The recent furore around golf social media gurus on YouTube, with TXG Tour Experience Golf being bought up by Club Champion and rumours about something similar happening with Rick Shiels Golf, has me wondering about the soul of golf. Many golf fans enjoy the offerings available via podcasts and YouTube for their daily fix of the white ball game. Corporate golf, in the form of retail chains and manufacturers, want some of this action to boost their sales and presence in the marketplace. Purchasing channels and sponsoring their product is their way of achieving this, but at what cost to the soul of the game?
Golf Courses Contain Soulful Elements
Golf is a special game and I think that a large part of this specialness is due to the soul of the game. I reckon that there is magic in them fairways, trees, ponds, greens, and sculptured course features. The game of golf can cast a spell upon those who tread its fairways and feel the breeze rustling through the foliage. The grass beneath your feet and the sky above enchant all of us who play within the green cathedral. The soul of golf is in the environment, ambience, and focused concentration involved in playing golf.
The Sole Focus of Golf
The focus required to play golf at a competent level is akin to that mysterious Zen meditation referred to in the orient. Aiming at a target, a flapping flag on a green in the distance, gets one in the zone. Performing a swing with a golf club is like a ritual dance, where the sequence of moves must be executed with tempo and rhythm. The golfer wants to block out all those extraneous thoughts and mental chatter to clear the decks for a perfect strike of the golf ball. Playing golf is tinged with magic and madness in these intense moments of complete focus.
Empty Your Busy Mind Before You Swing
The soul of golf is in the journey toward competence and occasional mastery of this game. The diligence demanded by golf in developing a repeating swing and putting stroke is a discipline. Many golfers become devotees of this at times maddening game. We surrender up parts of our lives and lifestyles in the quest to become better golfers. Why do we do that? I think it is because we intuitively understand that you cannot bring a full cup to a tea party. We recognise the need to reduce the incessant chatter inside of us if we are to make space for the concentration needed to execute fine motor skills under pressure. The delicate chip and putt. The perfect bunker shot. The fairway finder drive on the last.
There is a lot of marketing guff around the game of golf. The industry via the manufacturers are constantly trying to sell lots of stuff. I do not know any other sport, where there is so much of a push to buy more and more equipment. Tennis is not like this. The football codes are not as marketing focused. The fact that golf has 14 clubs in the bag and golfers frequently lose balls may have something to do with it. However, I think it is something more than that and manufacturers may have their hands in the pockets of those who govern the game of golf. The technology laden golf business is forever seeking longer distances with clubs and balls. Golf courses are under constant pressure to lengthen their fairways to keep pace with the performance of clubs and balls.
It is nice to have shiny new clubs and a whizz bang driver to play with. The soul of golf, however, is not in the equipment. Good sticks and balls are the gloss, as are all the other accoutrements you can purchase for golf. There is no denying that having a well-functioning golf trolley and bag makes playing the game less onerous. Similarly, having the right tees, glove, ball marker, hat, outfit, shoes, and measuring device contributes to an easier time out on the course. Golf is a game where you are better off being well prepared. Four plus hours in all sorts of weather means an umbrella, and wet weather gear are advisable as well. ‘Tether your camel’ is an old Arabic saying, which is appropriate here. In other words, be prepared for whatever the elements and course can throw at you. Oh yeah, a ball retriever for pond bound shots is another thing that does not go astray.
Many of us thrill to the superhuman performances of the best golfers on the planet. Rory, Jon Rahm, Nelly Korda, Minjee Lee, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, and so many more. Youngsters aspire to reaching those heights in the game of golf. Oldsters merely smile and shake our heads in wonder. Special golfers and the legends that grow up around them do have some currency in the soul of golf stakes. Names like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and more recently Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson are all tinged with greatness. The exploits of these champions shift from daylight reality to hazy legendary status and become soul talk in many ways.
When we think back to the amazing achievements of these superstar golfers, we do not particularly remember their equipment, rather it is all about their skill. Bobby Jones did incredible things out on the course with hickory shafted clubs. Jack could have beaten his opponents with whatever clubs were at hand. The gloss of clubs and balls are not what the game is essentially about. Sure, it is great to have a good set of irons, a great driver, and a putter you love in your hands, but the soul of golf is not in these things.
The game of golf needs to find a balance between all the marketing guff and the integral nature of the game. The voices in the game of golf need to be their own and not be controlled by those making money out of the game. Golf has done pretty well out of the pandemic with retailers and manufacturers achieving record sales over the last two years.
Clubs are busy with high membership levels and plenty of social golf ringing the cash registers. It would be a shame for the Philistines to take over all the good things in golf. Topline tour golfers are already earning vast amounts of money. This money must be coming from somewhere, and most probably it is coming from you and me, and millions of others like us. Golf needs voices unsullied by the concerns of corporate America and corporate golf companies globally.
Next time, you hit that perfect shot in the green cathedral and gaze in wonder at the skill and beauty, have a thought for the soul of golf. Say a few Hail Tiger’s or Rory’s and enjoy that special feeling that only the game of golf contains.