Know Thyself: Golf as Religion

By Rory Hughes, adapted from the June/July 2016 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine

Religion:

1: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

2: a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance. So when Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people,” he was referring to #1. But when my buddy says, “I eat spinach salads every day for lunch religiously,” he is referring to #2.

What about when we say, “NFL football is a religion”? Are we just “pursuing” an “interest” of “supreme importance” when we sit down for three and a half hours to watch grown men concuss each other? Or are we actually “worshipping” them? As a Lions fan, I suppose it is not religion, but sadomasochism. Like many other sports, golf is a domain where the lines between these definitions blur. Indeed, to some it is just an interest or hobby. To others, it is the center of a spiritual journey. Case in point: one of the reasons my wife and I have not found a church for my son’s baptism is because Sunday morning is the only time I can play.

But like all religions, golf has different sects and varying degrees of devotion. The world’s bloodiest conflicts, from the Crusades to ISIS — have been a result of religion. Read the following profiles carefully to determine which best describes you and how to survive any foursome without bloodshed.

The Atheist

Also known as The Hater, The Atheist sees no value in golf — the same way I see monster truck racing. He can’t understand how anyone can be passionate about something so trivial. If you end up in a foursome with The Atheist, either ignore him or antagonize him. Anything in-between will result in a death march.

The Agnostic

He has a hobby that he realizes others might find trivial — maybe collecting coins or playing video games — so he empathizes with golfers. He thinks “I’m not really into that, but I guess I can understand why someone might like to play.” With enough evangelism, The Agnostic can be swayed, although if he spends too much time with The Atheist there is little hope for redemption. If you encounter him on the course, say little and listen a lot. He might sell himself on the game.

The Major Holidays Only

Maybe the worst of the bunch, because he doesn’t seem to care too much, thus when he does play he’ll say, “I never play,” which pisses everyone off whether he plays well or not. He also tends to be the one to borrow your golf glove or step in your line or commit some other transgression because he’s out of practice. If he played just a little more he might be a positive member of your group; if he played a little less he might just give the game up completely. Should you join up with him, cajole him toward the latter so that I never have to deal with him.

The Devout

The Devout truly loves the game and wants to protect its purity. He plays ready golf everywhere but on the green, keeps pace, and can fit into any group of any level. He also can be judgmental of the Major Holidays Only crowd, especially when he loses to them. The Devout has trouble playing fewer than 18 holes, always keeps score, and when faced with a room full of atheists, would rather talk politics. Seek out opportunities to play with The Devout; he will make you appreciate the game more.

The Born-again

Typically in his 50s, The Born-again was once Devout, but effectively retired when he started a family. Now he’s back and reminisces about his pre-offspring days. Whether they were actually better remains in question. He likes to remind you how much harder the course used to be, how much easier the game has gotten with the new equipment, and so on. While the nostalgia can be tiresome, he offers hope for The Devout who has small children and a rising index.

The Zealot

The Zealot must be viewed as a terrorist. You might hear him say “It’s March 1st and I’ve already played 37 times.” or “You guys wanna duck out early from work and watch the first round of Q-School?” He gets antsy if he doesn’t play every couple days, and has a hard time with any leisure activity besides golf. Marital problems are commonplace with The Zealot. He will “sneak in a quick 18” before his kid’s birthday party, then show up late bragging about shooting a 74, oblivious to his wife’s death stares. The Zealot develops a tick when there’s a hint of sun and he’s not on the course. Like The Atheist, his extreme position makes him hard to get along with. Should you join up with a zealot on the course, stare straight ahead and say as little as possible in case he invites you to play in his company scramble.

As the world at large struggles with religious conflict, let the golf course be a place where acceptance is the norm. Remember that whatever the religious bent of your playing partner, he is pursuing the same ultimate goal of inner peace. Practice empathy and tolerance. Resist judgment and malice.

Nevertheless, if you can, pray for a cancellation and play alone.