“A round of golf,” he said in his journal notes, “partakes of the journey, and the journey is one of the central myths and signs of Western Man. It is built into his thoughts and dreams, into his genetic code. The Exodus, the Ascension, the Odyssey, the Crusades, the pilgrimages of Europe and the Voyage of Columbus, Magellan’s Circumnavigation of the Globe, the Discovery of Evolution and the March of Time, getting ahead and the ladder of perfection, the exploration of space and the Inner Trip: from the beginning our Western World has been on the move. But other men have not been so concerned to get somewhere else-take the Hindus with their endless cycles of time or the Chinese Tao. Getting somewhere else is not necessarily central to the human condition.”
Perhaps we are so restless because like Moses we can never make it to the promised land. We tell ourselves that It is just over the next hill: just a little more time or a little more money or a little more struggle will get us there; “… even our theology depends upon that Final Day, that Eschaton when the journey will finally arrive, to compel our belief in God.”
The symbol of the journey reflects our state, for man is surely on the move toward something. Many of us sense that our human race is on a tightrope, that we must keep moving or fall into the abyss. “this world is for dyin’,” he said that night. We must die to the old or pay more and more for remaining where we are. Yes, there is no escaping the long march of our lives: that is part of the reason people re-enact it again and again on the golf course, my golfing teacher said. They are working out something built into their genes.
But there are other myths to govern our lives, other impulses lurking in our soul, “myths of arrival with our myths of the journey, something to tell us we are the target as well as the arrow.”
So Shivas Irons would have us learn to enjoy what is while seeking our treasure of tomorrow. And-you might have guessed it-a round of golf is good for that, “… because if it is a journey, it is also a round: it always leads back to the place you started from … golf is always a trip back to the first tee, the more you play the more you realize you are staying where you are.” By playing golf, he said, “you re-enact that secret of the journey. You may even get to enjoy it.”
–Michael Murphy, Golf in the Kingdom
Golf is a metaphor for life, but it is largely an irrational one. The bodily movements required to strike a golf ball effectively are not natural, nor sustainable. They require contortions that can break an unfit body and most certainly wear down the back, hips, legs, shoulders, hands, and mental wellness of even the most fit body over the long term. (I have estimated that I have hit a golf ball over 1.2 million times. Only once for a hole-in-one!) But yet it is addictive and like any addiction can be used to the point of self harm.
Final Stages of the Journey
More than four decades of golfing at a high level can break a person and cause them to quit, multiple times. While that has happened to me and I have not played the game seriously for several years now, I am still a golfer and will be whether I play or not. As health returns, the desire to play returns. It is indulged and the limits of age and the broken body rear their ugly head. Yet the return is made time and again and it will continue going forward. The 18th at Crail Balcomie, sometimes purported to be the course where Shivas Irons studied and taught, captured on a round there in 2007, seems to aptly represent the impending end of the journey. At least until it starts again…
“And I’m goin’ to keep this speech very short, for I’m sayin’ my farewell to the game. I’ve suffered enough with it.”
This blog entry was outlined in January, but not finished until June. Part of that depression discussed in the previous entry. Then I imagined trooping out the course again in early spring. I also imagined finishing the post in January. Neither happened. The journey is unpredictable, but it will go on.
Next up; ???