THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF GOLF

Golf is a Spiritual Journey
Golf is a Spiritual Journey

I have been asked by a good friend to write a hub on the above subject. I have no claim to fame in spirituality or golf, though am drawn to both activities. Regardless, I cannot not answer Storytellersrus’ question. So let me try putting my thoughts into words. But read at your own risk: There is no guarantee that this hub will make much sense to non-golfers who might peruse it.

I started playing golf in 1996. Till then I had viewed it with disdain as a recreational activity for physically unfit corporate honchos and old retirees. It’s a different matter – and no fault of golf - that shortly thereafter I too sought early retirement from the Army.

Coping with hitherto unknown complexities and learning the ropes for survival on civvy street left little time for golf. But I found two good friends who had also just begun playing this game. Much like Jerome K Jerome’s three men in a boat, we came together to commence our journey. The standard of our game, all of us being novices, was akin to the boating proficiency of the said three men. Unlike them, local golf rules forbade an accompanying dog. But, we always had a great time, and looked forward to whenever we could find a few hours for nine or eighteen holes at the Air Force Golf Course.

While on the course, I would completely forget the tension and worries caused by a chaotic marital situation and the stresses of living in disorganized and unruly New Delhi. These outings would help me get rid of useless but heavy mental baggage of past events, stop the niggling worries about imaginary problems, and would smoothen out the jagged nerves and roughed up edges of my mind and soul. My friends and I would be completely engrossed in the paradoxes of the game and in enjoying the beautiful course and our lighthearted banter. They helped me become more accepting of what I could not change and to even see humour in what would normally have been petty but provocative actions or situations.

As our game improved, it started dawning on me that golf was quite like a spiritual journey: A complete get-away from the humdrum of the daily grind, a meditation, a blissful relaxation and a rejuvenator for the heart, mind and soul.

I suppose, to an extent, the same could be said of most other games. But not quite. Let me illustrate.

Despite the Company, Golf is a Fairly Lonely Pilgrimage
Despite the Company, Golf is a Fairly Lonely Pilgrimage

Unlike football, tennis, basketball or most other sports, your game does not depend on what your opponent or partner is doing. Anyone else’s shot or where it has landed has no bearing at all on how or from where you take your shot. In a way, a round of golf is like a pilgrimage that one might undertake. One leaves behind the family, joins up with others of varied mind and nature and commences on the journey. The aim is to complete it with the least number of strokes and penalties. Often, during the game, you are not even aware of the opponents score. Their actions can only have a psychological or spiritual effect. The thought that they are playing better and are in the lead, might induce self recrimination or a feeling of inadequacy or spur you to hitting harder (which is never a good thing) and taking other foolish risks. Your partner is there but he cannot help much. If you have a caddy, he might give some advice or moral support, much like a guide might. But each player is on his own solitary pilgrimage and it is for you yourself to remain strong in spirit and blossom to your full potential.

The Beautiful Royal Springs Golf Course at Srinagar
The Beautiful Royal Springs Golf Course at Srinagar

As golfers we commune closely with nature, which is a spiritual and primal need for us city dwellers. We play in superb natural surroundings spread over a hundred or more acres of beautifully landscaped real estate. This is not the case say with a tennis court, football field or a gymnasium. Compare their dull and monotonous settings to the natural beauty, the flora and fauna, the gurgling streams and other water bodies of a golf course. Each course is so different from the other, located in a variety of habitats – along sea coasts or rivers, in woodlands or prairies, or around hills and mountains. So there is ample variety. Even if for some reason you are consigned to always playing the same course – something no true golfer likes to do – you would still not get bored. Every course offers a different challenge in each different season, with change of weather, and even with subtle changes in the local flora and fauna. One day, if in India, you might be plucking ripe mulberries, and on another it might be guavas or plums, or the tender newly sprouted leaves of a neem tree, said to have excellent dermatological qualities. One day, you might spot a peacock in full plumage dancing to seduce a peahen and on another you may be subjected to a cacophony of angry birds chasing out vagrant crows who have raided their nests.

Peacock at Delhi Golf Course
Peacock at Delhi Golf Course
Obstacles on a Golf Course
Obstacles on a Golf Course

No matter how enticing the scenic beauty and how smooth the sailing, any spiritual journey often puts one to the test … retribution and penance may follow … and the pilgrim advances in his journey that much stronger and wiser. So too in golf. Despite clear fairways and beautifully laid out greens you will at times venture into out-of-bounds areas or hazardous terrain and obstacles like bunkers, water bodies, rough foliage and rocks. Getting out of them requires humility of mind, a strong belief in the Almighty, and often some penalty strokes.

