Golf and Soccer (or football, if you insist)

Yes, I’m back! It’s been a while, I know. But let’s get to it.
Like many of you I have been thoroughly entertained, vexed and exhilarated by the World Cup. And since most things in my life are only one or two mental degrees of separation from golf, I wanted to share some observations about the similarities–yes, you read that right–between the two sports.
Of course the two sports are extremely different in certain obvious respects. It’s difficult–but not impossible–to get farther apart on the aerobic scale (think archery). One is the quintessential team sport, and only the presence of a caddie prevents professional golf from being as solitary a competition as a singles match in tennis. But no matter, what do they have in common?

The B-word
Both sports are often described as “boring” by the non-fan or uninitiated. Of course the opinion that soccer is boring is a minority view globally, and it is most widely held here in the States, home of baseball, a game that most of the planet finds especially tedious. Now I don’t mind when people describe something as boring if they preface the assessment with an “I” statement, as in “I think that..” or close with the clause “…to me.” But all too often I hear people say that “X is boring” and I don’t have the sense that they are being economical with their words and that the conditioning preface or ending, while not voiced, is nevertheless implied. No. Quite the contrary. They are expressing their subjective opinion as if it were an objective assessment.
And as a side note, I think golfers should be especially careful about this kind of pronouncement. We may find it interesting when Steve Williams and Adam Scott debate whether the shot calls for a 7-iron or an 8, and we do appreciate the phenomenal athletic accomplishment involved in hitting a ball 175 yards and having it come to rest on a 12 square foot landing area that has the receptivity of a runway. We like it, but we are definitely outnumbered. A golfer who deems soccer boring is like a guy who ventures out of his glass house with a bag of rocks and starts flinging them around the neighborhood.

Are we having fun yet?
The inspiration for this post came to me after a brief and very indirect encounter I had this past Friday. (It was also, sadly, prophetic of my own emotions some 48 hours later.) As I left work that afternoon I checked the score of the Ecuador-Honduras match one last time. 1-0 Honduras. I got on BART and when I got off at 24th Street and Mission I ducked into a little pastry shop a couple doors down from the station. It’s one of those Mexican shops that sell those really cruddy cookies that taste like they were made out of sawdust. They’re so bad our sons–even as little kids– wouldn’t eat them. There was a small, non-high def TV perched on the top of the shelves at the rear of the shop and I took a quick peek at the score: 1-1, Ecuador had equalized. As I turned to leave I saw an older guy–probably my age-wearing a well-worn Honduran National team jersey. Our eyes met for just a moment. I raised my eyebrows as a way of acknowledging the change in the game’s circumstances, and also as a way of masquerading that, although it was not with a great deal of passion, I was rooting for Ecuador. But what struck me at that moment was the look in this guy’s eyes. It was mixture of anxiety and dread, leavened only slightly by the faintest bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, things might work out. His team had scored their first World Cup goal in years, but now that advantage was erased. His country, one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, was on the world stage, but only for a moment, and as the momentum of the game shifted, he seemed to anticipate that this appearance would be just another opportunity for disappointment and defeat.
And so it is out on the course. We approach difficult shots with a fatalistic attitude. We pepper the air with expletives and groans. We see bad things happen to our golf balls, and although we express our disappointment with a full range of complaint and invective, deep down inside we’re not surprised. We knew it would happen. And yet we return again and again to the course, hoping, just like that Honduran guy in the pastry shop, that maybe this will be the time things are different.
Commentators describe both games, golf and soccer, as cruel. You don’t hear that about American football. Brutal yes, but cruel no. The same goes for all the other sports. They can disappoint, they can frustrate, but they don’t have the reputation for cruelty. These two do.  As the Men in Blazers pointed out to us in the painful aftermath of the Portugal match, “Football is meant to hurt,” and every weekend millions of golfers console themselves and their playing partners by observing that “it’s a tough game.”

