Most golfers will jump at any excuse to get out on the course. Charity days, for example, are quite useful – one is supporting a good cause, after all. Topping the hierarchy, though, is the corporate or sponsored day. This one, dear readers, is the crème de la crème of golf invitations. Firstly, they qualify as work. Secondly, they generally take place on a weekday. Finally, they are often held at courses that are either expensive or difficult to get onto, and the largesse extends to ‘goodie bags’.
The obligatory branded golf shirt is a necessary evil. However, one of the companies whose day I’ve been invited to several times selects top of the range gear and then brands it so discreetly that you can wear it for the rest of the year. Most considerate, wouldn’t you say?
I’ve received the expected range of golfing paraphernalia (balls, tees, pencils, pitch repair fork etc), as well as caps, shirts and kit bags. But the most unusual item I’ve ever received in a goodie bag – by a considerable distance – was a copy of the New Testament and Psalms.
I realise that I am displaying a great deal of self-centred greed in expressing dismay at this gift, but what use could a Bible possibly be in assisting me to get around a golf course in the minimum number of strokes? The Word of God may well be useful in keeping sinners on the straight and narrow, but golf balls?
Divine intervention in golf was famously invoked by Lee Trevino when he walked out onto a course during an electric storm waving a one-iron above his head, safe from a lighting strike, he said, because “not even God can hit a one-iron”.
The efficacy of handing out Bibles in the hope of achieving religious conversions is limited; I’ve heard it said that going to church no more makes one a Christian than standing in a garage makes one a motor car. Similarly, swinging a Callaway driver at a Nike golf ball, even on the revered links of St Andrews or Carnoustie, does not necessarily make one a golfer.
A golfer plays his sport bound by a long tradition of ethics and conventions, many of which are largely self-monitored. If playing the game by a set of values is what makes the golfer, then perhaps religion is not that far removed from the coda of golf.
Take, for example, the intensity of feeling around those conventions, such as holding up play, cheating, or Mulligans. These can provoke responses as potent as religious debates about ‘moral’ issues such as homosexuality or sex before marriage. To the purist, a Mulligan – whereby a dud shot is written off as if it had not happened, and a fresh one is taken – falls outside the spirit of golf.
My doubt that the New Testament could be of any assistance on a golf course was dissolved by John, chapter three, when Jesus says “no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”. What is this, I ask you, other than an instruction to take another ball out of your bag and tee it up so that you can have another go?
So, there you have it, Mulligans are sanctioned by Scripture. If it goes on like this, golf apparel will become known as vestments. Once it reaches that stage, golf can be played with a clear conscience whenever the mood arises.