I've only been back home in California for two weeks after more than two months in Scotland, yet I've already settled back into many of my familiar routines. That includes cozying up with an actual paper version of the New York Times on a quiet Sunday afternoon, setting aside my immediate world a wee bit to indulge in one that's further afield.
Given the particular prism through which I tend to view both versions of reality, golf invariably inserts itself into the conversation—even when I'd least expect it. Case in point: An opinion piece in the Times' Sunday Review section entitled: "Abundance Without Attachment," with the intriguing subtitle, "So I asked the swami: Is money good or bad?"
The essay was written by Arthur C. Brooks, a frequent contributor to these pages and president of the American Enterprise Institute. His basic argument is that many people (far more than who are willing to admit it) love Christmas but dread its commercialization. Worse than that, the stress and emptiness of the season's forced gift-giving often extend beyond the holidays. "On the one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating," writes Brooks.
Yep, couldn't agree more.
But it was his three-part antidote that truly resonated with me and, as hinted, circled back to golf. To summarize, Brooks suggests we:
Collect experiences, not things. As an example, Brooks wonders what would happen if you and your significant other faced this choice: spend money on a second honeymoon or buy a new couch. "Thirty years from now, when you're sitting in rocking chairs on the porch, you'll remember your second honeymoon in great detail. But are you likely to say to one another, "Remember that awesome couch?" Strangely, it's the less tangible choice that has the greater staying power.
Steer clear of excessive usefulness. Brooks notes that we tend to only value activities that produce a practical result and devalue those things that are done just for the heck of it. If we long to live more deeply satisfying lives, we should aim to strike a healthier balance between the two.
Get to the center of the wheel. Brooks cites religious symbolism to bolster this point. But he stresses that his advice applies to the non-religious as well. "Woe be to those who live and die by the slings and arrows of worldly attachment," he writes. "To prioritize these things is to cling to the rim, a sure recipe for existential vertigo." Instead, Brooks posits, our lives should spin out of those things that endure, such as love, faith, compassion and relationship.
Does that just scream golf, or what!? Well, it does to me.
After all, golf is ultimately an experience not a thing. You could choose to invest in a new set of custom clubs. Or you could take that same amount of money and imbibe in a tour of Scottish links courses. Thirty years from now, when you're peering through the window of your clubhouse at all those young whippersnappers bombing their opening drives off the first tee, which do you think you'll remember?
Golf is also a perfectly useless activity. After all, we spend roughly four hours wandering around a vast open space, only to end up right back where we started. Some might argue it's good exercise. But the same number of calories could be burned in about 15 minutes on a treadmill. No. The best golf is that which is played for the sheer enjoyment of it. Nothing tangible is gained. Yet the intangibles (overcoming adversity, communing with nature, connecting with friends, etc.)? Priceless.
And if you're like me, golf is the hub of our wheel. It's not simply a game to us. It's the means to realign ourselves with our inner core—physically, emotionally and spiritually. At its most deeply satisfying, a round of golf is an opportunity to step out of the world of the tangible and practical—the realm of doing—and into a parallel universe where we can simply be.
Clearly, there's no way to place that in a box, wrap it in green-and-red paper and set it under the tree. But if, after all of the holiday hubbub fades, you're able to get in a round or two at the golf course of your choosing, then—as Brooks concludes in his piece—"it just might turn out to be a happy holiday after all."
Amen to that, brother. And Merry Christmas!