Unknowing non-believers tend to ridicule golf as a male-only game for elderly snobs wearing outlandish sweaters and plus fours. If only they knew how wrong they are and, more importantly, what they’re missing.
Golf is a game for the ages and all ages. Its history dates to 1457 but it is as modern as tomorrow with its high tech equipment and a place in the pantheon of televised sport, attracting millions of fans. It may claim to be the world’s largest participant sport with more than 100 million players world-wide, most of them ordinary club members who appreciate what the game brings to their lives: camaraderie, unending challenge, common interest, exercise and a subsequent feeling of well-being, and the occasional sense of achievement when things go to plan.
The game can be maddening, supremely satisfying, frustrating and uplifting, all in the process of eighteen holes. As such, it can be a great test of character, concentration, patience and fortitude. A keen sense of humour helps, too. It may be the greatest game ever invented.
Mark Twain described it as “a good walk spoiled,” but he was only half correct. For ‘tis indeed a good walk and that’s one of the reasons why it is so popular with those past the first flush of youth.
Unlike most outdoor games or sports where active participation declines as mobility and stamina decrease, golf can be played by people well into their eighties, when a regular five mile walk that the average round entails brings a sense of good health and fitness that few non-golfers will recognise.
There’s more, as I discovered recently: it brings a therapy of inestimable comfort for those mourning the death of a loved one.
When my dear Christine died tragically in hospital in 2015 I learned the true meaning of grief and bereavement. After 43 years together I was traumatised by her death, in shock for several weeks, incapable of all but the most menial tasks connected with self-preservation.
In time I recovered sufficiently to resume a form of life and decided to write the story of Christine’s achievements and her final year, as a memorial for future generations of our family and also, at the suggestion of my bereavement counsellor, as an aid to grief for others suffering similar loss. The writing proved to be an unexpected therapy, a daily distraction from grief, but there was much more waiting to be discovered.
The book, Remembering Christine, included passages offering advice on countering grief and how to reach the vital state of acceptance of the loss, where the trauma becomes a gentle mourning. The key here was forming a new lifestyle, a manner of dissipating grief, albeit temporarily, with various distractions, mental and physical. Most of these involved group activities of a social nature: art classes, book clubs, yoga classes and the like, where meeting new-found friends on a regular basis was a necessary adjunct to forming a new routine.
The list included golf. I recounted the benefits and how to become involved; explaining how the game that has been central to my existence became a life saver. That’s not an exaggeration: the group therapy of meeting and playing with good friends pulled me through my darkest days. My chums, all 70-plus, knew of the situation, of course: many of them gave their support by attending Christine’s funeral. They were sympathetic and welcoming when, several months later, I was able to return to golf; many visited me at home to ensure that all was well. They kept a careful eye on me.
I was not alone. Four other members of our fifty-strong seniors’ group were also recently bereaved and they found similar comfort, in the invaluable group therapy of the regular meetings and post-round gatherings. We formed a group for golfing holidays and even launched a weekly dining club.
So in addition to the sense of physical well-being, the wonderful old game proved a beacon, a light at the end of the tunnel on an otherwise lonely journey. It gave a meaning to life when all seemed lost. We golfers are lucky old souls…