The Real “Beautiful Game”

Golf courses are some of the most beautiful places in the world. While the game itself can be incredibly frustrating and the air thick with profanity spewed after poor shots or mishit putts, courses themselves are sanctuaries of peace and calm.

Allow me to preface this editorial with a quick background on my own game. I am not a great golfer, nor do I play much. Before last year, I hadn’t picked up a club in a decade. While I did win a 3-hole junior golf tournament once, I’m pretty sure that 10 year old version of me would crush me from a year ago. Since then, I’ve been able to play a bit here and there, and am slowly on the journey to break 100 on a consistent basis.

So I’m without a doubt an extremely casual golfer who is more likely to lose a ball than find a fairway. I have more than enough rage-inducing moments and heartbreaks, even on easy holes. That said, I think golf is the most beautiful games ever created–if nothing else, because of the courses themselves.

There’s something about staring down an immaculate, green fairway lined with trees swaying in the breeze that makes golf special. In the early morning, courses often sit below a blanket of mist and fog which, as it lifts reveals a lingering, ghostly layer of dew that makes the grass shimmer. In the late afternoon the tall trees cast long, playful shadows that break up the fairways and warm you as they allow the golden light of a setting sun through their leaves.

If all of this sounds corny, it’s because it is. If it sounds like the writing of a love-struck troubadour, it’s because it is. But if it sounds like a fantasy or an exaggeration, it’s because you haven’t had the chance to stand at the tee box of a par 4 just after sunrise as the fog clears over the pond on the right to reveal placid, glass-like waters.

Picture from a recent golf trip I was on. There’s a reason people call them “trips.” Golf courses are vacations in themselves.

None of this is meant as a slight against anyone who hasn’t golfed before or played on a well-maintained course. Golf is already elitist enough without belittling people who don’t want to or can’t shell out hundreds of dollars for a beginner set of clubs and more for each round. Hell, golf balls are expensive enough–especially when you slice every drive straight into that pond on the right, shattering the “glass-like waters” like I do.

But I believe that what makes golf unique is that, theoretically, anyone could have the chance to play a round at a beautiful course and understand a bit of what I’m talking about.

For example, I convinced my wife to play a bit with me last April. It was the first time she’d picked up a club that wasn’t a rubber putter used to hit a purple ball beneath a windmill, banking against a wall, and over a foot-long bridge. For the longest time she didn’t understand why I liked watching golf tournaments on TV or why I was so keen to get out there myself. But after a few holes in the late afternoon sun, she simply said “I get it.”

She’s not going to sit down and spend a whole Sunday afternoon watching the final round of the Masters with me any time soon, but that’s perfectly fine! What’s more important is that she almost immediately understood the appeal of getting out there on a course in person and soaking in a round.

That’s why I firmly believe that the atmosphere is the best part of playing golf. It gives you something to admire and take with you regardless of how well you play. It also makes it easier to picture the sights, smells, and sounds of the spectacular locations you see the pros play in tournaments.

The chances that I’ll ever play at Augusta National, Pebble Beach, or St. Andrews are slim to none. But watching the pros play at those meccas stirs something inside you once you’ve realized how beautiful a place golf courses can be in person. You can almost smell the freshly cut grass, hear the waters lapping against the shore, and feel the velvety smooth putting surface.

99% of golfers are never going to go pro. Even when we get that sweet sensation of a perfectly shot iron, the frustrating nag of a duffed chip or lost drive is never far away. But those moments of spectacular shots serve as a reminder of what we could play like if we had the money and time to do nothing but golf.

Realizing you’ll never become a professional golfer isn’t meant to deter anyone from picking up a club. In fact, I mean it with the opposite intention. It’s liberating to not expect yourself to hit perfect shots every time. It’s not your job to play perfectly. It’s a hobby! As long as you keep a good pace of play, don’t act like a jerk to others, and clean up after your shots, you can be a person others want to play with, regardless of your ability.

Most important of all, next time you hit a poor shot, take a deep breath and look around. Listen to the birds chirping, watch the leaves glimmer in the breeze, breathe in the fresh green grass.

Golf is a brilliant game and golf courses are the most beautiful venues in all sports. So enjoy it!

Looking out into a marsh from the 17th green of Berkeley Hall.

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