The realm of the random
Bad hops and weird bounces play a role in other sports, but not to the degree they do with these two. The ball caroms off a shin and straight onto the boot of an onrushing player and–voila–GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL. The well-struck putt, perfectly calibrated in terms of speed and line, hits the smallest of imperfections or lumps as it decelerates near the hole and–just like that–somebody else gets the trophy. In both sports we celebrate and exult in the rare and improbable.  Goals are, as all too many an American has been known to complain, rare events in the course of a match, and there is no higher spot in the pantheon of golf than the one reserved for that rarity, the inexplicably perfect shot, the hole in one.  In both games, we put up with a lot of back and forth as the price for the chance to experience the breakthrough, the moment when it does all work out.

So, as I get ready to hit the button that says “Publish,” we are just hours away from knowing if the USA advances or goes home.  Will this be a day to celebrate, or a day to look back at Sunday’s 95th minute with renewed anguish?  Who knows? I’m ready to be happy, I’m resigned to being disappointed.  I’m a fan.  I’m a golfer.

Golfing greetings

Well, well, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Full-time employment will do that. When I last posted the follow-up was going to address the topic of “What is the Purpose of Bad Golf?” We’ll get back to that eventually, but right now, let’s get seasonal.
And by that I’m talking about viewing the symbols, songs and stories of the holiday season from a golfing perspective. In other words, what is the Golf Version of the Holidays? Everybody’s making lists this time of year, so here’s mine:

Hanukkah: In the Golf version, an intrepid band of golfers save their course from being plowed under for a condo development. In celebration, they gather at the first tee to play their course once again, even though they know that there’s only enough daylight left to play one hole. But then a great miracle takes place and it stays light long enough for them to play eight more holes. They get to play the Front Nine!

The 12 Days of Christmas: In this version you get a club a day. What? You want to know what happened to the other two? Listen, you know you can’t hit a 3-iron to save your life and in your hands a lob wedge might as well be a shovel. Your true love is doing you a favor.

The wreath: May the hole look this big every time you have a “must make” putt.

Christmas trees: This is what happens to every and any tree that has ever knocked down a shot of yours. They are cut down, and dragged into houses where hot lights and ornaments are wrapped around their limbs. People look at them in their garish captivity and then they’re cast out on to the street where they’re collected and ground into mulch. Let that be a warning to them! Maybe they’ll think twice about messing with our golf balls.

The three wise men: The foursome you wish you played in.

“Jingle Bells”: Rattle clubs, rattle clubs, rattle all the way, you can hear me walking from about a mile away!

A Christmas Carol: If Dickens had been a golfer, old Scrooge would have been the same jerk, only Tiny Tim is the caddy that he mistreats. In this version he has the same cycle of dreams, but in his dream of Golf in his Future he sees how feeble his swing is, how much age has eroded his game and he awakes chastened and realizes that he has to appreciate the game that he plays, instead of whining and bitching about it.

That’s it for now. I hope everybody has a great holiday season!

The cycle of golf

Even those of us who spaced out during biology class are familiar with the cycle of life: birth, the bloom of youth, maturity, decay, death, compost, birth and back on the wheel again. A cycle is also part of the marketing pitch for religion. In the version popular in these here parts, there’s rebirth in a really long sequel that stars YOU. In other versions, there is a series of sequels in which your role is played by an ensemble cast.
But there is also the cycle of golf. I’m not referring to the trend in one’s game that follows the meta-trend of one’s life. Rather I’m talking about the wheel inside the wheel, the cycle of good play giving way to bad play and then worse play, only to be followed by a resurrection and return to good play. This is the cycle that can take place over the course of a season, a month, even down to the micro-level of one round or even a single hole.
Why is this? Why does the game have to be this way? It’s not like I’m that erratic in the rest of my life. Good Lord, if I were, I’d be freaking Charlie Sheen: one day on the red carpet, the next day in jail. So what’s up with that?
Well, first off let’s consider, as a thought experiment, the possibility that the game was not this way, and that in fact it was precisely the opposite: you worked at it and just got better. You might level off at various points along the way, but over time your mastery just grew. It would be like learning a language in which you mastered increasingly difficult conjugations and declensions and improved your listening comprehension. You wouldn’t wake up one day and suddenly be unable to ask where the restrooms are without a lot of weird hand gestures.
But I think we all know what this would be like. Boring. In his book, History of the World in 9 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes has a great story about a guy who winds up in one of the possible locales in that vast area known as the afterlife. He starts playing golf, and since he has a lot of time for it, he gets really good. Like Kim Jong-Il good. Starts scoring 18 for a round. So he does what anybody would do at that point. He quits.
Now obviously this scenario is a bit absurd. But it does illustrate a point. I have met a lot of smug, arrogant people in my life–yes, it’s been a great journey–but I have yet to run into anybody who leaned back in his chair, took a sip of single malt and declared that he had “quit golf because it was just getting too easy.”