As with any spiritual quest, there is mystery and paradox. Things happen which are beyond our comprehension … realisation dawns that we are but pawns. We give our best to each shot, but the result might not always be what we desire; we learn to gracefully accept whatever is the outcome of the confluence of our actions and other mystical forces which are beyond lay human understanding. Let me illustrate with some personal examples – any golfer you meet will have similar stories to narrate.

Just a week or so ago we were at the 9th hole of the Air Force Golf Course. It’s a par 3, and the temporary green that morning was at about 100 yards. I swung my pitching wedge after a proper pre-shot routine including meticulous lining up. For no reason at all, the ball hooked left and was heading towards the adjoining polo ground which is out of bounds. My heart sank. But some divine force intervened, the ball brushed a branch of a tree and deflected a bit, then it hit an electric pole, bounced off it and landed on the green barely six feet from the pin! We were all left gaping in wonder. On a previous occasion, teeing off at the 6th, a par 4 at the Army Course, I carried out my usual pre-shot routine, took a practice swing with the driver and then confidently went for what I wanted to be a long and straight drive. For some unknown and unfathomable reason, the club head topped the ball and it skidded along the ground to stop near the ladies’ tee. Feeling humiliated, and in utter disgust, I took out another ball from my pocket, teed it up, and cursing under my breath, let go at it with all my anger powering the shot. I had not lined up nor taken a practice swing. But, lo and behold … the ball sailed majestically to land at 260 yards, bang in the centre of that narrow fairway. The first shot had been a well planned, rehearsed and calculated one and should have gone the way the second did. The second was hit in frustration and anger, and could have gone anywhere but where it actually did! That’s golf ….

The Temptation is Strong!
The Temptation is Strong!

However, the spiritual discipline required on the journey is intense. In no other game are there so many opportunities and so much temptation to cheat. Excepting in major tournaments, there is no referee. It is a gentleman’s game and you are expected to call penalties on yourself. You are also expected to count your own shots, and not go wrong in their totaling. There are times, especially in the rough, when no one except God can see you. The devil in the mind is taunting you to nudge your ball to a more amenable position. This is where your spirit is being tested and it is for you to learn how well - and whether at all - you are progressing in your spiritual quest. But, beware, sometimes, somewhere, intentionally or otherwise, someone else will also notice…

One of the characters created by PG Wodehouse in a short story was called The Oldest Member (of a particular golf course naturaly.) He was believed to have attained enlightenment and peace beyond understanding. One piece of advice given by him to another member is hard to forget, “The only way of really finding out a man’s true character is to play golf with him. In no other walk of life does the cloven hoof so quickly display itself.” Grantland Rice echoed similar thoughts when he said, “Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your foe than 18 years of dealing with him across a desk.” As you may have gathered, golf not only offers great opportunity to progress on the spiritual journey, but it also weeds out those who are weak in spirit or character.

Despite all that I have written, I would accept the view that it is not enough to own a set of clubs and to play a game of golf to be enlightened. And I would also agree that proficiency in golf does not give any indication of spiritual advancement. If that had been the case then Tiger Woods would be the most spiritual of all. All that I would say is that golf presents a great opportunity – much more possibly than any other sport or human endeavour - to observe oneself and the mysteries of a deeper life, to become stronger of spirit, and even catch fleeting glimpses of nirvana.

Let me end this rather verbose hub with a poem that I received many moons ago from a friend in a forwarded email. In that email, the (presumably) anonymous author did give due acknowledgment to Mr Rudyard Kipling’s more famous 'IF'.

GOLFERS’ IF


If you can play one day with skill and science

And find the next your game has gone to pot,

And yet plod on with sturdy self reliance

And play to win with every shot;


If you can take the turf and open airway

To clear the cobwebs from a worried brain;

If with a lie in rough or on the fairway

You simply do your best and don’t complain;


If you can see your faults and toil to mend them

Knowing the only mender must be you;

If you can try the wrong ways and transcend them

And when you’ve found the right one, follow through;


In short, if head and heart do all the ruling,

With temper left discarded on the shelf,

You’ve got the basis of a golfers schooling –

And not so bad a stance for life itself!

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Comments 29 comments

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Worth the wait, Jaspal, though I hope the next one will come soon... and under less duress. I guess this is my belated birthday gift and your birthday request from me, rolled into one! Thank you; thumbs UP!

