Golf and the Spirit: Golf Lessons for the Journey

Golf and the Spirit: Golf Lessons for the Journey

by M. Scott Peck

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Golf and the Spirit: Golf Lessons for the Journey by M. Scott Peck

M. Scott Peck, renowned author of The Road Less Traveled, reveals how the game of golf has taught him — and can teach you — some of life's most important lessons. Whether you're a master, a beginner, or know nothing about golf and couldn't care less about it, by playing side by side with Dr. Peck on an imaginary course of his own design, you'll come to learn the rich spiritual truths the game holds. This program goes far beyond mechanics to explore deeper issues — ways of successfully managing emotional, psychological, and even spiritual aspects of this most wonderful, maddening, deflating, and inspiring game.

Here are some of the many gifts from Golf and the Spirit: appreciating that life is not linear; learning to live with anger; accepting the gift of humility; learning how to benefit from teachers and how to change deep-seated behaviors; appreciating that in weakness there is strength, and realizing that to experience the blessings of golf and life fully, one must accept the divinity that underlies all things.

Golf and the Spirit makes a unique and lasting contribution to the literature of golf and life. It is a program that goes beyond the body to address the heart and soul of the game, and will thereby transform your life — on and off the fairway.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568957517
Publisher: Cengage Gale
Publication date: 05/15/1999
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 478
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

M. Scott Peck is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including The Road Less Traveled, which has spent more than ten years of the Times list and is arguably the most influential spiritual book of modern times. He and his wife, Lily, live in northern Connecticut and have been the recipients of several awards for peacemaking.

Read an Excerpt

Golf and the Spirit

Lessons for the Journey
By M. Scott Peck

Wheeler Publishing

Copyright © 1999 M. Scott Peck
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1568957513

Chapter One

Once there was a man of limited imagination
who considered the progress of life to be straightforward.


* * *


To the proverbial man from Mars, golf would seem the most linear of all human activities. For example, it is the only common game I know where the player with the lowest score wins. The whole point, apparently, is to get the ball from here (a tee) to there (a hole in a green) as directly as possible. Generally, it is obvious that the straighter the passage of that little ball from the tee to the hole, the fewer times the player will have to hit it and, hence, the greater her or his sense of accomplishment. Then the golfer will move on to the tee of the next allotted space of terrain (or "hole") and repeat the same linear process all over again. And again. And again.

A few practicing human golfers actually do envision the game in this manner. Usually they are male. They are the "chargers." They advance directly along the course, their eyes only on the hole ahead, plowing forward with maximum speed, as if driven by amule. They are generally not having much fun. They are also often not playing very well, either.

This is because the reality--unlike the appearance--is that golf is probably the most nonlinear pastime on the face of the earth. This book is devoted to that reality. Consequently, it will be the most nonlinear book I've ever written. For those of you who have trouble tolerating anything that isn't clearly straightforward, I suggest you stop now. Throw in the towel. Quit. And don't look for much from golf.

This is not a "how to" book. You will read herein almost nothing about how to grip a golf club properly, and very little about how to swing one. Or hit from a downhill lie. Or get out of a sand trap with dignity. Moreover, my lawyers have firmly advised me not to give you any guarantee whatsoever that anything I have to say will improve your game by a single stroke.

This is a "how not to" book.

Human beings have amazingly different personalities. Why this is so--to what degree it is a fact of nature (genes) or nurture (how their parents raised them)--even as an experienced psychiatrist, I don't have the foggiest idea. In any case, certain people--like the pros--seem almost to have been born to play golf well. Others have personalities that make them bound to play the game poorly.

Learning how to play golf with the slightest decency or pleasure has been for me a continual battle against my own personality. This is what has made me an expert. I am an expert on how not to play golf.

Why, you may naturally wonder, would anyone spend an enormous amount of time and money "playing" at something he will never be very good at, something that may often be humiliating? Ah, there you have it. The answer is in the question: I play golf precisely because it is humiliating. While I don't enjoy being humiliated, I do need it.

There's another word for what golfers go through that's even stronger than humiliation: mortification. It is derived from mors, the Latin word for "death," as is the term mortician for "undertaker." To be mortified is to feel so humiliated that you would rather bury yourself deep in the nearest sand trap than ever show your face on a golf course again.

