Golf and Philosophy

Golf and Philosophy: Lessons from the Links

Edited by Andy Wible
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Golf and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    In a game where players are expected to call their own penalties and scoring the least points leads to victory, decorum takes precedence over showmanship and philosophical questions become par for the course. Few other sports are as suited for ethical and metaphysical examination as golf. It is a game defined by dichotomies -- relaxing, yet frustrating, social, yet solitary -- and between these extremes there is room for much philosophical inquiry.

    In Golf and Philosophy: Lessons from the Links, a clubhouse full of skilled contributors tee off on a range of philosophical topics within the framework of the fairway. The book's chapters are arranged in the style of an eighteen-hole golf course, with the front nine exploring ethical matters of rationality and social civility in a world of moral hazards and roughs. The back nine pries even deeper, slicing into matters of the metaphysical, including chapters on mysticism, idealism, identity, and meaning.

    Taken together, the collection examines the intellectual nature of this beloved pastime, considering the many nuances of a sport that requires high levels of concentration, patience, and consistency, as well as upstanding moral character. Golf and Philosophy celebrates the joys and complexities of the game, demonstrating that golf has much to teach both its spectators and participants about modern life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7388-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Warm-up
    (pp. 1-4)

    A frequent comment about the eternal issues of philosophy is that everything is a footnote to the ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Subsequent philosophers are simply clarifying and expanding their comprehensive consideration of the ultimate questions of humanity. So why write a book about golf and philosophy? Plato and Aristotle never played golf, so what is there to discuss? The short answer is that if Plato and Aristotle were alive today, they probably would be avid golfers. For at least a few hours a day, they’d change their togas and sandals for knickers and spiked sandals. Lovers of wisdom and...

  5. The Front Nine
    • I. The Beauty of the Game
      • FIRST HOLE Golf and the Importance of Play
        (pp. 9-14)
        Al Gini

        The statistics are clear. Whether we want to or not, most of us work too much. Sure, we often talk about playing sports like golf, but as adults, there is nothing more we do with our lives than work. We will not sleep as much, spend as much time with our families and friends, eat as much, or recreate and rest as much as we will work. Don’t get me wrong; work is important. Our work gives access to salary, stuff, success, and a sense of identity. But just as we all need to work and fulfill ourselves, we also...

      • SECOND HOLE On the Beauty and Sublimity of Golf
        (pp. 15-30)
        Robert Fudge and Joseph Ulatowski

        Though golf does not require great stamina, the coordination involved in hitting a ball hundreds of yards to a small patch of grass is a testament to human evolution and perseverance. Indeed, given the difficulty of the game and the frustration it engenders, it is not surprising that large numbers of those who try the game quit within a relatively short time.¹ What, then, inspires so many to attempt the game in the first place and breeds such devotion in its long-term players? One reason, we suggest, has to do with the game’s aesthetic dimensions—that is, with the game’s...

    • II. Golf and Moral Character
      • THIRD HOLE Finding the (Fair)Way with Confucius and Ben Hogan
        (pp. 33-48)
        Stephen J. Laumakis

        Although it may not be obvious to the average hacker or first-year philosophy student, I think a persuasive case can be made that there is a useful and instructive analogy between the best golfer and his pursuit of excellence in the game of golf and the good human person and his pursuit of human flourishing. The key to the effectiveness of the analogy, however, is that we are talking about the reallybestgolfers and the trulybesthuman beings, because we all know from experience that there are as many ways to swing a golf club and play the...

      • FOURTH HOLE “Quiet … Please!”: Reflections on Golf and Civility
        (pp. 49-64)
        David L. McNaron

        If asked to name a civil sport or game, many people would no doubt choose golf. Civil people certainly play golf, yet does golf promote civility? I shall defend a qualified “yes” to the question. But as we shall see, answering the question is not as easy or straightforward as one might think. To make my case, I will offer an analysis of the concept of civility; clarify what it means to say that an activity promotes civility; resolve the apparent conflict between civility and competitiveness; argue against the conception of golf etiquette and civility as outdated or suspect; and...

