It’s back, despite popular demand!
But first, ALL the disclaimers.
You’re right, Staley isn’t a Jewish name. But it is the legal surname of my certified, 100% Jewish wife of almost 35 years, and our wedding was officiated by a rabbi. In addition, we raised our three sons to be Jewish, although I did lobby for, and without any opposition, got the Christmas exemption. I didn’t convert, but that’s another story.
To my Gentile readers: It occurs to me that some of you out there may not have any Jewish friends, and even if you do, you may have never attended a Seder dinner. If that is indeed the case, let me tell you something: you have missed out on a great experience. (And just to clarify, when I say you’ve missed out on a great experience I’m talking not only about the Seder, but about having Jewish friends as well. You got to know somebody from the Tribe, man.) The Seder commemorates the story of Exodus, the flight of the Jewish people from captivity in Egypt. Its themes are universal, but beyond that the service itself represents something very special. You do not go to the synagogue to do this, but instead welcome family, friends and strangers into your home where you conduct this service around your own dinner table. Attend just one Seder and you will appreciate how Jews have kept their faith alive through centuries of persecution. It is a powerful mixture of celebration and instruction. Go forth ye Gentiles unto the people of Israel and get yourself an invite. And tell ’em Why We Golf sent you!
Anyway, the Haggadah is the instruction manual, as it were, for the service. There are many different versions but they all share some core ingredients. I have inserted notes, marked as G-notes– as is G is for Gentile–where I felt some background information was in order.
To my Jewish readers: As an exercise in at least partial decorum and respect, this service will not include golf versions of the prayers, although I will admit to being sorely tempted to throw in a little “borei p’ri ha-golfin.” But I have refrained, barely. There is also no narrative that steals from the Exodus story by talking about our struggles with golf. I’ve taken enough liberties as it is. Where I thought a little elaboration was in order I have marked these comments as J-notes.
The Golf Seder Plate
The leader instructs everyone at the table to observe and understand the meaning of the arrangement on the Seder plate:
Three pieces of matzoh representing the front, back and total.
G-note: Matzoh is the unleavened bread that the Jews in Egypt whisked off the griddle in their haste to get out of Dodge. It has the corrugated appearance and taste of a flimsy building material.
J-note: Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of you claim to like the stuff. Really? Isn’t this just a Proustian thing, the tasteless mash in your mouth conjuring up memories of home and family? And by the way, Proust? Half-Jewish. Or as they say in Paris, Demi-MOT.
G-note: MOT means Member of the Tribe.
A roasted shankbone, representing the most dreaded shot in golf.
G-note: A real, or traditional, Seder plate includes a roasted shankbone to commemorate the sacrificial lamb.
J-note: What, I have to explain why a shankbone is on the Golf Haggadah plate?
Parsley, for the green of the fairway.
G-note: Passover, like all spring equinox observances, is a celebration of rebirth and renewal. The Last Supper? Many scholars agree that was a Seder.
A ruler, because after all, this is a game of inches.
G-note: There are no measuring devices on a traditional Seder plate.
A pair of dice, for the role random events play in the game.
G-note: Ditto for the dice.
Sand, water and a twig, for the hazards on the course.
G-note: The traditional plate also includes horseradish (maror) symbolizing the bitterness of captivity, and a mixture of apples, nuts and honey called haroset that represents the mortar used to build the Pyramids. The Golf Haggadah doesn’t dare equate the aggravation of missed putts with slavery, and sticks to golf course architecture for its symbolism.
J-note: On a Sephardic golf Haggadah plate it is customary to substitute a piece of cactus for a twig.
A golf ball, representing, well, just about anything that we think of in terms of roundness and fullness.
G-note: On a traditional plate you would use an egg.
J-note: Much better to use a scuffed up old rock for this. It speaks much more eloquently of hardship than a shiny new Pro V-1.
Additional J-note: There is no empty chair for Elijah. If you aren’t there on time, we’re not saving a place for you in the foursome.
The Four Questions
G-note: Reading this section is traditionally assigned to the youngest at the table. In the Golf Haggadah, the reading is done by the person with the highest index.
Why is this game different from all other games?
In other sports we fight for control of the ball. In golf we control–in theory– our own ball and therefore our own fate.
In all other sports, more is better. In this game less is more.
In other sports, performance is usually a matter of reflex and reaction. In golf, we have time to plan and contemplate. Sometimes too much time.
In other sports, we can only dream of replicating the things professionals do. In golf, if we had any sort of decent short game, we could get up and down like the pros every once and a while. Really, would that be asking too much?
G-note: You may have noticed that there was actually only one question there. Good observation, but don’t bring it up. Kind of qualifies as a fifth question and we’ve got a lot of praying and reading to do before we can eat. Bring it up later. It shows you were paying attention and your hosts will appreciate that. Jews like that sort of thing, and who knows, maybe there might even be an argument about it.
G-note: If you remember any of your Old Testament you may recall that God brought a whole mess of trouble down on the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews and then not letting them go. In the Seder service participants read the names of each of the ten plagues aloud. As they do so they place a drop of wine on their plate for each one.
And so, as the great Arnold Palmer instructed us, we mix equal parts of lemonade and iced tea in our glasses.
J-note: Since we’re not making the Hillel sandwich, we need to introduce an historic and revered figure into the service somehow.
We now pour ten drops of our Arnold Palmer for the plagues of golf:
Hitting it fat
Hitting it thin
Loss of tempo
Coming over the top
Loss of confidence
Poor course management
G-note: This is the chant and response part of the service. It is an expression of gratitude to the Almighty for all He has done for the people of Israel. The reader goes through a list of divine deeds that are all structured as statements to the effect that “even if God had done this BUT not done that” each act would have been sufficient in and unto itself as proof of God’s love and power. The participants affirm this by saying “Dayeinu” which translates loosely as “good enough for me.”
But even despite these travails, we remain grateful for this game:
Had golf given us a sport we can play our whole lives, but not given us an excuse for getting out of the house on weekends,
Had golf gotten us out of the house on weekends but not given us a chance to win some money from our sandbagging friends,
Had golf given us a chance to win some bucks but not given us something to watch on TV as a prelude to a nap,
Had golf given us something to fall asleep to but not given us a topic of discussion that non-golfers find incredibly boring,
Had golf given us a topic for endless discussion but not given us an opportunity to spend big bucks on equipment,
Had golf given us a chance to buy equipment but not to take lessons,
Had golf given us a chance to take lessons but not shown us how hard it is to change our habits,
Had golf shown us how hard it is to change our habits but not given us the satisfaction of the well-struck shot,
Search for the Afikoman
G-note: Got to have something fun for the kids in all of this. Somebody hides a piece of matzoh and then the kids are allowed– once all the prayers are done—to go see who can find it. Think Easter egg hunt but with one egg. A cash prize is customary.
At this time the children are excused to go look for the Afikoman, a piece of matzoh that the leader has hidden. If it hasn’t been found in five minutes it is considered officially lost.
Time to eat!
J-note: Thus we follow the timeless formulation for all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.
G-note: Be sure to have a lot of haroset. It’s good stuff.
For further study
After the meal if you’re still interested in learning more about golf and how it relates to just about everything else in this world and beyond, you should read Why We Golf. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.