Golf and the fine art of wasting time

THERE’S an old saying that runs thus: old golfers never die, they only lose their balls. Speaking as one who had his first walk around a golf course, I must say that balls are not the only thing that golfers seem to lose.

Golfers lose count of time – they are obsessed with getting a shot right and can walk around for a while before they get down to the business of driving the ball down the fairway. They also get obsessed with the game to the extent that it becomes some kind of life analogy. They talk about strategy, execution, and planning as though golf were akin to the battle of Hastings. In short, there is a certain loss of a sense of perspective.

The only pressure on a golfer to play and move on is the person(s) behind; on a club course, it is considered good etiquette to be one stroke behind. Else. others get held up, and on a busy day this can be quite annoying.

I took a walk around the course at the Judgeford Golf Club in Wellington recently during a trip I made to attend a technical conference. Were it not for the fact that the journey around the course was taken in the company of a close friend, it would probably not have been made. But then one can’t turn down a close mate.

My mate plays golf regularly and, in fact, is quite obsessed with the game. He talks about it constantly, likening it to many other things in life, and treating it with much dignity. Out on the course one can see why he and countless others are so much in love with this game: they address the ball as though it were a loved one, they exult over a good drive, they lament a chipped one.

There are some good points about golf from the point of view of one who is unlikely to ever play a round. The walk, about six kilometres in all, is excellent exercise and given that a fair number of middle-aged people work in jobs that call for sitting on one’s backside for eight hours a day, this is a very definite plus.

The course that I walked around is scenic and beautiful, like most of New Zealand. At 9am, it is quiet enough to aid a stream of thought and even though a motorway runs through the course — one crosses by means of an underpass as some part of the course is on either side of the motorway — the noise is not much of a disturbance.

This again was a plus for me – in this busy world of ours, we rarely take a moment to stop and smell the roses. One never hears the birds, one never feels fresh wind on one’s face. Out on the course, there is time aplenty to experience all this and more.

Golf is a game meant for males to network. If women are on the course, it is just an accident. The men play their round, the one who wins feels a mite superior, they all share a drink after the round is over, and a good deal of business takes place around the game. It is not a game for those who are in straitened circumstances – a set of clubs costs something in the region of a few thousand dollars and club membership is close to a thousand.

One needs to have a good amount of time to play regularly as a round can take anything from three hours to eight, depending on how many people are playing and the skill level of the golfers. Par for the course is 72 strokes but most of the golfers I saw in action on the day I went around would not have got through in anything less than 100. A few may have come in in the 90s.

Golfers, thus, form a very exclusive club. They are mostly rich or middle-class males, who have reached middle-age and have grown-up children. Even so, their wives do not take kindly to the idea of a man using a piece of metal to swing wildly at a small round white object – no woman I have seen is actually happy that her partner is spending the better part of a day at the course.

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