Game of ancient and honourable tradition

Golf is about friendship and laughter and days in the sun where the magnificent coastal vistas provide a welcome distraction from the frustrations of the game. Photo: ODT files
Golf is about friendship and laughter and days in the sun where the magnificent coastal vistas provide a welcome distraction from the frustrations of the game. Photo: ODT files
Golf is more than a walk. It is the ultimate test of persistence and patience, writes Joss Miller.

Mark Twain is attributed with saying that ''golf is a good walk spoiled''. He lived from 1835 to 1910. During his lifetime, golf in America was at a fairly rudimentary stage. The US Golf Association was founded in 1894 and the first US Open was played in 1895.

I am unaware whether Mark Twain ever played golf but suspect he probably didn't and don't recall Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn indulging in the game, either, during their Mississippi travels.

The saying came into vogue particularly from the 1940s and is frequently repeated but perhaps has been lacking in critical analysis.

Being a golfer of very modest capacity, I have from time to time pondered those words and after careful deliberation have concluded a jury of 12 sober and upstanding citizens of Otago would be unable to reach a unanimous verdict to the question of whether golf is a good walk spoiled.

Part of that realisation came the other day while reflecting on the stellar performance by Dustin Johnson in finishing a recent tournament in Hawaii 24 shots under par. That clearly was not a good walk spoiled and resulted in a substantial monetary payment, as well.

There are only a few really elite golfers in the world. Most who populate the courses and clubs in New Zealand have middling to high handicaps or none at all.

They are sometimes colloquially referred to as ''hackers'' - not an entirely flattering term but probably an accurate enough description if one is to observe their progress around a golf course.

Wayward shots can result in considerable time being spent among vegetation of various sorts with the sole compensation sometimes being the discovery of a lost ball. A companion's ball recently vanished into a rabbit hole.

The ultimate humiliation is the dreaded air shot where the swinging club of the golfer completely fails to connect with the ball, resulting in extraordinary levels of mirth from those watching and usually results in the guilty party having to shout a round of drinks at the 19th.

For ordinary golfers, a round of golf can be entirely unpredictable. Often there is minimal direct movement of the ball down the fairway. Emotions can range from elation to frustration and despair.

The seemingly perfect shot is rarely replicated. The perfect putt rarely repeated. Yet, we keep on playing, keep on hoping and keep on dreaming.

The odd par can provide some sustenance but is likely to be followed by a tsunami of bogeys, double bogeys and worse.

Golf is more than a walk. It is the ultimate test of persistence and patience.

There are many occasions when it seems like the most pointless and futile game on the planet. But there is also friendship and laughter and days in the sun where the magnificent coastal vistas provide a welcome distraction from the frustrations of the game.

Since Mark Twain's time, golf has transformed hugely. Professional golfers have taken the game to a new level, aided by technology and startling advances in the quality of clubs, footwear and clothing.

Golf carts are increasingly used and provide an entirely different playing experience.

But despite all the changes, it is the ordinary golfers who provide the cement holding the game together. Most are not contemplating whether golf is a good walk spoiled but rather how to improve their game and that is a whole new topic!

-Joss Miller is a retired Dunedin lawyer.

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