But having granted the game this point, there is still the matter of whether golf kind of overdoes it. There’s keeping it interesting and there’s overkill. Which leads to the following question which will be the topic of the next post: What is the Purpose of Bad Golf?

My Open Wish List

Here’s my wish list for this year’s U.S. Open:

1. No playoff. I’d feel differently if the USGA allowed for the sort of resolution for a tie that EVERY OTHER tournament uses, i.e. do it right away and do it so that your final day galleries and huge TV audience can watch it.  On Mondays there’s this thing called work and an 18-hole playoff doesn’t always fit in with that.

2. Decent weather.  (This is actually a bargaining chip, a throw-away request. There is absolutely no chance of this.)

3. A good leaderboard on Sunday.  Sorry folks, but I don’t want any journeymen, or 3-day wonders up there.  Heavyweights only.

4. Excellence, not survival.  Despite my frustration with the weather forecast–and as I write, we are sitting through the first of what promises to be several rain delays–I am actually happy that Merion is softer and will play easier.  I’m not a fan of the brutal, one-man-left-standing U.S. Open format.  It tends to produce winners who are phlegmatic and completely devoid of charisma, e.g. Lee Janzen.  (Sorry, Lee, but admit it man: you’re steady, but dull.)

4 (a) As a subset of the previous request I am not a fan of the grotesque blow-up that can happen with the tight layout, thick rough and slick greens that characterize the typical US Open venue.  I don’t enjoy, and in fact I find disturbing, the spectacle of seeing one of the best players in the world four putting, or scything up chunks of heavy grass.  This game is difficult enough.  I don’t need to see the gods struggling with it.

5. No runaway.  This is not a  team sport where I have absolutely no problem with the SF Giants sweeping the World Series or one of those Super Bowl blowouts during the 49er’s glory days.  There is no golfer I like so much that I want to see him destroy the field.  Sure, there are guys I’d like to see win, but by one stroke and on the 72nd hole.



New listing?

Some members want to put one of these at the entrance

Since this story has appeared in the local papers I no longer feel bound by any sense of confidentiality. And since this is my blog I can say whatever I want on the topic. So here goes.

In a nutshell, here’s the story:  A local developer submitted a letter to my club, Lake Merced Golf Club, offering to purchase an option to buy the whole parcel for a massive real estate development.  The indicated sales price would have meant pre-tax proceeds to each proprietary member of something in the neighborhood of a million dollars.  Soon after, a few members approached the developer asking her to withdraw the offer and she did so.  Well, by that point the genie was out of the bottle.  With the offer now retracted, a significant percentage of the membership had seen their chance to cash out get snatched away from them, and they were not happy about this.  So now, although there is no offer on the table,  the club is engaged in the lengthy and not inexpensive process of determining what the property is worth and what the process of selling the place would entail.

(Note: for those of you unfamiliar with the golf geography of the Bay Area, LMGC sits just west of the merger of Route 1/19th Avenue and I-280 in Daly City.  When you’re driving north on 280 towards San Francisco it’s behind that line of cypress trees to your left.  Truth be told, it has some of the worst weather in the area.  But it is only a short walk to a BART station and, traffic permitting, just minutes from  downtown SF.  Location, location, location.)

