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One man and his bag

In our world of constant consumerism, Sunday is just another shopping day. But for Richard Pennell, there's still something sacred about the Sabbath, even if his place of worship is a golf course rather than the parish church.


One man and his bag

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Some call them “single strap”; others prefer “pencil bag”. But I like the term “Sunday bag” best. The name comes from a time when golfers could not rely on a caddie being available on Sunday, and would therefore have to lug their own clubs around for a change, shifting their sticks into a lighter bag.

I remember those quiet Sundays so well. Nothing “on the box”, which only had a few channels in it anyway, and no shops open in which to pass the time. My childhood stood still at the end of every week, pausing to catch breath before Monday morning arrived, but I remember that feeling of tedium so clearly. And then I found golf, or perhaps golf found me; a different form of worship on the Sabbath.

Life seems so much busier these days. Choice is all around us, and opinion, and noise. And even in the unlikeliest of places - like the golf course - we feel the grip of decision fatigue, of urgency. Golf ought to be a place to relax and unwind, but we must keep one eye on clutter even in this realm, for it gathers pace like a slippery down-hiller.

The Rules, the handicap system. Magazines full of universal technical secrets, though we’ve as many ways of hitting the ball as there are grains of sand in the bunker it will surely land in. And the latest equipment blares at us from golf broadcasts; drivers so large they need a human hat to cover both their size and vulgarity.

But golf isn’t always about this endless measurement and comparison; it can still be a form of respite from all that. Back on those early Sundays, it was an antidote to boredom; today it might be the simplest form of therapy for the curse of modern life.

A while back, something clicked for me. I’m not sure whether it was a single shot that came flashing through this flailing body or a lurking sense of something profound that finally made its way to the surface. But it became clear, for the first time since those silent, sacred Sundays, that there remains at the core of this game something so simple and pure. And it is the same thing that hooked Tiger, and Jack, and Laura and Joyce. And you and I.

Because no matter how hard we try, how diligent our study, the game gently teaches us that life is simple when lived well, and great things can happen if we can just get out of our own way now and again. Some days, you hit the ball well, and it is hard to put your finger on why, but perhaps it is just that you’ve reverted - for now at least - to the simplicity that first ensnared you in golf’s elegant tapestry.

And when I strip golf back to the bare essentials, I find that golf is itself an absolutely essential part of my life. So now my bag is only ever a Sunday bag, and my “set” is whatever I felt like hanging out with that morning, always a few less than permitted by some arbitrary Rule I don’t care about. And instead of knowledge or perfection, or a score on a grubby piece of card, I go out in search of the sweet spot of this wonderful sport and take relief from all the rest of it. A journey back to freedom, to self-expression. Single strap only.

Richard Pennell is one our favourite golf writers - read and subscribe to his blog Pitchmarks here.

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