In the good (or not so good) old days, certain Roman Catholic monks and nuns and a few others used to practice mortification as a discipline. They defined it as the discipline of "daily dying." Some of their techniques, such as wearing hair shirts, self-flagellation, and floor licking, were indeed masochistic. Yet I believe they were onto something--something we have generally forgotten but still very much need.

They practiced mortification deliberately in order to learn humility. Another word in theology gets more to the heart of the matter: kenosis. Kenosis is defined as "the process of the self emptying itself of self." In doing battle on the golf course against my own personality--against my ego, if you will--I am attempting to practice kenosis: getting myself out of my own way. It is what spiritual growth is all about.

In this book there will eventually be much more about kenosis, this struggle of self against self. For the moment let it suffice to say that, among other reasons, I play golf because it is for me a highly useful spiritual discipline. Indeed, given the fact that it is so humiliating, I doubt I could play it at all unless I envisioned it as a spiritual discipline. And I am suggesting that you too might want to regard the game in this light.

So what you have here from me is yet one more "spiritual growth" book.

And while there are no guarantees, reading it might just enable you to take a dozen strokes or more off your score. Or at least persist in your attempt to do so. And for some of you, even to take up the game as a beginner.

What's so wrong with my personality that I need to empty myself of parts of it? My anger, just for starters. I am a very determined person. That's not all to the bad, but I tend to get very angry when things don't go just my way. Things like golf balls. Or family life. Ask Lily, my wife, or my children, and they will tell you that while I am generally a reasonable man, on occasion I get unreasonably angry at home as well as on the golf course. And that's when I start to blow it.

For much of my life, I have wanted to design a golf course, and I am profoundly grateful to my editor for finally giving me the opportunity to do so. It is partly the job of a good designer to make his courses "challenging" to a greater or lesser degree. The fact that I have sometimes experienced the challenges to be humiliating does not necessarily mean that golf course designers are sadists or bullies. Or that getting back at them has been my motivation for designing the course herein.

My primary intent has been to accurately convey reality as I see it. For instance, were I to lecture an audience about the geology of Malaysia, there would be something unreal--and likely boring--about it if I did not bring along some maps and pictures. Or take the example of a mystery novel. Being fiction, it is not real in a sense, but the more colorful details the author can include, the more real it will seem to the reader. Indeed, a characteristic of good novels is their ability to involve the reader so that she feels herself to be an actual participant in the drama. So it is with this book. It is structured around a fictional golf course because I want you to participate. Imagine yourself into it as a participant on each specific hole.

Designing the course herein has been a rare personal opportunity because it came without responsibility. I have no responsibility for hiring bulldozers to shape the land. I don't have to learn about the different types of grass that grow in particular climates, to create tees and roughs and fairways and greens that actually work. Nor do I have to maintain them. This will be purely a golf course on paper.

Yet a golf course on paper is hardly real. You may have played on the more elegant courses where, when you pay your greens fees, they give you a two-dimensional map of the course. Invariably, no matter how elaborate, the map has relatively little relationship to reality. Golf is at least nine-dimensional.

However, in order to help as much as possible, I have once again called upon my son, Christopher, the only great visual artist I personally know, for his assistance. Not even the greatest of artists can capture a golf course, but his illustrations have provided a partial, more multidimensional view of every hole or its subject to help our imaginary course come to life.

One can construct a golf course virtually anywhere there is land. The easiest--and hence cheapest--way to do so is on about fifty acres of flat terrain with enough of a water supply to grow grass. Separate the eighteen holes (the standard number) by a single row of trees, keep some of the grass mowed (preferably at variable lengths), and voila: You have a golf course!

Such courses need not be particularly aesthetic, and indeed the majority of them aren't. This is not to be decried. They are likely inexpensive and nearby. They are perfectly fine places to begin to learn the game. And if you don't have gobs of money and you do have good golfing companions, they can provide you with a lifetime of fulfillment.

In spots of great natural beauty, the owners have constructed golf courses to make maximum use of that beauty, carving them out of the land. These courses are usually in resorts and have been built at enormous expense with amazing ingenuity. Here playing golf is truly an aesthetic experience. The holes have been deliberately designed to be gorgeous and otherwise interesting (for interesting, read "challenging"; for challenging, read "nearly impossible to score well").

Needless to say, having the opportunity, I have designed my imaginary course to be one of this beautiful variety. I have chosen to locate it on a mythical tropical island we shall call Exotica. Islands tend to have the most varied landscapes, and I made Exotica a tropical island because I have a thing about coconut palms.