      • FIFTH HOLE How Golf Builds and Shapes Moral Character
        (pp. 65-84)
        Jennifer M. Beller and Sharon Kay Stoll

        Historically, coaches, teachers, and advocates for sport argue that sport builds character. Many sport enthusiasts put great stock in the notion that sport builds positive character values such as honesty, responsibility, fairness, and respect, and they believe them to be one of the ultimate goals of sports participation. These individuals argue that athletic participation and the institutions of sport reflect American attitudes, values, and beliefs and that these values come through physical participation.¹ Jeffrey Stout argues that our moral vision and character are shaped by sport, a complicated and complex moral practice.² Moreover, Bernard Mullin, Stephen Hardy, and William Sutton...

      • SIXTH HOLE Virtue Ethics: From Caddyshack to Better Golf
        (pp. 85-96)
        F. Scott McElreath

        Justin Leonard knew that if he made his forty-five-foot birdie putt against José María Olazábal, then the U.S. team would win the 1999 Ryder Cup in Brookline, Massachusetts. He probably knew that it would be the largest come-from-behind victory in Ryder Cup history. But he could not have expected what happened after he nailed the putt: U.S. players, their family members, and their fans rushed onto the green and wildly celebrated for an abnormally long time while Olazábal waited for a chance to hit a potentially match-tying putt. Once the green was cleared, Olazábal missed the putt and a second...

    • III. Ethical Issues within Golf
      • SEVENTH HOLE Cheating and Gamesmanship among Amateur and Professional Golfers
        (pp. 99-108)
        Angela Lumpkin

        To understand golf it is essential to realize its initial connection with class and amateurism. Organized golf began for upper-class males with the foundation in 1754 of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, which became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland. The United States followed by emphasizing elitism and amateurism and in 1894 established the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, which became the United States Golf Association (USGA). The Royal and Ancient Golf Club and USGA collaboratively write, interpret, and govern the rules of golf with a lasting heritage that makes golf unique among...

      • EIGHTH HOLE Playing Through? Racism and Sexism in Golf
        (pp. 109-120)
        John Scott Gray

        In the feature article of the December 23, 1996, issue ofSports Illustrated, “The Chosen One,” dedicated to its Sportsman of the Year, Tiger Woods, his father, Earl, remarked that his son would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.” The reference here is not merely to sports history, which would put Woods in competition with figures like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, but the whole of history, ranking him among figures like Gandhi, Jefferson, and Buddha. When questioned on this point during theSIinterview, Earl Woods asserted: “He has a larger...

    • IV. Golf and Rationality
      • NINTH HOLE Is Golf Inherently Irrational?
        (pp. 123-134)
        David Shier

        Woodrow Wilson famously described golf as “a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill adapted for the purpose.” Yet President Wilson was an avid golfer—so much so that he even used black golf balls so he could play in the snow. This learned and seemingly rational person spent hisleisuretime doggedly pursuing an activity that he himself characterized as inherently frustrating. Was he insane?

        In general, if people deliberately place obstacles in the way of achieving their own goals, we have reason to question their rationality. (“Hi, Sue. Are you on the way...

  6. The Back Nine
    • V. Personal Reflections
      • TENTH HOLE Life Lessons
        (pp. 139-154)
        Tom Regan

        Four. Three. Two. One. Seven-thirty, on the dot. We’re talking rocket science here. You can’t phone for a tee time before seven-thirty, the day before you want to play. And you don’t want to be back in the queue (hundreds will be competing for a small handful of spots) when the call goes through. So timing is everything. And what timing means here is: seven-thirty, on the dot.

        A menu answers. If you want a million dollars, tax free, press 1. If you want a villa on the Mediterranean, at no cost, complete with servants, press 2. If you want...

    • VI. Golf, Mysticism, and Self-Understanding (Amen Corner)
      • ELEVENTH HOLE Philosophy in the Kingdom: Golf, Mysticism, and Philosophy
        (pp. 157-170)
        Mark Huston

        Michael Murphy’s best-selling 1972 golf novel,Golf in the Kingdom, and the more recent movieThe Legend of Bagger Vance, directed by Robert Redford, exemplify one of popular culture’s main attitudes toward the sport of golf: mysticism.¹ The average, and even pro, golfer would in all likelihood probably never claim to have had a mystical experience while playing golf, but there is nevertheless a fairly pervasive and even influential view that there is a relationship between golf and mysticism. The most striking example of this isGolf in the Kingdom, which not only continues to remain in print and sell...

