Golf is preposterous

Ivan Morris
Ivan Morris

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“Golf is preposterous” is the first sentence in Geoff Shackelford’s latest book Golf Architecture for Normal People, which my daughter, Caroline, kindly gave me for Christmas.

The implications of such a statement stopped me in my tracks and I put the book down immediately. Without reading another word I consulted a dictionary just to be certain of what the ‘p’ word means exactly? Contrary to reason or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous, I was informed.

Befuddled, I didn’t pick the book up again for 24-hours while I absorbed this arresting proposition. Golf may feel preposterous to us all at some time or other but to see it so described without a hint of excuse or qualification: Well, I never!


Examining my conscience before the man guarding the Golden Gates ‘throws the book at me’ and says: “Morris, you have led a preposterous life on account of adopting golf as your comfort blanket” was a kick in the gut. I suppose I have lived a preposterous life. A life that was a deliberate choice. I could have been almost anything I wanted to be, but I chose to be a dedicated lover of the preposterous.

Too late to change now, old son! Join the real world where all around us there is nothing but preposterousness: The climate, Presidents Trump and Putin, Boris Johnson and Brexit, Netanyahu’s extermination of Palestine, Yemen, Tribal Wars in Africa, China’s attitude towards Taiwan, ‘Madman Economics’ in Argentina. Trying to control the antics of a delinquent small, white, dimpled ball with odd markings on it as best I can for as long as I can is quite enough preposterousness for one life. But it keeps me fit and healthy, feeling young, and in one small part of my life in control of my destiny. Eternity is over-rated. It never ends! If playing golf is the most preposterous thing we can do in our lives, how lucky are we? If there is no golf in Heaven, I won’t be pleased!

As for my approach to golf architecture, I have always been one for noting ‘angles’ and any other ‘little details’ that are important when planning how to play golf holes efficiently. I have mostly relied on looking at golf holes ‘backwards’ from green to tee. It usually revealed all I needed to know.

Having finished Shackelford’s book 72 hours later, the best compliment I can pay it is like any good golf course it wasn’t fully appreciated and understood in one run through. I took a few mulligans along the way. Good golf courses (and books) are continually revealing unknown parts of themselves. A golf course is less bamboozling when one accepts there are no fixed rules to which it must conform, and that ‘a good walk’ accompanied by unrestricted variety and new revelations are its greatest charm.

Golf is not all about winning championships or hitting the ball 400-yards. It’s about appreciating the golf courses on which we are blessed to play. Looking around and enjoying the landscape and the wildlife and imagining what the land may have looked like before it was turned into a theatre of dreams, nightmares, and preposterous behaviours.

Critiques of fairway widths and the shape of doglegs, too many or too few undulations, the choice and placement of greens, tees, and trees, the angles of approach and the shortest way to the green are discussions to be enjoyed in the clubhouse or during the journey home later.

Shack’s book is a valuable resource that I will dip into regularly in future, if for nothing else, to find some new (to me) terminology to describe what I may have observed. The best golf courses are those we could play every day and never grow tired of, as well as being pleasant landscapes, where we can escape our doldrums by walking around them without one’s golf clubs. (Leave your preposterous self at home for the day?)

Anyone wanting to become a more clued-in critic of the courses he or she plays on, and how to play them, Golf Architecture for Normal People is worth having close by. It is no trifling matter that strokes will be shaved, and strokes will be saved with new knowledge and appreciations. Being able to read the architect’s mind when a golf course was being laid out helps to avoid the pitfalls of poor Course Management.

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