We need not concern ourselves with the grand Exotica Resort Hotel overlooking the ocean, save to know that every five minutes a van takes guests for the one-mile trip to the Exotica Golf and Tennis Club. The club sits a half mile inland at the base of Mount Intrepid, a thousand-foot-high, hopefully extinct volcano. Its tennis courts are of no consequence whatsoever. Once you've seen one tennis court, you've seen them all.

Now to the first hole.

From the map you will see it begins with three tiny squares. These designate the tees. Tees are, in fact, more or less square--little flat areas of well-mown grass from which one hits his or her first shot of the hole. It is the only place on a hole where one is allowed to tee up, or raise the ball an inch or so off the ground on a tiny sort of twig of wood or plastic. Supposedly this elevation of the ball allows one to hit it better. In any case, hitting the ball from the tee, particularly the tee of the first hole, is referred to as teeing off.

The first of these three tees (the one farthest from the hole) is usually designated by blue markers. They signify "expert." Blue tees are used only by male professionals, by men reasonably close to being professionals, or by macho types with delusions of grandeur. We will never mention the blue tees again.

The middle tee is usually designated by white markers and is the one customarily used by normal male players.

The tee farthest in front (and closest to the hole) is usually designated by red markers. It is called the "ladies' tee" because it can be legally used only by the female of the species. Depending upon the nature of the hole and the chivalry of the course designer, using the red tees may give a player an absolutely extraordinary advantage.

At the opposite end of the hole from the tee is the green. Unlike tees, the shape and size of greens is extremely variable. Although this variability may often be of considerable consequence, it cannot be captured on a map. So all map greens will simply be designated by a circle.

The grass of greens is usually of a different genus from that of tees or fairways and is invariably cut much shorter. In fact, the grass of many greens (unless we are speaking of golf courses in Arabia, where the "greens" may be pounded sand) is so short and smooth that their surface is almost as hard and fast as that of a bowling alley. Relatively speaking, however, bowling alleys are a snap because they are flat. Greens may be flat; they also may not be. Try bowling on an alley that undulates this way and that!

Somewhere in the green there is a hole (where exactly can vary from day to day depending upon the whims of those who go about maintaining golf courses at dawn). In size the hole is approximately two and a half times the diameter of a golf ball. The course from the tee to its hole is called a hole because the point of the game is to get the ball from the tee into this minuscule hole. Hole is a proper term. It can suggest the pits of hell. Sometimes it is euphemistically called a cup, as if to imply that it is a feminine, nurturing sort of spot. It is not. But then one of the underlying reasons for this book is the profound tendency of golf to mimic life, and some will recall that the author began his first book, The Road Less Traveled, with the sentence "Life is difficult."

Between the tee and the green lies an expanse of terrain of two types. One, composed of short grass like that of a tee, is called the fairway. The other type is called the rough. A point of golf is to try to keep your ball in the fairway. It is very nice. But since this is a book primarily about how not to play golf, we shall generally be speaking more about the rough.

As far as the rough is concerned, the word's origin seems clear: It is rough. As in the rough spots of life. Sometimes impossible. There are two distinct types of rough. One consists of grass mown higher than that of greens and fairways: perhaps three inches high. This rough is not easy to hit out of, but it is possible. The other type of rough may consist of anything: forest, jungle, cactuses, high hayfields, and salt marshes. If you can even find your ball in this kind of rough, you are theoretically allowed to try and hit it. I advise you not to, however. I advise you not to look for it in the first place. Take your prescribed penalty like a man. Better yet, like a woman, since women tend to be better at handling this sort of emotional stress.

On this first hole the designated rough to the left is a meandering salt marsh. The rough to the right consists of tropical pine trees and the houses of local landowners. Every ten yards along its edge there are white stakes, signifying that this rough is out of bounds. What this means is that you are not even allowed to hit your ball out of it. You must take your penalty whether you like it or not.

From the center, white-marked tee in an exactly straight line to the middle of the green of our first hole, it is precisely 401 yards. This means that it is a par-4 hole. It also means we must begin to speak about the deep, mystical subject of par.

The concept of par in golf is based upon certain wild assumptions. One of these assumptions is that after your ball has landed on the green, no more than two taps (with a club called a putter) should be required for you to knock it into the cup. The other wild assumption is the number of times (or strokes) one needs to hit the ball from the tee for it to land on the green. Not even a pro can drive 400 yards from the tee. On a hole of medium length, like this one, it is assumed you should be able to get your ball to the green by hitting it no more than twice, designating it as a par 4. On a "short" hole it is assumed you should be able to reach the green with a single stroke, making it a par 3. Long holes are par 5's.

