Golf Lessons

(First published in Bnai Yeshurun’s “Kehilatenu”)

I don’t play golf. I once played a full eighteen holes with my late father-in-law, which was certainly a great bonding experience but left me wondering why otherwise sane adults were chasing a little white ball across the countryside – and in the brutal summer heat of Florida, no less. That question has never been answered to my satisfaction. I also realized my handicap was driving and putting. (I felt more comfortable tossing the ball in the air and swinging at it baseball style, and also made better contact.)

Nonetheless, my respect for golf, and golfers and at least one particular golf club have grown immensely, leading me to believe that there is much we can learn from golf about life, sanctity of place and respect for others.

One of our swinging members (that’s golf) was a guest recently at a fancy club and showed me their rules, and golfers take their rules VERY seriously. For example, all club members are immediately apprised of the cell phone policy, which reads, in part: “Cell phones…shall be placed on “vibrate” or “silent” setting while on Club property.” (Note that Club is capitalized.) Obviously, it is considered uncouth to have one’s phone ringing on Club property; such could, Heaven forefend, interfere with a drive or a putt, with the unfortunate consequence of costing someone a stroke at a crucial point in the round. Can’t have that happen!

It is not only the ringing of the phone that disturbs fellow players and has been banned from the Club; it is also talking. You want to talk? Such is allowed in “Parking lots; Pool area (excluding dining and tennis viewing areas); Clubhouse restrooms; Locker rooms excluding common sitting and dining areas)…”  You get the point. This club (sorry, Club) takes its decorum very seriously.

There are places on the grounds where you can discretely text. “However, members are expected to ensure that such use does not infringe upon other members and guests. Such infringement would include distractions from dining, recreational activities, or affecting the golf pace of play.”

This is a Club that knows its purpose in the world, treats its hallowed grounds with dignity and its members with respect.

If the restrictive cell phone use wasn’t enough, the dress code strikes one at first as quite starchy:

When visiting the Club, members and guests will be expected to dress, at all times, in a refined and appropriate manner… Attire and personal appearance shall be in good taste and mindful of the Club’s traditional atmosphere. Excessively revealing clothing which might be offensive to other members or guests is not permitted. The Club strives for a refined and elegant appearance at all times.

Since what is construed as “refined and appropriate” dress cannot be left to the whims of individual members, certainly not these days, the guidelines are quite detailed. For men: “Business attire is always appropriate including Sports jackets, slacks, collared dress and golf shirts. Shirts must be collared and tucked in at all times.” And then this: “Jackets and ties are optional.” (Well, you can’t win them all. It’s not a shul, after all.) Denim jeans, tee shirts with printed slogans, shorts, and the like are verboten.

For women, denim jeans are banned, along with open midriffs, short hemlines (defined as “no more than three inches above the knee”), tank tops and similar garb.

This is one serious place, and yet they charge thousands of dollars for membership and fees and I am sure they have a waiting list to join. So what is it about golf that people will abide so many rules, even concoct them on their own, not just to play the game but also to police the territory on which their game is being played? Why does a Golf Club demand a “traditional atmosphere” and can such a designation ever pertain to something that is not a Golf Club, or would that be considered too intrusive, too cumbersome, and too objectionable to many people?

Perhaps it is the place, set apart from daily mundane use and therefore worthy of special treatment. Those who enter its grounds should feel different, as if it is a place that affords them a special connection with a different, higher reality. Perhaps it is the game itself, a game that requires great concentration even though (or maybe because) its performance is so repetitive, and occurs usually in the company of other people, friends and family. When the group defines the environment, especially regarding proper deportment, there is a sense of elevation in bring there and an increased sensitivity to those who have joined as well.

Why, if I didn’t already have such a place in my life, I might be inclined to take up golf as well, and spend time at the Club for a few minutes of escape and deeper connection. But I would trade the quest for a hole-in-one for the pursuit of the Holy One, any day of the week.

Happy Chanuka to all!

(NOTE: Through our shul, I am leading a tour of Eastern Europe – Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus – from May 13-20, 2019. The main cities we will visit include Riga, Dvinsk, Boisk, Vilna, Kovno, Radin and Volozhin. We have very few spots left. Anyone interested should contact me at Rabbi@Bnaiyeshurun.org as soon as possible.)

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