Some people think that golf is nothing more than a good walk spoiled.
But for an increasing number of First Nations folks, summer means more than the sound of pow-wow drums. It also marks the 12-week period that they set aside each year to try their hand at a game first played by Scotsmen wearing funny clothes in 1456.
(One wonders if the real reason Europeans started sailing over this way about 40 years later wasn’t to find land for more golf courses than they had room for at home, but that’s another story.)
It’s taken about 500 years for golf to catch on with Native Americans, even though they’ve been naming courses after us for years – Indian Wells, Indian Creek, Indian Lake, Indian River, etc. We now own our own courses, and stage our own tournaments – such as the annual Veterans’ Memorial event through which the Anishinabek Nation 7th Generation Charity has raised thousands of dollars to support worthwhile causes.
As an occasional practitioner, it might be helpful for me to try to explain to those who think the game is a waste of time some reasons why it appeals to others. Perhaps using the Medicine Wheel can best illustrate my argument that golf is actually quite a holistic pastime.
SPIRITUAL – There are few places where you will ever hear the Creator’s name mentioned more often than on a golf course. Recreational tennis or badminton players, anglers, or bowlers don’t seem to be nearly as in tune with the Almighty as golfers, many of whom praise him after almost every shot.
For the safety of spectators, golf is usually played outdoors in a beautiful natural setting, providing players a chance to commune with Mother Nature in all her splendour. Most courses feature sparkling ponds and rippling streams, and stretches of beach-quality sand which can prompt players to express their innermost feelings in the most vocal manner imaginable.
No other sport affords participants so many opportunities to explore flora and fauna. I have personally witnessed many Native players deliberately strike their golf balls into heavily-wooded areas specifically to enjoy an opportunity to hunt for traditional medicine plants or to catch a glimpse of any creatures who happen to be in the vicinity.
I recall fondly a game in North Carolina when our foursome was treated to the sight of an alligator slumbering near the first tee. This was Nature’s way of reminding us not to chase balls that went off the fairway.
Players more timid about being in the Great Outdoors need only remember that, while a bear may have the element of surprise on his side, a golfer is pulling a bag containing 14 steel clubs. (This might be a drawback during thunderstorm activity.)
EMOTIONAL – With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, there are no stoic golfers. We would get bored too if someone paid us half a million bucks just for showing up at the course.
The average green-fee golfer is very excitable. Screams of delight echo across fairways when weekend golfers sink five-foot putts for double-bogeys. (For the uninitiated, “bogeys”, “double-bogeys”, “triple-bogeys”, etc. are names for the number of strokes or shots golfers actually require to complete each hole during a round of golf – “pars” are the numbers they write on their scorecards.)
Amateur golfers -- called “duffers” or “hackers” – demonstrate their true feelings about the game in a variety of ways. I once played a round with a fireman who got so upset about hitting a couple of balls into a pond that he tossed his clubs, bag and cart in after them.
I think there’s a one-stroke penalty for that.
PHYSICAL – Much of the criticism and derision directed at golf relates to the level of physical exertion required to play it. Critics say the game provides little or no exercise or cardio-vascular benefits.
This is absolute horsefeathers!
A popular new fitness regimen says that the average adult needs to walk 10,000 daily steps to achieve their optimum level of physical activity. In playing a single 18-hole match the average golfer probably takes about 70,000 steps to get around a typical 6,000-yard course – enough exercise for an entire week!
The game also offers many unique opportunities – such as my aforementioned encounter with the alligator – to put one’s aerobic capabilities to the test.
MENTAL -- Golf is definitely a thinking man’s game. In fact there is a popular axiom that the most important distance in golf is the six inches between a player’s ears.
Good players become accomplished at strengthening their mental toughness by employing a number of self-motivational mantras to overcome the challenges they are presented by opponents, the course, or their shortage of skills. These include:
• “It’s not very long, but it’s not in any trouble.”
• “Another three feet and it would have been perfect.”
• “That ball should be easy to find.”
• “Don’t worry -- a tree is 90-per-cent air.”
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of Alderville First Nation who serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.