The spiritual benefits of golf

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

My Father's Day tradition is to play nine holes of golf with my sons and sons-in-law. Since we're playing on a Sunday, I would like to deliver this sermon to them on the many spiritual benefits of golf: 

Like faith, golf requires us to lose our "old nature." We first must learn the proper grip. Our old nature tells us to grip the club tightly, so we have total control. In golf, though, a tight grip keeps us from meeting the ball squarely and it sails off in a wayward direction.

Human nature tells us the harder we swing, the farther the ball will fly. But this doesn't work in golf. Using our strength to muscle the ball will only advance it a short distance. Golf requires a light touch and an easy swing.

The most common mistake golfers make is looking up during their swing to see where the ball is headed. This causes them to top the ball, or completely miss it. We have the same problem in life. We're so busy looking ahead, we don't focus on the present. 

Our urge to look up is especially strong, when we're facing a hazard, like water or sand. We're constantly looking ahead for trouble. But if we keep our head down and focus on the present, we're less likely to lose a ball in the water.

When we get close to the green, we're also likely to peek during the swing. Sometimes, we're so blinded by things we want, we don't pay attention to doing what it takes to get them.  

On these chip shots, our nature tells us to stop our club when it hits the ball, so it won't go over the green. Faith requires us to follow through with our swing, or the ball will come up short. It reminds us to follow through with decisions, rather than being afraid of the consequences.

Golf is a frustrating game, but we can't give in to these frustrations. Golfers must calmly accept adversity. They must humble themselves and nothing is more humbling than raking a sand trap after wasting three shots to get out of it. 

Our nature is to blame others for our problems, but in golf there's no one else to blame. Golf also teaches us courtesy and respect for others. We don't talk during someone's shot or do anything to distract them. The golf course may be the last bastion of courtesy. 

It may also be the last bastion of sportsmanship. Golfers are on the honor system, keeping their own scores. Golfers are so honorable, they call penalties on themselves. 

Golf also demands honesty. It goes against our nature to count every stroke and finish every putt. But we can't improve until we face what we're shooting now. Fudging our score is like cheating on a test. It's the reason golf pencils don't have erasers. Golf gives us many opportunities to cheat, but we're only cheating ourselves. 

As in faith, there are elements of grace in golf: the fortunate bounce, the ball that skips across the water, the line drive that is stopped by the pin. We need grace on the golf course because it's so difficult, and contrary to human nature. 

Golfers have devised their own form of grace — they're called "mulligans." God wants us to use only one of these do-overs per round, lest we cheapen grace. 


John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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