I am not a golfer, yet I understood your descriptions and meaning without a problem. The only spot where I was lost was within this line, "I swung my pitching wedge after a proper pre-shot routine including meticulous lining up." Not a problem for me, as I wouldn't expect to understand what a pitching wedge is or a pre-shot routine.

I love that you didn't transform golf into a spiritually enlightened sport; you were matter of fact and yet awe and mystery wiggled through.

You are a wonderful writer with a great sense of humor and a wry perspective on yourself. I look forward to your next piece.

PS Love the links! You figured them out, yay!


pushpa 6 years ago

You were inspired!

Inspiring.. and interesting!


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you, Story. I am glad you understood most of it. You really should start golfing, with all those exquisitely beautiful courses around your area.

Yes, the links I did figure out, but there's a lot I still couldn't quite put my finger on.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you Pushpa. Inspired? Does that means we might get to play some golf together in Sacramento? Has Colin started taking you to the course or not yet?


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 6 years ago from India

What a beautifully written hub, Jaspal! Obviously golf is a subject close to your heart...and soul, as this hub amply proves. Each to his own path to enlightenment...may you always enjoy the journey. :)

Meanwhile, I love the sound of the mulberries...


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you FP! It's the journey, and that we enjoy it, which is important, isn't it?

The mulberry season is over for this year in Delhi; it is some time in April I think, when they are violet/black and oh-so-sweet!


dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 6 years ago from India

Beautifully written Jas.Loved it. I am glad Storytellersus managed to drag another hub out of you. Loved the pictures and the little anecdotes.You have been cranky ;)the last few days with the rain and unable to play golf and yours truly has been praying that the sun shines through and you will be back on the golfing greens with your fellow golfers who must also be champing at the bit.

You sound so positively inspirational here...try writing another one on food..which I think is something else you love. Hugs.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 6 years ago

Very nice Hub, Jaspal. Golf is one of the greatest levellers of all, taking you up into the skies one moment and then crashing down to earth the next.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

Wow - straight from the heart - and it shows! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what a wonderful journey this game can be. And thanks to Story for getting you back writing here again!


Phoenixritu 6 years ago

Am sharing this hub Jaspal ... it proves a point I have been trying to make. To be an effective writer, you must be in love with our subject. Your love for your sport shines through this


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Diana: Thank you for appreciating the hub. I did not realise I'd been cranky ... and you are right: With all the rain in Delhi, our courses have been closed, so I haven't been able to 'rejuvenate' for some time! Must get back and bury the crankiness in some bunker or rough! :)

Sabu: Thank you! There is no doubt: Golf really is a great leveler ... and it helps keeping one well grounded. What's the news from Himmat?

Shalini: Hard to hide one's love, isn't it? Thank you for the appreciation.

Ritu: Thank you! I did not know a hub could be shared - you must tell me about it.


Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

I am not a golfer - but I will say I have given it a fair shot. I just don't like the game myself.

My husband however loves it. After reading this, I have to say that I can see how it has it's benefits! You are right, it certainly can say an awful lot about a person's character - how they play the game.

Very interesting hub, and it certainly shows your love of the game.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Good to see you after a long time Duchess. Thanks for reading the hub and your nice comment.

Golf can be a little difficult at the beginning. Everything from the grip to the stance, setup and swing seems uncomfortable. You probably gave it up without persisting for a week or two at the practice range. I assure you that if you stick with it for some time, it will slowly grow on you and become a favourite pastime.


Virginia Belle - "P" 6 years ago

Golf and Religion. Awww yes!!!!

You step out on a beautiful, cool sunny morning. You look around and here it is. A beautiful, green Garden of Eden. So lush and lovely. You "tee off" and start down the beautiful fairway. What a wonderful day. You hit your second shot and low and behold your ball is in the mushy wet slush. Behind a tree. This is when - if you had religion, you lose it. Our Garden has turned into "hell fire and damnation." LOL

Golf was still fun for me and I miss it. Just wish I could have played around with Jaspal. It would have been great.

You should write a book Jaspal. You are good.


