Golf Is Not a Journey

Golf Is Not A Journey

As soon as we start going to school, we’re told that life is best understood as a journey with a destination.  There is a goal – to get good grades, and reach the next level.  This continues through college, and into our working lives.  There’s always something more, and we won’t be completely satisfied until we reach that goal.   

There’s a problem.  Does it ever feel like you’ve actually made it?  Or are you always left with the feeling you haven’t quite made it yet?

Scoring Goals

This is the same with golf.  Ever since I can remember keeping score, I felt like I would never be satisfied until I reached the destination, which was the next scoring goal I was up against.

The initial destination was breaking 40 for 9 holes. I made it, but it didn’t quite give me everything I was looking for.  I knew exactly why.  It was because there was a true destination that would fill me with pride and set me apart from other golfers – breaking 80.  I broke 80.  Then I broke 80 consistently.  Then I broke par for 9 holes.  Then I broke par for 18 holes.  Then I broke par for 18 holes multiple times in one year.  

As I was going on this journey, any time I didn’t get where I wanted to go, I was left making excuses to explain away my bad day.  My clubs weren’t right.  I wasn’t feeling 100%.  My swing wasn’t good enough.  I needed thicker grips.  The pace of play was slow.

The Universe is Playful

There’s a philosopher named Allan Watts who says the universe is inherently playful.  The universe isn’t going anywhere, and it doesn’t have any direct purpose.  Because of this, life is best understood by an analogy with music rather than seeing it as a journey with a destination.

If life and golf would be seen as a song, rather than a journey with a destination, it would make a big difference in how we approach our games.  In golf, we’re never satisfied when reaching our scoring goal, so maybe we shouldn’t take it so seriously. 

Playing at Golf

Over the past few years I’ve played golf with a half set of clubs, with no driver, with a persimmon driver, and with hickory shafted clubs.  I shot 6 under at Sand Valley with 6 clubs, a score I somehow know I couldn’t have come close to matching if I had a full set.  I don’t keep score every time.  My favorite way to compete is by playing matches, and my best days are usually when I know the score to the match and forget what my individual stroke play score would be.  I prefer to walk in tennis shoes.  I just got a new driver and wedges, and plan to use them in a set of 10 clubs my next time out.  

I think it’s possible to understand golf as a metaphor with music and still keep count of every stroke, keep your handicap current, and always use the maximum allowed clubs under current USGA rules each time you play.  I just think it’s a bit harder.  We end up treating golf and our games like we are a music conductor who thinks their only job is to play the piece as fast as possible.  It may be an impressive feat, but at the end you’ll be left talking about how you think you could have played a little faster rather than the beauty of the song and how it made you feel.

Andy Hayes
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  1. Another thought provoking, nice article. Keep them coming. 👍

  2. Steve Kahler

    Sounds alot what Fred Shoemaker writes about in his books. Great books on how to view your game and life in general.

  3. I agree with Bruster, this is a thought provoking article. I’ll check out your podcast. Interesting perspective.

  4. Mark Stutler

    Really appreciate how you are helping me keep this crazy game in perspective. My only guage of success and satisfaction with my day is whether I break 80. Probably not the right attitude. Thanks Andy.

  5. Thank you Andy for a wonderful and kind reminder about living well and playing happy. I have read Watts extensively in my studies of philosophy, religion and anthropology. His works help me infuse eastern philosophy into our inherently western cultural lifestyle. That is not to say they are antithetical visions for happiness, but perhaps presented differently, akin to differences of architectural and artistic emphasis. To each their own. Golf is a wonderful game that can be played by toddlers and the elderly alike. Journey does not imply a goal or end, and you wisely ask us to enjoy each note as the musical score unfolds. Much like the journey of life, one’s intention and methodology in golf dictate happiness. It is simply a privilege to play golf and it is a privilege to live well. We make our own happiness. Play golf happy, be happy

  6. Andy –
    Nice article and observations regarding golf and I agree with the thought that the Universe is God’s Lila, (Great Play), not to be taken too seriously and yet something that we must strive to do better each day.
    I became a better golfer when I moderated my expectations for results to match what I was putting into the game and enjoyed the process of improvement even when results weren’t there. I’m a much better golfer now than I was 20 years ago really because I’m a happy golfer, not because I’ve concentrated on score results or swing techniques to the point where I lose my perspective on the game or my abilities. I get a lot of satisfaction calling my shots (to myself) working the ball up/down, left/ right and making that happen even when the result is not perfect (as it often isn’t, but I’ve accomplished one process goal). I’ve realized I have a shot at par on every hole playing from the correct tees, and that wasn’t always true. There’s satisfaction in playing smart golf within ourselves.
    Scotty Scheffler touched upon the unsatisfying nature of golf right after his recent Masters victory. If someone at his skill level can say golf is inherently unsatisfying then – sorry to say- it is -and us mortals need to understand the nature of the game we all enjoy.
    I love it and can’t wait to play again soon !!

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