Australia has one of the best golf cultures in the world and, for the most part, an approach to the game that is the envy of many outside these shores.
The game is cheap, is still predominantly a walking game and our best courses are generally maintained in a condition that is ideal for the playing of interesting and challenging golf.
But one area where we let ourselves down in Australia is our obsession with competition golf – to the exclusion of almost all other forms of the game.
On any given day in any capital city there are dozens of clubs hosting competitions and, for many golfers, the thought of teeing up without amassing a stableford score is unthinkable. Quite simply, no comp equals no golf.
But we miss out on so much when the focus is narrowed to merely the stroke index of a hole and our stableford score in relation to it.
Shots are something that can be counted, certainly, but they can also be savoured.
The tee shot on the Road Hole on the Old Course counts for only one stroke but the satisfaction of watching the ball fly over the ‘O’ in Hotel and finding the fairway can’t be calculated.
Nor the second shot to the flag when it is tucked behind the famous, devilish pit that fronts the green and – by its mere presence – brings into play the road and wall behind the putting surface.
To hit the perfect shot there, to turn the ball over and run it up the ridge at the front of the green and on to the flag hidden beyond, is something a golfer will remember for life.
(Not that I have ever done any of these things, mind you, but one can imagine.)
The four a three that results from these heroics is lost in a sea of other bland numbers on a score card. But the memory of that ball in motion? Surely that never leaves the memory bank of any golfer who witnessed it.
“One area where we let ourselves down in Australia is our obsession with competition golf – to the exclusion of almost all other forms of the game.”
A recent trip to Barnbougle Dunes highlighted again how the ever-present card and pencil mindset can rob golfers of some of the basic pleasures of the game, often without them even realising it.
Among the travelling group were several golfers whose main interest was in the architecture of those two beguiling layouts that look out over Bass Strait.
For them, the strategy required to avoid the imposing bunkers and hit approach shots into the most favourable places stimulated the imagination and exercised the brain in the most primal of ways.
For these players much of the pleasure was to be found not so much in the playing of the holes but in the several minutes of chipping and putting around the green after the hole had been ‘completed’.
To hit multiple putts to different high points beyond the flag and see if the ball would feed back into the hole.
The pleasure gained when success is achieved in this particular mini-game can only be described as child-like.
For others in the group, however, there was much less of this natural curiosity or desire to explore the bold options on offer.
For them, the pleasure was in the competition among friends and the courses themselves, in a peculiar way, played a secondary role.
There is nothing wrong with competition, of course, and it will always be central to the game here and elsewhere.
But sometimes the real joy of golf isn’t in the winning and losing but in simply playing the game. And it would serve us all well as golfers to make more of an effort to remember that.
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, iSeekGolf, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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