Life is full of surprises! Two months ago, maybe even less, I was eagerly looking forward to the new golf season and the prospect of seeing Rory-mac donning the Masters green jacket and completing the Career Grand Slam as well as watching Shane Lowry putting up a stout defence of his Champion Golfer of the Year title. Neither was a far-fetched notion that would have attracted substantially more punts at infinitely shorter odds than the sudden arrival on our shores of a billion-to-one global pandemic.
Today, bookmakers would be laying attractive odds (if they could) on not a single one of golfs’ majors or the Ryder Cup being played this year. Much more serious from my point of view are the tightening, virtual odds on any casual, club golf being played before September. On that alarming score, I’m inclined to the unhappy notion that the bookies would have every chance of being ‘quid’s in’.
The irony that golf is a mental game that diehard golfers should think about as little as possible in order to play their best was never lost on me. However, the real danger now is that if the ‘lockdown’ goes on for too long, the outcome for the club game could be disastrous and I cannot stop worrying about it. For every month there is no golf a shoe will drop.
Golf is a lifestyle habit and thinking of my own age group first, there is no doubt that club golf in Ireland is overly dependent on the senior community. If seniors are prevented from playing golf for too long, not only will their physical and mental health be threatened but their interest in playing golf at all could evaporate.
Besides, many seniors will not be capable of playing again when the opportunity arises even if they want to. I daren’t even mention the danger of younger golfers with families and mortgages being able to continue playing if the habit is broken and the cost becomes too much for them to handle?
The real beauty of golf may be that you are out in the fresh air, taking gentle exercise in the wide-open green spaces and partaking in some modestly challenging competition without violence. The opportunity for friendly socialising with likeminded people whom you would never meet anywhere but at the golf course also arises but, golf is more physical than anybody younger than sixty realises.
Not only do you need to be athletically coordinated and flexible, but you have to be moderately fit and strong to be able to play modest golf. Cocooning for too long without any exercise will ruin a senior golfers ability to play the game. It is most certainly my biggest fear. I fear it more than the Coronavirus!
If you are a senior, golf is good for more than just your lungs. It’s also good for the morale. Without it, I do not know what I would do. I just wouldn’t be me anymore. I’d have to get used to being somebody different. Nor, are seniors used to being told what we can’t do or where we can’t go. We were the teenagers of the wild and free 1960s when everything was ‘which way but loose’. We grew into adulthood with the mantra: ‘make love not war, follow your dreams and to thine own self be true’. Those hard-won freedoms are now threatened just when we are playing out the vital, final three holes of our lives. An invisible enemy has robbed us of our normalcy. It is a stark reminder of what our parents and previous generations had to endure.
Those who do not understand golf will say it is unimportant in the great scheme of things. How wrong they are! Individual golfers may not matter but golf courses and the game do. A golf course occupies a vital part in the local ecosystem. The value of a green space where trees and grass may grow and birds and squirrels thrive is priceless. They are amongst the much-admired and welcome fauna that occupy my home course. It is no surprise to me that golf courses are safe havens for so many of God’s more vulnerable creatures.
It’s not the socialising in the clubhouse. It is not the latest, greatest piece of technology in the pro shop that promises an extra 6-yards. It’s not the European or PGA Tour. It’s not live golf on TV. It’s the flora, fauna and sweet fresh air that matters and having the privilege of being able to walk around in it while following a small white ball and enjoying the challenges involved in controlling it.
The sooner we get back to enjoying golf at its most basic the better. There’s beauty in simplicity and that is when golf is at its most beautiful. Just you and me, light bags with half-a-dozen sticks thrown over our shoulders, an open course ahead of us and off we go into a fulfilling ecstasy. There is no better place to breathe out your senior years than on a golf course!
In 2012, I published a book, Life as a Way of Golf, in which I floated the opinion that golf might only last another three generations if it did not take action on becoming a two-hour game again (as it was in the past). Courses had become too long, too costly to build and maintain, and playing a round of 18-holes took up too much time. I never foresaw the far more severe effects of a pandemic.