The word par was in use in the English language long before golf was ever invented. It was taken directly from the Latin word meaning "equal." It generally came to mean a standard of measure of equality, and golfers adopted it as a standard measure of their courses.

No expression from golf has become so deeply embedded in our everyday language as "par for the course." This expression is routinely used by people who have never been near a golf course and know nothing of the game. When they say, "Well, that's par for the course," what they generally mean is, "Well, that's to be expected." It has come to connote what's average or roughly equal to the average. As such, it is the most deceptive and fallacious expression in existence.

Let us talk about the truth. About reality. I would guess that approximately forty million people around the globe routinely play golf. I would further estimate that no more than ten thousand of them are capable of scoring par on the average. What this means, if my statistics are roughly correct, is that at best one regular player out of four thousand is a par golfer. In other words, over 99.9 percent of players are incapable of shooting par golf.

"Par for the course" should be reserved for almost outrageous good fortune, for the blatantly unequal, for performance beyond superior, for competence that is virtually superhuman.

So I would advise you to forget about par.

Only, the bastards won't let you. It is usually posted at every tee. It is plastered over every scorecard. And every golfer you meet will intone the word with reverence. So, far from being able to forget about par, you will dream of it, in daily reverie and when you are asleep. But I warn you: In the battle of self against self that is golf, you will likely find your greatest enemy to be your own enamorment with par. Your enamorment with score and superior performance. It will be one of your demons. You will need, as we shall repeatedly see, to practice kenosis, to empty yourself of this enamorment--if you can.

Although there are some variations, the standard first nine holes of a golf course (the front nine) contain two par-3 holes, five par-4 holes, and two par-5 holes. The same is true for the next nine holes (the back nine). Thus the standard eighteen-hole golf course is approximately seven thousand yards long and is a par 72. You will see from the scorecard preceding this chapter that Exotica is a standard course according to such dimensions. As we proceed, however, you will find it to have some most unique features.

You will also perceive a certain difference in tone between our discussions of the front nine and the back nine. On the front nine my focus will be primarily--although not exclusively--upon the more physical and external challenges of golf. But on the back nine my consideration will increasingly turn to the more internal, psychological, and spiritual challenges of the game.

Throughout, however, the major theme will be golf as a learning experience, with enormous potential for facilitating one's spiritual growth.

Back to this first "starting" hole. And to a bit more about deception.

There is no tradition to designing first holes. But many golf course designers harbor, like magicians, a desire to deceive with illusion. And they are not unlikely to work out this desire from the start.

For instance, one of the most difficult courses I know begins with a 320-yard par 4. The flat fairway is wide at the tee and gets even wider the closer it comes to the flat green. The hole's only hazard is a small sand trap behind the green, which means the only way one can get in the slightest trouble is by overhitting. Even I can par it almost half the time. It is probably the easiest hole I have ever played. But each successive hole gets more difficult. The eighteenth is a nightmare. The best score I ever had on the course--on Christmas Day, during a fourteenday vacation, praise the Lord--was 95: a mere 23 over par.

Each day I played the course, the more obvious it was that its opening hole had been designed to suck me in, to deceive me with the illusion that the course would be easy.

I've proposed that the greatest illusion in golf is that it is a linear game. Consequently, I've designed our opening hole here to foster that illusion. The line from the tee to the green is as straight as an arrow. To reinforce the illusion of linearity, I have deliberately bordered the tees in a straight, narrow avenue of "Australian pines" (wispy casuarina trees native to the tropics). Christopher has contributed to this deception by drawing his illustration from behind the white tee, making the hole look as simply straightforward as the Champs-Elysees.

It is not, however, an easy hole. Indeed, it is quite difficult precisely because of its linearity.

First of all, there is this narrow little avenue of pines. If you do not hit your tee shot, or drive, dead straight out of the avenue, your ball will go crashing into pine branches or thud against one of their trunks. The result may well be that your first shot will end up behind the tee. Worse yet, it may end up at the foot of one of the tree trunks in such a manner that you will have to hit your second shot backward so that it lands behind the tee--or else take a penalty stroke.

