The celebrated quote, “golf is a good walk spoiled”, is generally attributed to Mark Twain and was reignited by the sports writer John Feinstein in his well-known book A Good Walk Spoiled. However, when I did some research it appears the quote should rightly be attributed to the turn of the century writer Harry Leon Wilson, who first penned it in 1903 when writing about lawn tennis and put the quote in one of his books the year after. Regardless, the sentiment properly captures many golf devotees’ thoughts, although mostly after a bad round I suspect.
So, hear this: it turns out they all fibbed to us. Heaven forbid that Mark Twain, Harry Leon Wilson and John Feinstein led us astray. Recent research, as reported by Salon writer Henry Grabar, has demonstrated, through the use of a new sophisticated brain research technology that a respectable walk in the park is in fact GOOD for us. A bundle of fresh studies credit pastoral or park like settings with the positive attributes of reducing aggression, alleviating depression, improving mental function and promoting a meditative state.
We won’t burden this article with the technical details. Let it suffice to say that multiple studies have been conducted using a new portable EEG device using mobile electroencephalography to track real time brain wave function while subjects took a stroll through a variety of settings ranging from a dense urban city environment to a tranquil park. In every study it has been shown that a simple 25 minute walk in a city park “induced a significant increase in meditative thinking” while simultaneously reducing the negative states of arousal, frustration and engagement.
Understanding that one’s environment influences both our emotions and thinking is not a new thought. Architects have long sought to establish home, work and social environments that let our emotions soar and release our inner higher senses. Famous landscape architects like the American Frederick Law Olmstead (Central Park, the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina) or André Le Nôtre (Gardens of Versailles in France and Greenwich Park in London) have clearly sought to mimic nature and bring the symbolic balance and symmetry of nature to people experiencing their creations.
In this writer’s opinion, I find the same type of serenity present in golf courses. Naturally, some are on a higher plane than others. For example, I challenge you to walk Pebble Beach in California, Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina, TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Florida or the venerable Augusta National and not be affected by the sheer physical manifestations of each place. In my experience, each course emanates a particular energy that asks for coherence of the spirit. Just try it and tell me it’s not true.
Recently, I had the pleasure of playing a golf course near London, Ontario called Tarandowah. It is a pure inland links style course designed by Dr. Martin Hawtree of Royal Birkdale, Portmarnock and Killarney fame. This is a golf course designed by and for purists. It has nary a tree on it (and no cart paths originally) and if you hit an off-line shot you will find yourself in knee high fescue and facing a quandary of where to hit your next shot to avoid the massive pot bunkers prevalent in the fairways and around the greens. This golf course protects par with no apology.
My playing partners and I found this golf course spiritually renewing. Not pretty in a classic sense as it has no fancy club house or fixed flowerbeds, artificial waterfalls or shallow bunkers intended to balance the scene artistically. Rather, it is ominous and demanding and flowing with the rolling lands. You can visually look over the several hundred acres and from a distance it is hard to recognize as a golf course. It was pure golf and truly a renewing walk in the wild
However, regardless of the setting, it is still possible to turn a nice walk into a bucket of stress. By simply dissociating yourself from your surroundings and only focusing on what you might shoot as compared to your desires can lead you astray. When put that way, it doesn’t seem to make much sense does it?
Instead, try a round of golf in which you hit the shot, observe the outcome and then move on while enjoying the environment. I guarantee that at the completion of your round your emotions will be on the positive side.
I once asked Moe Norman what he was thinking about when he shot his 59’s.
He answered without hesitation. “Oh, it was birds and the bees, birds and the bees.”
Moe was simply stating that he was focused completely in the present. He would hit a shot and then pay attention to whatever was in his awareness at the moment. In his recollection, he was simply observing the outcomes of his shot and then moving on. It is virtually impossible to stay upset, annoyed or angry when just observing the passing moment and not getting attached to your outcomes. Give it a try.
For me, a big side benefit of knowing the positive impact of being in a park is that finally I can voice credibly to all that will listen; I am going to the golf course for health purposes. I’ve been telling my wife this for years however it still appears to me she doesn’t completely embrace this perspective. I see these new studies as clear evidence that I need to play more golf to gain the restorative benefits of the countrified setting. Haven’t shared that particular insight with her yet, but this new evidence has bolstered my resolve and confidence. Perhaps after taking out the garbage would be a good time.
About the Author: Ron Cruickshank, Ph.D., is a GGA Master Instructor and he teaches the single plane golf swing at our Canadian HQ, The Royal Ashburn Golf Club, in Whitby, Ontario. Go on-line and book a school or a lesson