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Finding poetry in golf

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Relax, friends. This article is not one more attempt to try to convince you to love poetry. It is about perspective.

One of the best things about being a super-senior golfer is that we have “perspective.” That may only be a nice way of saying that we can remember golf shots from July 6, 1978, but can’t remember where we put our car keys last night. I prefer to think of perspective as the ability our experience gives us to see golf as the historical, sociological and even literary phenomenon that it is.

For younger golfers, the sport is the round they played last weekend. For super seniors, golf is what we have done every weekend all our long, long, long lives. (I could add another long here but I think you get the idea.) This long association can’t help but lead super seniors to ask questions that youngsters don’t think to ask or maybe don’t have the time to ask. For example, consider the question: what do we love about golf?

Super seniors love to get the competitive juices flowing, just like we always have. We play golf against each other. Look at any men’s club. There will be a large percentage of the group who will be in our age group. It’s fun to beat people our own age. But isn’t the highlight of your week when you take a buck or two from the flat-bellies that hit the ball a mile but can’t sink a putt?

We play golf against the course. Even if we have played the same course every week for 20 years, we can always find some view of a hole that we have never seen before. (Most of my “new views” unfortunately seem to be the ones I find from behind an old tree after an errant shot.) Golf courses have a way of making our lives exciting. There are times that you would swear that a really good course is a living creature, changing and morphing into a new place bent on pushing and challenging us to hit a new shot or forcing us to remember how we miss-hit an old one.

We play golf against ourselves. The mystery that is golf manifests itself when we have to reach into parts of our minds and bodies, to find strength we didn’t know we had, and to fight through body parts we know we have but would rather forget because they don’t work as well as they used to. This constant battle between our physical strengths, weakness and the subtleties of the golf swing keep golf a fresh challenge even if we are playing as a single, without any competition except ourselves.

And we love the opportunity golf affords us to find beauty. For super seniors, the perspective we have developed allows us to see beauty on a very different level than we saw it in our youth. We see that beauty in the friendships we have nurtured over the years with our favorite foursomes. We see the beauty of the game itself, in the challenges it presents to us. We see the beauty of the well-made swing. We see the beauty in the equipment we use. And it goes without saying that on the courses we play, we see the beauty that nature presents to us on some of the most beautiful places in the world.

All of the things we love about golf should make it an ideal subject for literature. Literature adds a context to our understanding of golf and what it means to be a golfer. Golf has been a subject of interest for both fiction and non-fiction prose for many years. Golf books line the walls of many of our “man caves” (and the female equivalent). But for reasons I can only speculate about, there are comparatively few serious works of poetry about golf.

I hold myself very fortunate to be among those who love both golf and poetry. The comparative lack of golf poetry is very disappointing but to some extent understandable. I understand why most people could not care less about poetry. Like golf, I know that poetry is a difficult thing to love. Most people have a track record with poetry going back to their youngest educational experiences. They may have been forced to memorize a poem for a grade-school class. In high school, they went through the process of scanning for rhyme and metric patterns. In college, they fought their way through the obscure references and archaic language in poems that had little or no apparent relevance to what career they were really interested in.

While this article isn’t an attempt to coerce anyone into suddenly developing the kind of love for poetry that I have, there are striking parallels between golf and poetry that do make the lack of golf poetry puzzling. I am hopeful that these commonalities might be interesting to super senior golfers. After all, our status gives us the perspective to explore such things.

What are the parallels? Here are a few that I have found. For example, don’t most people have strong feelings about golf like most people have strong feelings about poetry? These critics are often not satisfied with ignoring both golf and poetry. Many people cultivate an active dislike bordering on prejudice against them.

Why do people have such strong feelings again poetry and golf? Some of their objections are actually based on the same misconceptions. Many people see both golf and poetry as elitist. Poetry is for the intellectual snob, they will tell you. And many people will tell you that golf is the sport of the economic and cultural privileged only.

Both golf and poetry can be frustrating to those who need a black-and-white finality in their lives. Great poetry can never be totally understood. A poem’s “meaning” may be obscure or multidimensional. It may even change over time. There is no right or wrong to a poem’s meaning. This lack of finality can drive some people crazy.

Our sport can drive people crazy for a similar lack of finality. Golf can never be mastered, only approached. Golf is a sport that cannot be truly dominated, even by the greatest golfers who ever lived. Golf is never “over.”

Given the commonalities between golf and poetry, it seems logical then that there must be at least a few great poems about golf. Being the inquisitive sort, I decided to find a few examples. In my search, I guess I wasn’t surprised to discover no shortage of golf limericks. I also found silly rhymes that hardly deserve to pass as poetry. But what of the kind of poetry Robert Frost described as “begin[ning] as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness”?

Golf Bridge

I’ve found that that caliber of golf poem is hard to find. And when you do find one, it is a treasure that would be worth sharing. One recent find is just such a treasure. It’s a very short but poignant poem called “A Bridge to Sunset” by Aldo Kraas. It speaks to super-senior golfers because of what I see is its themes: the timelessness of golf, the fellowship we find in the sport, and why golf remains so central to our lives, even as our skills decline.

