How true is the adage “Golf is a metaphor for life?” The reference to Doral here reminds me it’s true. In fact, golf IS life, no? Whenever I’ve had a chance to play one of the world’s great championship courses, I’ve always been the type who prefers to play from the championship tees rather than from the so-called members’ tees. After all, I don’t feed my family on scoring low on a golf course. What in hell’s in a score? In 1993, the year after the Ryder Cup was played on the Ocean Course at Kiawa Island, South Carolina, I played the course from the championship tees, lost probably a dozen balls, came in with a 112 (I was a 7-handicap at the time) and had the time of my life. Truly mystical. The same year, I played Baltusrol in New Jersey two weeks after the U.S. Open was contested there. I played from the back tees, of course, came home with a 103, and was still mesmerized by the place a week later. A few years later, I went to a business offsite at Doral with my closest work colleagues, and we took an afternoon off to play the championship course, the famed “Blue Monster.” My three playing companions refused to play the back tees and, having forced me into a two-on-two match, I succumbed and played the members’ tees with the rest of them. Except for #18. Although fifty bucks was at stake as walked off the 17 green, I refused to tee off anyplace but the championship tee, despite my partner’s protestations. He was actually pissed. The others teed off safely from the members’ tee, and I—well I was drove into the water left. Long story short: My partner and I lost the match by losing the hole, and my partner—always the gentleman off the course—actually asked me to pay his share of the damages. Come to think of it now, he was always a sort of Chicken Little at work, never much willing to take a good risk. To him, a par is a par and a birdie is a birdie and a bogey is a bogey—in golf as in life—no matter what the challenge. Haven’t talked to him since I moved out of the area in 2003. I don’t know what he’s doing now, except I know it can’t be too thrilling, and certainly not fulfilling.
My first dream in the Voice cycle occurred over 23 years ago. I cannot publish the particulars of that dream in this blog, and I find it painful and frightening to remember, but the declaration of the voice was “We are the society of Darwin, and we will get you.” Needless to say, the world at large is this society, our society, that bustles about with no knowledge of the truths in golf. It is industrialized grazing and predation, where the machines take over the role of natural forces and cycles. It bloats people and finds many ways to keep them away from golf. There is no more nature unbound and we must now find it within whether on a private fairway or in a virtual golf pavilion. The paths I carve, on the fair ways I tread, I see a perfect circle, and nothing do I dread.
We all come to face the beast at some point in our lives, whether figurative or literal. There is the Blue Monster at Doral. Every course has a long par five to tempt the lengthy. My second dream from 18 years ago starts as a struggle to climb a cliff to reach a vista over a vasty plain. I am aided in this struggle by several able companions. We reach the plateau, and climbing up, we see a giant beast, four-legged with a slug-like sheen, corpulent and supported by timbers which restrain it. It had a stout neck and a maw that was wide like a hammerhead but rounded and meatier. It’s mouth gaped passively. There were towers, numbering five, each ending in a diving platform. Thousands if not millions of men and women queued in valley below, each rising up one of the towers and jumping into the mouth of the beast. One of my companions turned to me and said in that otherworldly voice, “who can resist the beast?” My other companions made the decision to descend and join those endless lines. Small mobs dressed like Roman soldiers roved the valley finding people who hadn’t made up their minds and dragging them into one of the lines. I stood on the precipice with a choice.
This is the question when faced with a seemingly insuperable opposing force. To join the crowd, to resist, or to flee (to fight another day). Golf offers an infinite variety of responses to this question. Pride, desire for glory, these trick you into one of the lines.
There are five golfing towers of misfortune: lying to yourself, lying on your scorecard, lying about your handicap, rolling the ball to improve your lie, and giving yourself putts. Given 600 yards to the green, you can hit four 7-irons and good putt. Two putt it or miss the green and chip it close, and leave with a bogey, you can live to fight another day (or another hole).
Golf is about leaving the golf course with your integrity intact. It’s about being honest about your daily labors. It’s about giving yourself to the process knowing that the process is an enlightening one.
I had a dream several weeks ago. It was the third in a series of dreams I have had since sophomore year in college. The second one occurred in the year after graduating from college, and an 18 year interval has passed. This most recent dream placed me in a beach-side resort. I was helping my mother down to the beach from the tower we were at, and my family was on the beach already. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people on that beach. Then a cry came up and people started running. Some ran away from the water, others ran to the water. Three waterspouts arose, sucking up the people. I could clearly see their bodies and faces spinning like dust in one of those fancy cyclonic vacuums. I wondered if they could breath if their heads broke the water. A great sadness came over me. I heard a voice, not of this world, asking me a question, but I can’t remember it now. The first time I heard that voice over twenty years ago, it said “We are the society of Darwin (a firm declaration).” The second time it said, “Who can resist the beast? (asked rhetorically?)” This third time, it said something that left me sad, I woke weeping, and in those moments after I woke, when I remembered what was said, I wanted to do something, but now I can’t remember, because I fell back to sleep.
Looking back, I think that the three tempests represent the three things that trap people: desire or want, addiction or attachment, and finally pride or narcissism. These are the hazards that we face everyday.
What’s up for today? Life being a metaphor for golf, today is a 348 yard par 4 with a drive over water that edges the whole right side of the fairway, dogleg right with trees and sand on top of the turn’s knuckle, the whole outer curve being OB, being bounded by ancient temple ruins. Approach protected by a thousand year old baobab tree that will block anything lower than fifty feet. If you’re big enough, you can drive the green, but anything less than perfect, you’re taking a stroke.
Green grass off into the horizon clicks a genetic switch in our brain -it is the peace of the African savanna ape seeing the lush green after the rainy season. Time of prosperity and fecundity. The sap rises from the roots, and it is the spring of our days.
Hunting and gathering is in our bones and sinews, and this is replicated by the tracking and seeking of the white ball. Smell the grass. Root along the leaf litter for the prized nut. Club that small prey animal with your 3 iron. Signal to your fellow ape with your call “Fore!!!”
Golfists are keenly aware of the mystery of the numbers that form the tapestry of a round of golf. 434454453 is instantly recognizable to the golfists at my club as the par sequence of the front nine -each number brings the image and the feel of walking up to each tee. 444535434 is the back nine. Each golfist can recite their courses numerical map by visualizing each hole from memory. These numbers add up to 36 a side, 72 for the whole. My course from childhood (Baymeadows, Jacksonville, FL): 543443454 435344544. The first number, the 5, brings to mind my first tee off on a Saturday morning at 12 years of age -a train of carts full of old impatient men looking up at me. The inability to swallow my spit, the terrible awareness of about thiry eyes, and the need for me to get out of the way.
I top my drive, refuse a mulligan (always thought mulligans were the worst kind of lie -the lie you tell to yourself), walk the twenty feet to the ball which happily is perched on the rough, and I smash a 4 wood (remember those) 200 yards to applause. That first par five is burned into my memory. These numbers are pregnant with as much meaning as cosmological constants.