A hole lot of fun

A hole lot of fun

Sports writer Andrew Tong explains why it might be time to give golf a go

A good walk spoiled? That’s how Mark Twain described golf, and he could not have been more wrong. A pleasant stroll around a pristine sculpted landscape. Working gently your fitness and feeling the thrill of the competitive edge.

Enjoying the company of friends on the field of sport without struggling to breathe in the process. That’s more like it. Battling a wonky swing and a few inner demons – that’s as bad as it gets. Mastering the game’s complex skills can take a lifetime but the challenge is all part of the fun and games. The sense of satisfaction you get from improving your co-ordination, the self-confidence that comes from overcoming your doubts, the simple, pure joy of winning: this is why millions of people all over the country like to spend an afternoon thrashing around in the undergrowth.

And there’s so much more. It’s becoming increasingly popular with women, helping to boost the figures for female participation in sport. And all that girl power has served to break down the gates of some of the most chauvinistic institutions in the country, putting to flight all the old colonels who don’t want ladies in the clubhouse.

Talking of old colonels, it’s also a game that you can keep playing as the years advance, maintaining a decent level of fitness without excessive exertion – it’s a long old walk, Twain was right about that. It’s a healthy, challenging activity for children, too, capturing the imagination and keeping them occupied for hours. And for the business-minded types who don’t have much room for fun, it’s the ideal background for entertaining corporate clients and cutting deals while grabbing some down-time in the process.

Golf’s appeal is enduring, and it’s getting more popular. The rise of Rory McIlroy has given it the same boost that Andy Murray’s success has provided for tennis. Suddenly it’s sexy again – it’s not all about plaid slacks, white slip-ons and diamond tank tops any more. Golf returned to the Olympic Games in Rio last month for the first time in 112 years, providing a global stage which will give the game a massive boost. The Olympics, after all, is sport for all, not just for the wealthy.

Behind all the green lawns and azaleas and sprinkler systems lurks a deeper side to golf: the sheer mystique of the game. Like cricket and baseball, it is one of the few sports with a genuine mythology attached to it. There’s legend and lore here, flitting among the shadows as they steal across the fairway. Down the years this has translated beautifully into literature, drama, poetry and art. The game lives long in the memory and will fill your mind with wonder.