By Tony Hooker
In 1425, on a beach near Edinburgh, Alistair Macdonald became so enraged at duck hooking his pebble into the Firth of Forth that he snapped his wooden “kolf” in half over his knee, thus becoming the first person known to have lost his temper while playing a game of golf, as we know it today.
Although Mr. MacDonald is, as far as I know, a strictly fictional character that I just made up, anyone who has played the deliciously frustrating yet rewarding game knows exactly the feeling that he expressed. It’s been said that golf is nothing but a “good walk, spoiled,” and having retaken up the game during the dark days of the pandemic after a two-decade layoff, I can sometimes relate.
According to an online article on azpbs.org, I’m not the only one who revisited the game during the Covid shutdown. Between 2003 and 2018, the number of golfers in the US declined by 6.8 million. During this same time frame, over 1200 courses closed, and the game’s movers and shakers worried about the future of the game.
And then, the pandemic happened. After being basically shut in at first, people were gradually encouraged to partake in outdoor activities and golf was a perfect fit, with its small social gathering size and laid-back outdoor appeal. According to the national golf foundation, the number of rounds played increased by 56.2 percent between November, 2019 and November 2020. Locally, the biggest traffic jam in Douglas County can be found at the first tee at Tri City Country Club on Tuesday night around 5 p.m. That’s men’s league night, and over 40 teams are now competing, which is nearly double the number from a few years ago.
What is it about the game that so many find enticing? For the greatest majority, it’s the spirit of competition. Against others, to be sure, but mostly against oneself. We remember the good shots we make, especially in my case because they’re so rare, but we also remember and try to learn from the bad ones. There is also the appeal of being in the great outdoors. Right here in the river city, I personally have seen an Eagle, several Great Blue Herons, many deer and two cute baby woodchucks in addition to scores of songbirds and more squirrels than I can count over the past two months. I like to get out on the course early because my game doesn’t need to be seen by other human eyes, but also because I can get my steps in early and get on with my day. A few Sundays ago, I topped the rise on #1, only to see two deer standing on the first green. I figure that they knew that was the safest place to be since my shot probably wasn’t going to end up anywhere near the hole. They eventually trotted off across the course, headed for points south, and allowed me to continue my game.
It’s funny, but because I’m not very good, my expectations aren’t as high, and I think that the Zen moments I am experiencing on the course are helping me find a bit more peace in everyday life. I still get frustrated sometimes when I hit a bad shot, but most of that frustration is tempered by my enjoyment of my surroundings. I hope that everyone can find a happy place like that for themselves. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Embarras River, while not as big as the Firth of Forth, is beckoning my tee shot on number 2.