Monday, March 23, 2020.
The exact moment that the pleasure of playing golf in the cradle of the game was put on pause.
There’s a thing.
Not just a stoppage but an opportunity for thought.
The immediate thoughts, of course, are consumed by disappointment and worry. Disappointment that a beloved pastime has been stripped from us precisely when we want time to pass quicker than it ever has; worry that we are in the midst of unprecedented times for every single person alive, all seven-and-a-half billion of us.
Immediacy, though, is fleeting. When it’s over, it leaves ample time and space for perspective to form.
Perspective: normal life will resume. There is nothing in any of this corona chaos to suggest it won’t. And when it does, so will golf.
Perspective: now that the lockdown has started, so too has the countdown to your next round.
What a prospect.
What a tantalising, intoxicating prospect.
The very thing that has, until tonight, been a distraction from our current, collective predicament has suddenly become our light at the end of the tunnel.
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Golf’s special, isn’t it? It frustrates me, it dismays me, it all-too-often exasperates me. And yet I love it.
It’s ridiculously difficult, an art masquerading as a hobby. No matter how long I play it I know I’ll never master it, nor get close. But in a world where gratification comes easier than ever, where nothing is more than a few clicks away and success is measured superficially - followers, likes, retweets and hashtags – give me golf and its infinite challenge any day.
Its rules are convoluted and so many in number that unwittingly breaking them is as occupational a hazard as sand trips and OB stakes. Still, better that, than the reckless pursuit of self-interest that seems to consume so many vain souls and strutters.
It demands discipline, honesty and trust. Values that you can’t learn from textbooks.
It’s time-consuming, requiring hours spent at the mercy of whatever conditions Mother Nature elects to throw at you. Tell me, though: is that not preferable to sitting indoors, feasting on boxsets or indulging the latest desperate reality ‘star’?
It is beset by image problems, by dress codes that pre-date needles and threads. It has been dragged if not kicking and screaming into the 21st century then certainly huffing and puffing. But change is hard and it's trying.
It is, at its best, an individual pursuit, a timeless duel between man and nature. And yet some of the friendships I most treasure have either been forged on courses or come by virtue of working in the golf industry.
It’s perfectly imperfect.
In these noisy, confrontational times, it is reassuringly consistent. Even when it’s bad, it’s good.
And yes, it’s on hold.
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It’s dark right now. But the best sunrises I’ve ever seen – explosions of colourful morning that no combination of superlatives could ever adequately describe – have unfolded on golf courses.
I'm reminded of the opening morning of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Shivering shoulder to shoulder with thousands of strangers in the stand behind the first tee, telephone screens and floodlights providing the only illumination against ink-black everything, the mood was one of nervous anticipation.
What would the coming days have in store? What drama might unfold?
What, when, why, how?
Questions, questions, questions and nothing like answers.
Then the sun rose behind the glens in the distance, slowly painting the golf course in soft mellow tones of blood-orange, then gold and finally full technicolour.
It was almost ethereal. In those moments, it felt like nothing mattered. No question. No prediction. No conjecture. No worry. Nothing. Time stood still, even though it didn't.
The night is darkest just before the dawn. That much is true. And that may well be where we are right now.
One day, soon hopefully, golf will begin again. Just think how grateful we’ll be that first morning, how inclined we’ll be to ignore predispositions to throw clubs, to swear, to curse the game’s incessant taunting and teasing and tempting and tormenting.
Pause will end.
Play will resume.
And that day, we’ll drive off down the first having already won.