      • TWELFTH HOLE Midround and Midlife Defining Moments
        (pp. 171-182)
        Andy Wible

        Defining moments in golf are often thought to occur at the end of the game: Larry Mize chipping in to win the 1987 Masters; Paul Azinger holing a bunker shot on the final hole at the 1993 Memorial tournament; Roberto De Vincenzo signing an incorrect scorecard to lose his chance to win the 1968 Masters; Jean Van de Velde’s final hole collapse at the 1999 British Open. These last-minute heroics and disasters identify these tournaments to this day.

        Our lives are different from sports events in this respect. We rarely define someone by what happened at the end of his...

      • THIRTEENTH HOLE Free and Easy Wandering on the Golf Course: Swing Like a Taoist
        (pp. 183-192)
        Scott F. Parker

        One of golf’s old saws has it that in every round you will hit one shot just good enough to bring you back to the course another day. The good shot will stick with you as all the bad ones blend together. You will start to think how good a round you could play if only you could string a few ofthoseshots together. Vexingly, this kind of thinking may be the source of your frustrations as you struggle through another round wondering why you aren’t hitting the good shots that you know you’re capable of. If you are...

    • VII. Golf and Idealism
      • FOURTEENTH HOLE Plato and Confucius on the Form of Golf: From the Real to the Ideal
        (pp. 195-208)
        Stephen J. Laumakis

        Unless you are a Luddite¹ or spend all your time on the driving range, it seems indisputable that in the twenty-first century the trend toward globalization will continue and accelerate. It is simply impossible to deny that the world as we know it continues to shrink. Events in distant corners of the world have the power to produce almost instantaneous consequences in just about every other part of the world. In short, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to deny that the proverbial butterly of quantum physics that flaps its wings in China produces thunderstorms in the middle of your...

      • FIFTEENTH HOLE The “Ideal” Swing, the “Ideal” Body: Myths of Optimization
        (pp. 209-220)
        Jason Holt and Laurence E. Holt

        Movement is fascinating, especially when it is highly skilled, and most particularly in domains in which excellence in skilled performance is highly prized and even glorified. Golf, for better or worse, is one such domain. For the unfortunate masses—most of us—the golf swing is one of the most frustratingly complex and difficult maneuvers to master in all of sport. Wanting to improve one’s golf swing, while hardly a desire common to all members of our species, is ubiquitous among those who play. The pursuit of optimal performance, making your good better and your better best, in such a...

    • VIII. Golf and Meaning
      • SIXTEENTH HOLE Golf and the Meaning of Life
        (pp. 223-238)
        Randy Lunsford

        In May 2008, at the age of thirty-seven, Annika Sorenstam stunned the golfing world by announcing her retirement from the LPGA Tour. Even some of the players close to her were surprised at the news, as the announcement came in the prime of her golfing career. In just the previous weekend, at the Michelob Ultra Open in Williamsburg, Virginia, she finished play at 19 under par, winning the tournament by 7 strokes. Her list of career achievements is impressive. The seventy-two career tournament victories are third on the all-time list behind Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, and her ten career...

      • SEVENTEENTH HOLE More Than a Playing Partner: Golf and Friendship
        (pp. 239-252)
        Andy Wible

        The angel Clarence in the movieIt’s a Wonderful Lifemay have said it correctly when he observed, “No man is a failure who has friends.” Humans love others, and family and friends are what make life special. Golf, on the other hand, is often thought to be the ultimate lonely and solitary sport—an individual alone against the course. Winning or losing is totally dependent on the player and no one else. Nonetheless, much of the joy and attraction of the sport seems to come from the friendships that one develops playing golf. Few of us would play much...

    • IX. Parting Shots
      • EIGHTEENTH HOLE Swing Thoughts: Tough Questions for a Tough Game
        (pp. 255-260)
        Andy Wible

        The philosophical analyses in the previous chapters are just the beginning of the connection between golf and philosophy. Below are several additional (yet related) philosophical questions applied to golf. They are intended to provoke further thought, reflection, and discussion of the game, its players, and the world. You might try to answer one or more per round and then create your own list. As Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

        1. Philosophers have traditionally favored the rational over the emotional. Plato and Aristotle thought that for a person to be good and successful, his or her...

  7. The Field
    (pp. 261-266)
  8. Index
    (pp. 267-280)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)