful rite or spell is:

“ I go to the feet of the divine golfer.

I go to the feet of the swing of the one true golfer,

I go to the feet of the ultimate strike of club and ball in cosmic unity.

I am the effortless whoosh of the perfect swing,

I am the ball spinning soundlessly through time and space,

I am the rattle and plop of the albatross.

I am golf and golf is everything.”

A few incantations of this ritual prayer will see you in good stead for a few holes at least. The golfing gods only ask to be recognised for their favour to be bestowed upon you. I suppose when you think about the average golfer desperately intoning, “remember slow back and turn your shoulder, transfer your weight and keep your head behind the ball at impact” there isn’t much difference between mechanical instructions and divine invocations. You have to ask yourself, am I a follower of a manual or am I a magician on the golf course? Is golf merely a game of physical actions and measurements or does it require feats of magic, especially in moments of duress?

close up photo of golf ball
Photo by Thomas Ward on

Some golfers, in these high stress moments, ask themselves what would Tiger do? Or what would Jack or Arnie have done? What would Mister Hogan do? What would the great Bobby Jones do under these trying circumstances? Tom Morris Senior and Junior? The lineage of golfing greats are akin to a pantheon of gods in this regard. They have ascended to the heavens, where each day they play 36 holes on the finest courses paradise can muster. In those transcendent moments during a round, where players are challenged to pull off golf’s greatest shots, there is a common link between us all who have played this great game.

By Sudha Hamilton


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