But let's assume that your drive whips directly ahead and the ball begins to sail out over the fairway. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean that it will land in the fairway since, in its deceptive straightness, this particular fairway is quite narrow. But why? Why won't your straightly hit ball inevitably end up on the fairway to which the avenue of pines gives way?

The answer is a phenomenon called slices or hooks. It is somewhere between possible, common, probable, and inevitable that a golfer will swing the club on a long shot in such a way that he hits the ball straight but not squarely. The effect of this is to give the ball a spin that demonstrates the most extraordinary aerodynamics. When it happens, the ball will sail straight ahead and then, at its apogee over the fairway, veer as much as 90 degrees right or left. Someone who has not directly observed this phenomenon will find it hard to believe.

When the ball of a right-handed hitter turns left in midair, it is called a hook. If the player hooks on this particular hole, her ball will go plop into the salt marsh. If the ball turns to the right, it is called a slice. A slice here means that the ball will land out of bounds among the houses. Or on top of one of the houses. Or through a window. One waits with trepidation for the sound of shattered glass.

There are a host of reasons that a golfer may hook or slice a shot. In each case he is doing something wrong, making a type of mistake. The mistake may be in the way he is gripping his club, the placement of his feet, the nature of his backswing or his follow-through, or a combination thereof. Such mistakes that put an unwanted spin on the ball are often subtle. The subject is complex and belongs in the category I would call the "technology" of golf. It is properly addressed in "how to" books and not in this "how not to" book, which is based more upon my professional psychiatric expertise and therefore is focused primarily upon emotional mistakes. If you have a repetitive slice or hook, as is so often the case, I can only advise you to repair to one of the many technical "how to" books on the subject written by a golf professional or to one such professional himself.

In emphasizing the linearity of this hole, I have quite deliberately created another major problem for the golfer. You will note on the map that two large white globs protrude into each side of the fairway between 210 and 260 yards from the tee. These represent sand traps. For the moment, let's just say that it is not good when your ball lands in a sand trap.

You can see that the effect of these sand traps is to make an already-narrow fairway even more so at this point, reducing it from 25 yards in width to 15. Fifteen yards is not wide. My wife and I refer to such delicate passageways between sand traps or other hazards as "narrows." Narrows are fine places to build bridges over (as in the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn with Staten Island in New York City). For golfers, however, they are not fine places--particularly as they are situated on this hole. Let me explain why.

Using his longest-hitting club (called a driver), the average good male player will usually drive his ball somewhere between 210 and 260 yards from the tee. A great player can routinely drive well over 260 yards, so for him the narrows on this hole will not pose a problem. It is also not a problem for me. Because of my bad back, I can't hit any ball farther than 200 yards. But I have deliberately created a dilemma for the average good player.

He has two options. One is to hit all out in the hope that his ball will land in the fairway of the narrows and bounce straight. Perhaps half the time his hope will be fulfilled. But at least half the time it won't. His ball will either land directly in one of the sand traps or bounce in. So it is a high-risk option.

The low-risk option is to lay up--a term for deliberately hitting short, in this case approximately 190 yards from the tee. He will then have a longer but quite safe shot to the green. It is probable that he will score better than the player who hit all out.

Since golfers are obsessed with scoring well, you would think that the majority of them would take this low-risk option. Not so. Male golfers, generally obsessed by distance and length (sound familiar?), love to go all out and hate self-restriction. It is possible this book may eventually teach us, gentlemen, a bit about nurturing our feminine side--an aspect of our personalities that can forget about par and performance upon occasion, that can accept some limitations; a side that is not so obsessed with linearity as to prevent some sniffing of the flowers. In recent years I have learned a bit about this myself. Certainly it has not hurt my score and has improved my enjoyment of the game. Nowadays it is pure fun for me to simply be out on a golf course at all.

After God-knows-how-many strokes and penalties, we have finally arrived at an easy green and pull out our putters. Enough said for the present. Our big troubles are over. But how did we get here in the first place? I don't mean strokes. I don't mean by van from the Exotica Resort Hotel. I mean, how did we ever get on any golf course? How and why did we ever first start playing the least linear, most convoluted, frustrating, and challenging sport on the face of the earth? This question we will ponder as we proceed to the second hole and tee off toward the ocean over some very different terrain. One of the almost innumerable virtues of golf is that its transitions between holes can provide us--if we let them--with a little time and focus for contemplation of the Important.


Excerpted from Golf and the Spirit by M. Scott Peck Copyright © 1999 by M. Scott Peck. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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