Golf is not an antiseptic game. It was never intended to be. We participate in a natural arena with wind, sun, rain, weeds, sand and bodies of water affecting our environment, affecting our play. This is what makes the game uniquely great and separates it from other sports. It’s not necessarily an opponent that we face; it’s nature and nature’s land (with a well-paid golf course designer).
But, for the 21st century, in these United States, many players have been taught to expect a sterile environment, and golf courses are straining to maintain an elusive and expensive benchmark of perfection.
As players, I believe, this unrealistic expectation steals much of our joy in the game. A player has a bad result from a sand shot and immediately complains about the bunker — “too much sand” or “not enough sand” or “the sand was too wet.” While another player hits a ball into the rough, and the conditions are determined to be unfit because “the grass is too long” or “there is no grass” or “the grass is inconsistent.”
It’s not supposed to be that way. It is supposed to have flaws. Remember, our first golf courses were originally places inhabited by sheep.
Recently, having the opportunity to experience golf’s birthplace (which is simultaneous with golf’s future), I was reacquainted with a fundamental truth. Golf’s perfection is found in its imperfection.
The Old Course is the home of golf’s first course designer, golf’s first set of rules and golf’s first competitive champion. Of course, this all took place over several centuries. The golf course has been played for about 600 years. The rules were put in place in the 18th century, and the original Open Championship trophy was awarded more than 150 years ago.
The cool thing is that not a lot has changed since then. And they still set a standard. Granted, modern conveniences have made it possible for a machine to mow fairways (versus the sheep) and new types of grass grow on the greens and fairways (that do not require as much water).
Yet, the rough is inconsistent, the undulations on putting greens make some putts almost impossible, there are weeds (lots of them), the fairways are often sparse, and some bunkers are simply unfair (for most of us with our modern expectations).
It’s great stuff. You don’t complain. It’s natural — manicured to play golf on but natural.
We aren’t perfect, and our game isn’t perfect. It’s an intriguing competition, not against a human opponent (the focus of which can often be counterproductive), just us and the elements, trying to shoot the lowest score we are capable of.
If something doesn’t go our way, that’s part of the game. We know to shrug it off and move on. It’s not a game of perfection. Just smile. It’s not a game of perfection, which sounds perfect to me.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.