Many of you will know that I am not adverse to the odd game of golf – sometimes it is very odd indeed, sometimes a little crazy! The game has been around since people saw the need to hit a ball with a stick in the countryside. ‘A good walk spoiled’ cynics have cried. Yet golf, re-accredited as an Olympic sport, has never been more popular. The old social stereotypes are gradually being dismantled. The former ‘golf club mentality’ of chauvinism and elitism is being replaced by a healthier, younger, more enterprising approach to the game which is inclusive of women and children.
The bi-annual excitement of the Ryder Cup (at the end of September) brings new interest to the game as the rejuvenated European team take on the Americans. The competition began in a very inauspicious manner. A seed merchant from St Alban’s, Samuel Ryder, took up the game of golf late in life. He was tutored by a famous American player who invited some friends to play at the eminent Wentworth course. They had such fun that Ryder was heard to say in the bar, ‘We must do this again.’ Samuel donated a beautiful gold trophy for £250 and in 1927 the Ryder Cup was instituted.
The commercial success and competitive tension of tournament golf is a far-cry from Cutteslowe Park in North Oxford where a very odd game was played last Sunday. The park has developed a new 9 hole mini golf course (crazy golf in my youth). The design of the holes must have been a delight to conjure. Each hole is laid in astro turf with bumps, curves, stone blocks, ravines, bunkers and ridiculously tiered greens. On each tee, a board shows a map of the hole with two possible options – the easy way and the hard way. On that Sunday afternoon, I was left left thinking how analogous this game of golf is to our life of faith. Some people think it is a waste of time, or a good pilgrimage spoiled. Others feel that the Christian way creates unnecessary obstructions – making life harder and more guilt-laden than it need be.
The seed merchant Samuel Ryder would not be impressed by the artificial turf of the Cutteslowe park but he would undoubtedly be encouraged by the way that golf is revered as the most ethical of games and that the Ryder Cup is the pinnacle of sporting contests:
“Drama, tension, incredible golf, camaraderie and sportsmanship are served in equal measure, captivating an audience of millions around the world. It’s an event that transcends sport, yet remains true to the spirit of its founder, Samuel Ryder.”
The Christian Church has, at times, been associated with the politics of the golf clubhouse (or is it the other way around)? That perception is becoming obsolete. Like golf, the Christian faith is full of drama, tension and captivates a world wide community. Christians choose the hard way because it is the way of the cross – the way ultimately to freedom and justice. It is the religion of the seed scatterers, the community builders, the festival gatherers. And each time we meet, we all agree that, “we must do this again.”