TigerLily 6 years ago

Very nicely written, Jaspal. I have never played golf, but after reading your piece, I can certainly see the connection between golf and spirituality. I think any sport, hobby or activity one pursues with passion can be a spiritual experience. With golf, I certainly see the connection with nature, discipline, and unrelenting pursuit of a goal, which I believe are also essential in achieving spiritual fulfillness.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Haha, that's a good one and exactly how it feels at times, Virginia Belle - "Hell fire and damnation!" But, as you know, one has to keep plodding on, and better times always follow. We will play for sure, one of these days, in Virginia - if I remember right you are located right on a golf course. Some people have all the luck! :)


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you for reading and commenting, TigerLilly. If I have been able to convince you then there must be some logic in the hub! But I wonder if there was enough in it to entice or persuade Mr & Mrs TigerLilly to pick up some clubs and step out on any of the numerous courses around your home?


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Both a delightful and provocative read. Although I took a stab at the game a long time ago, nothing about it clicked for me to keep on going. But, after reading your words, I can now take a new look at the avid golfers I know, by wearing a new pair of glasses.

This is a wonderful piece of writing, and after such a long absence. I hope you share your thoughts on HubPages more often in the future.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you so much ST. You're always so generous and much too kind!

It's a pity there was no one around to amuse or motivate you to persist when you took up golf. Initially it can be trying, and it takes some time and perseverance on the practice range to get to the stage where one can really start playing and enjoying on the course. Maybe you can start all over again ... Believe me, it'll be well worth the effort! :)


soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Hi! Jaspal

Enjoyed your article very much. I live in Mumbai, very near US Club, where defense forces have quite a nice golf course. While walking to that side, often I see those colorful scenes, greenery, beauty, people playing some times. It used to be quite open in the old days. Now with terrorism problem, they had to create walls around it etc. That is closest I have been to Golf, except for going through news about it during visits to USA, where they talk a lot about it. But I now feel closer after reading your article.

Even your general sentences like this one

"Despite all that I have written, I would accept the view that it is not enough to own a set of clubs and to play a game of golf to be enlightened."

create a smile.

Any way is it not true that what ever you do, you do with dedication and passion? This is visible in your writing also, not just in your game the way you describe. I liked pictures you chose very much. Discipline of defense forces -training is also reflected in exactness you try to get in your article. You take with detachment what ever comes out of your efforts and generate a drive to do better from it. With such an attitude every thing must be looking spiritual. (tell me is it not true?) Wish you all the good luck.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Thank you, Soumyasrajan. Your mention of US Club brings back so many fond memories of the period from 1977 to 1980 when I was posted at HQ M & G Area in Colaba followed by CME at Pune, and was a member. Unfortunately, I had not started playing golf then. But the Sea Pool Restaurant at the other end of the golf course was a popular hangout.

I am wondering where exactly you stay so near to the US Club?

You are so right about every activity being spiritual ...


soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Hi! Jaspal

Oh! I was also here then in 77-80. I wish we would have met. Do contact me if you come to Mumbai some time. I stay very close Navy Nagar Bus stop almost at the end of the road. My home is just on the sea shore on the top floor in a seven floored building. It is indeed a pleasure - this surrounding.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 6 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

I certainly will Soumyasrajan - possibly around mid December this year. :)

May I have your email id or cell number? Mine are coljaspal@gmail.com and 09810017154.


dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 5 years ago from India

aaah connecting, on hubpages. I too feel so nostalgic about the good old days when we walked in and out of the Navy Nagar area without ten people checking passes and walls, walls, walls everywhere. We do live in troubled times.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

I loved it :-)


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 5 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Yes Diana, I was in Bombay recently and and had spent some time in the old haunt of Navy Nagar ... it has changed so much, but it's still a place that is comforting to the soul, most unlike the rest of the metropolis which has become such an over populated and overcrowded mess!

De Greek: Thank you ... I'm glad you liked it. I just read your profile, and I loved it. Will certainly be reading some of the hubs that you have highlighted in it! And, I think, Mrs De Greek is a lucky lady!! :)


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Jasmal, if your golf is as well formed as your written English, then Tiger Woods will be nervously awaiting your arrival. You perfectly describe the intricacies of what should be a simple game. If only we played on paper. Can you imagine the pressure exerted on a pro golfer heading up the eighteenth fairway with a one-shot lead hoping for their first major breakthrough. Or the disappointment of seeing someone chip in from a green-side bunker to snatch away a major championship, as happened to Greg Norman. Then to be called a choker by people who should know better.

Or to develop the yips and see your ball fly off the green when putting from six feet.

Yes golf is a spiritual journey, if only the devil would keep off the course. Cheers Keith


Shubha 3 years ago

Very well written, I tottaly agree every aspect of your narration.


Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 3 years ago from New Delhi, India Author

Welcome to golf Shubha! :)

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