I’m confident God is a golfer. A game of temptation, internal struggle, and calling penalties on yourself while no one is watching. God would be all over it. He’d struggle to swing in those robes, though. But then again, he’d get all the good bounces.
In a book not exactly written by God - you could say ghost-written - it says "to everything there is a season". If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that before, it’s a Bible passage from every funeral you’ve ever been to.
This statement is of course true for golf. I play all year round, like many others. But whatever those golfers mutter over the swishing of waterproofs, there is a golf season - and there is a season when only the hopelessly addicted play. Americans would call it an ‘off season’, when their star athletes attend frat parties and get in trouble for ripping bongs and shotgunning Coors Light. John Daly lives in the off season.
The contrast between the golf seasons is most apparent between inland and links courses. Perhaps the worst of it can be found on the clay-based tracks of north and east London - which is where many of the Sounder pack play. Poor drainage in this region leads to standing water in fairways, squelching greens and balls plugging on the putting surface. FootJoy Classics are swapped with orthopaedic ECCOs. Yuck. It becomes almost unplayable.
The opposite is true on the hallowed linksland. Mother Nature has shaped the land, made perfect for golf by the salty wind, sandy soil and firm turf. It’s another strong argument in the God is a golfer debate. His hands are all over this thing. He may also be Scottish, because He gave them the game and many of the best courses. And whisky.
Links land stays in decent nick throughout the winter, but when you can’t tee up your ball for wind or feel your extremities for cold and rain, you can hardly call the game ‘in season’.
So for us northern Europeans, when does the golf season start? When do our daydreams drift to high draws and clipped wedges? For many, that klaxon is the Masters.
Forgetting 2020 (can we?), it always lands at the start of April while the birds are tuning up and the flowers pushing through their winter slumber. Things are starting to awaken, the lawn turns from clumps of mud to clumps of grass and weeds.
A sedentary winter has laden us with some extra pounds, our anaemic bodies screaming for a dash of sunlight, but the time for wallowing is over. The centre of the universe has shifted to Augusta, Georgia, and it fills us with hope for the summer and what comes with it – golf.
"The fat will melt and our skin will liven", we tell ourselves as we watch Dustin Johnson zip another wedge to two feet on Alister MacKenzie’s glassy greens. "This year I’m going to spend most of my practice time on the scoring clubs". It’s all delusion, but that’s just what we need at this time.
We know every hump, hollow and creek of Augusta, it being the only major played on the same course every year. It’s marinated in nostalgia as we remember the great shots and moments from over the years, but it’s also of its time, with a new cast navigating the hallowed turf. New actors on the old stage.
The branding, Magnolia Lane, azaleas, and Butler Cabin, it’s all so very reassuring, golf taking us by the hand and letting us know things are going to be all right. The most golden sun, the greenest grass, the flowers so vibrant and the playing surface perfect. The roars of the Patrons clattering around the trees. We’ve all been here before, every April from our living rooms. And we’ve all had this feeling before. Itching excitement.
Those who prefer to spend the winter indoors will take the sticks out the cupboard, wonder whether they should check the lie angles or change driver shaft. Golf WhatsApp groups will fire into life as trips are planned and the sledging begins. Creaky golfers will unfurl their swings in back gardens, searching for some kind of confidence with first tee shots on the horizon. Hardier golfers that have been playing through winter can pack away the waterproofs and clumpy shoes, bring out the favourite polo and lighter shades of trouser.
It’s a most wonderful time. Probably the best time you can have without a ball being struck. We are all glued to the television from Thursday through Sunday, watching some butcher and some be pulled apart by that famous layout. But we’re all most excited about heading out ourselves.
The season, fellow golfers, is upon us.