A Bridge to Sunset
The bridge to sunset
Is located inside a beautiful golf course
And the man I know goes golfing every weekend
With his friends

Super-senior golfers can see the first glimpses of sunset on the horizon. My favorite time to be on the golf course is the evening. Thankfully, my love of golf at sunset isn’t shared by everyone. At sunset, there are some days when I am literally the only person on the course. It’s the time the world of golf finally operates at my speed. I have trouble walking these days so my speed is slow. At sunset, there is no pressure to move along. I can take my time and stop when I need to stop. I don’t have to be “guilted” into using a cart. I can tote a few clubs in my old carry bag again. I can hear the wind and visit with the geese. I can watch the muskrats get ready for nightfall. We have hawks on our course. At sunset I can watch them swoop and soar, dive and snatch a mouse for an evening snack.

Sunset also represents the coming end of my days. Fortunately that time isn’t exactly near, but it is nearer than it ever has been. At sunset on the course, I remember people I once knew who have walked into the sunset. I remember my dad who taught me the game and with whom I spent many wonderful late evenings on the course. I think about my uncles who played the game with vigor if not with skill. Sunset makes me think about those golfers who walked these same fairways, who laughed and struggled with the game during their days. In the quiet of sunset, I can almost hear their voices. You can hear them too at sunset, if you listen.

The poet’s imagery of the bridge is important to golfers but even more so to super-seniors. One of the most enduring images many of us have is Arnie, Jack and Tom crossing the Swilken Bridge at Saint Andrews — the symbolic crossing-over from being a competitor to being a legend. Most courses have less famous bridges but bridges that we know we will someday cross for the last time. Every time we cross them, even if we don’t think of the final crossing we‘ll all make one day, we know we are moving towards new stages of life.

The last line of the poem speaks of importance golfers attach to our friendships. Golfers collect friends. Our golfing buddies are sometimes our closest friends. They are people we see rain or shine, in the heat and cold, year in and year out. We may not know their children’s names. We may not even know if they have children. We may not know whether they are married, divorced, gay, straight, homeless or wealthy. We may not know what they do for a living, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, Methodists, Marxists, Martians or Free Masons.

This is an aspect of golf that most non-golfers cannot understand. My wife thinks it’s amazing beyond words when I don’t have any idea that one of my golfing buddies is dating one of her friends, has lost his job or is being promoted to be president of the bank. We don’t share those things. We share golf. And in sharing golf, we share something much more profound than who they are. We know “who they are.”

I know if they are dependable or lazy, if they are patient or a “foot-tapper” and if they are honorable or a cheat. I know if they make me feel better after a bad shot, whether they need to laugh or to be left to fight whatever battle they need to fight alone. I know if they pay their debts. I know if they are easily distracted. I know if I like them enough to spend four or five hours sitting next to them in a golf cart and not have to explain to them why I like poetry.

These are the people I am growing old with or, in the imagery of the poem, they are the people I am crossing the bridge with. We built the bridge, brick by brick, week after week, year after year. I will see them cross over that bridge at their last sunset. They will see me do the same in mine. I will miss them when they are gone over that bridge. I hope it’s their voices I hear in those beautiful sunset times when hawks swoop and the muskrats dive deep into their ponds.

Those voices that I hear sound very happy that they were golfers. I am very happy I am a golfer who loves poetry.

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Besides being married to the same wonderful woman for more than 40 years, father to two great kids and grandfather to 2.5-plus more, I am a dedicated, life-long golfer. My life's work is being an associate professor of accountancy at a fine midwestern, Catholic university, Newman University in Wichita, Kan. In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I am the academic mentor for the Newman Jet's men's basketball and women's golf teams. Some of most joyful activities also involve writing and reading. GolfWRX has given me incredible opportunities to live out a fantasy that I could never have dreamed of. Because of GolfWRX, I am able to do both about golf, my favorite subject. For that, I give my thanks to Richard, Ryan, Zak and all my teammates at GolfWRX.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Charles

    Jun 11, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece. How about:

    Breathe there a man with soul so dead,
    That never to himself hath said,
    ‘This is my own, my native track’
    Whole heart has ne’er within him burned
    As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
    From playing foreign tees, at back.
    etc etc

    I picked up the game at 50, ten years ago, and it took a while for me to see the poetic side …. but I have it now.

  2. Sean

    Jun 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Well done George. I picked up the game at 50 and have found there is much more to this game than the game.

  3. yo!

    Jun 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Cigar and single malt scotch … good excuse to play golf, or not …

  4. Martin

    Jun 6, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Wonderful article! I started playing golf again five years ago, after ten years away from golf. I am not a senior, I am in my early forties. Since I started again I have been struggling with my game, I was a steady four index when I stopped playing. But I keep on chipping, pitching, putting, hitting balls on the range and of course walking the course and I am really enjoying it. Often I have been thinking that its just like poetry, which I am a big fan of. Lines from poems I like sometimes pop up in my head when I am on the course or lines from movies or novels. I have tried to talk about this with friends I am playing with, but I notice that most of them dont see it that way. I can play with two friends, and they both shoot mid eighties and I shoot mid nineties, but I can clearly see that I am enjoying myself more on the course then they do, because my poetic approach to golf… And this approach will eventually let me hit more scores in the seventies again. But thats just one aspect of the game. The poetic approach involves so much more than scoring.

  5. Garrett Scott

    Jun 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Well done George, I am proud to count you as one of my golf friends and one who like you will cross over that bridge some day, hopefully not in the near future. I know my time on the course and in life will be better because of time spent with friends like you.

  6. Asleep

    Jun 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Nicely done All i got.

    The game exposes me —
    My swing, like a haiku, is
    Short and without rhyme.

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