by Bob Sparrow
I love golf. I think it is the greatest game ever invented. It requires both unique mental and physical skills, it combines camaraderie and competition and it’s one of the only sports you can play while smoking a cigar and drinking a beer. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of playing some magnificent courses from Kapalua, Hawaii to Kiawah, South Carolina.
I hate golf. It is exasperating, demeaning and expensive. It brings out the worst in us, it impugns our self-worth and facilitates, no encourages, cheating. Personally, my first bad experience with golf was when my high school golf coach said after a round, “The best two balls you hit all day were on #7 when you stepped on a rake.”
If you play the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about; if you don’t, there’s no way to explain the fascination of hitting and chasing a little white sphere around a cow pasture. To try to put it in perspective for both camps, I would say that golf can be defined as 4½ hours of a series of calamities interrupted by an occasional miracle, or as John Feinstein put it, ‘a good walk spoiled’.
The subject probably needs a little fuller vetting, so let’s tee it up.
Golf had an ignominious beginning, (what a surprise) dating as far back as 1261, when the Dutch cursed while they played a game with a ball and a club. But the modern game of golf is considered a Scottish invention where the first documented mention of golf was in Edinburgh in 1457 when King James II banned golf in an attempt to encourage archery practice, which was being neglected. So even back then, men were sneaking out of work to play golf.
Some say it was named golf because all the other four-letter words were taken, but the word for ‘club’ ‘striking’ or ‘cuffing’ – lord knows I’ve ‘cuffed’ the ball many a time, has an interesting etymology. The word started out spelled as ‘gowfe’ which led to ‘gouff’, which led to ‘gowf’, which led to golf, which led to club throwing, sandbagging, and in the 70s, white men dressing like black pimps. Personally, I think the word will ultimately evolve into ‘goof’. And it’s probably not a coincidence that golf spelled backwards is flog. Some say the name golf came from initials that meant Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden, but that is just an ugly rumor probably started by a man whose wife could beat him at the game.
And why, you ask is golf made up of 18 holes, not 10 or 20 or an even dozen? The story goes something like this:
During a discussion among the club’s membership board at St. Andrews, Scotland in 1858, one of the members pointed out that it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. By limiting himself to only one shot of Scotch per hole, the Scot figured a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out.
A great story, but unfortunately not true. Early courses were 5-7 holes, played two or three times. It wasn’t until 1764 that golfers at St. Andrews decided to combine the first four short holes into two to produce a round of 18 holes, although it was still a 10-hole course with 8 holes being played twice. However, it would be over 100 years before 18 holes became the standard for golf frustration.
In my opinion the best explanation of the origin of, and exasperation with, the game of golf comes from the late, great Robin Williams; even if you’ve seen this before or not a fan of golf, I think you’ll enjoy this short video. Spoiler Alert: there are a few f-bombs in the video, OK quite a few, so get the children out of the room before listening.
They say that golf is a game you can play for a lifetime, but what they don’t say is that you’re going to get worse every year until you finally can’t straighten up after you make your last putt.
But until then . . . “Fore!”