The evil of golf

golf2[G]olf is not in any meaningful sense a sport, and golfers are not in any meaningful sense athletes (that is why they almost never really have to retire). It is true that to play the game at the highest levels requires skills that few persons could hope to attain. But the difficulty inherent in any given activity is not an index of that activity’s value or creditability. Indeed, the more difficult an intrinsically worthless pursuit is, the more morally lamentable it becomes. If anything, the extraordinary effort required to master the game of golf is its most damning feature.

More importantly, though, golf is utterly “utterly” devoid of all the virtues of genuine sport. There is nothing daring, sudden, inspired, or splendid in the game. It is not a game of strategy, as are the best team sports (baseball supremely), except in the trivial sense that a golfer has to think about how to make each shot. Agility, speed, and strength are largely absent from the field; there are no moments of sublime physical artistry or fortuitous grace, no grand displays of heedless courage, no astonishing instances of the triumph of spirit over the limits of the flesh. Golf requires amazing physical precision, of course, but of so absolutely inconsequential a kind that it can scarcely be regarded as anything more than a laboriously acquired daintiness.

Moreover, unless one is cursed with a peculiarly morbid sensibility, and so can be excited by occasional changes of lead on the course, it is impossible to find any drama in the game: there are no great contests of will, no hopeless struggles, no breathtaking peripeties, no advances and retreats, no amazing or heartbreaking last acts. (“Oh, yes there are!” the querulous golf enthusiast will protest, but he can be silenced with a threatening glare.)

And, of course, whereas a professional sports franchise represents a local population, and is therefore an essential part of the fabric of community “a source of common aspiration, of festivity, of shared leisure, of fellowship in triumph and defeat, of celebration and mourning” a golfer represents only himself. And, quite unlike athletes in genuine individual sports, such as track and field, a golfer is engaged in a form of activity that does not test the limits of the body’s native powers or gloriously reveal the heights of perfection to which human movement can be brought, but only demonstrates how grotesquely hypertrophied a pathologically odd behavior can become when the person who suffers from it neglects just about everything else in life.

All of which is only to say “as if we needed to say it” that professional golf is essentially evil. I use the word here in its venerable Platonic and Christian metaphysical sense. If evil is, of its nature, a privation of the good “a steresis agathou or privatio boni” lacking any substance of its own, but subsisting solely as a kind of umbratilous negation of the real, then professional golf, by virtue of its complete lack of any of the good things proper to true sport, must be accounted the “ideal” embodiment of evil in matters athletic: it is the malum in athleticis , the perfect reverse image of all that is wholesome and ennobling in sport, the shadow produced when the light of the good is thwarted by the perversity of human will, an artifact of depraved desire. It is an absolute wickedness, and we must hate it absolutely.

David Bentley Hart (First Things, 2011)

2 comments on “The evil of golf

  1. Tom says:

    The picture is not quite representative of Hart’s comments, but I couldn’t help but connect the evil of one to the evil of the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      I actually love playing golf. Hate watching it though. But it has parallels to real life – you have to live with the consequences of your play, you have to play within the circumstances of your choices, focus on a goal, avoid obstacles, etc.


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