But back to the story.  To paraphrase John Paul Jones, we have only just begun to fight.

When I first learned about the idea of selling the club,  my reaction was immediate and visceral.  I didn’t like it.  I love the course and I didn’t want to lose the experience of playing there.  Sure, the money would be nice but it wasn’t enough to get me to cross the line.  At the same time I felt that this was a very private decision for each member.  Each one of us would be factoring in our own individual circumstances, and how could somebody on one side of the vote question the criteria of someone on the other?  Viewed from a distance the question posed was a fascinating one: we all have expressed an opinion as to how much we’d be willing to pay for certain golf experiences–“Those green fees are a ripoff” or “That driver isn’t worth it”– but how often have we had to put a price on NOT being able to play somewhere?

But as the debate builds and festers, I find myself less disposed to remaining dispassionate.  I’m not happy about this turn of events.  I wish this had never come up.  But if we are going to debate it, let’s be accurate in how we define our terms.  So first off,  let’s stop referring to proprietary interests in the club as investments.  It’s a membership, not an investment.  Have you been able to use it as collateral for a loan?  Does it pay  dividends?  Have you traded it on the secondary market?  No, of course not. The answer is “no” to all three questions.  It’s not an investment.

The only way you can execute the arbitrage of converting that membership into its underlying economic value is to destroy the entity that sold it to you in the first place.  Which is why I would also prefer a more accurate description of the proposal before the club.  While it may be true that the transaction in question is a sale, I think it would be better, if instead of saying that you were in favor of selling the club, that people were required to say they were in favor of destroying it.  It’s the end result, right?  The sale is only the precedent to the real outcome.  Nobody is willing to pay you that kind of money and keep the course there.  So let’s be honest about what we’re talking about.  If you want to destroy the club, you have to say so.

One of the arguments used to justify the sale is to ask, “Well, what about the older members?”  Well, what about them? Folks, this is hardly the first time in the history of golf, or in the history of this club for that matter, that people have become too old to play.  Can you imagine what the world of golf would look like if it were standard operating procedure for clubs to self-destruct whenever a significant percentage of members got too old?  How many great courses would no longer exist if the prevailing attitude had been, “Hey, screw it. I’m done. Bulldoze the sucker and mail me a check”?  Over the history of the game millions of members of private clubs have missed their last putt, picked up their ball, and walked off into the sunset, leaving behind the course that had welcomed them so many years earlier.

Lake Merced was founded in 1922 and has survived the Great Depression, World War II and all the social upheavals of the ensuing decades.  Once surrounded by farmland, it is circled now by freeways, shopping malls and housing. Those of us who are members now were invited in and accepted as fellow members of the community by men and women who in turn were brought in by the members who preceded them.  For decades members have moved on to whatever awaits us on the other side of this life, but each one of those generations left the course for others to enjoy as they had.  By what right do any of us  feel entitled to break this chain?

One response to that question could be that a sale is simply the members’ prerogative as owners of the club.  But what does is it mean to be an owner of something like a golf club?  Maybe I’m just dense, but I always assumed that the implied contract was as follows: In exchange for a membership fee and my payment of monthly dues and whatever assessments were deemed necessary, I purchased a right to unlimited golf and the option of engaging in the social life of the club.  At some point down the road I would relinquish that membership, but in the interim I had a responsibility to care for the club.   The club was bequeathed to me and my contemporaries, and we in turn would pass it on to others.  What I bought, and therefore what I own, is a combination of privilege and responsibility, two things that are often linked in this world.  Although that right certainly exists on paper, I never assumed that I had purchased the right to destroy something I love.

And what I love is not just the remarkable golf course, but what the club represents.  Lake Merced was founded by Jews who were barred from other clubs at the time, and in turn and in time, the club has opened its doors to people from every part of this world.  As such it exists as a rebuke to bias and prejudice.  I don’t want to see a community based on inclusion go under, while clubs based on exclusion survive.  We have a remarkably diverse membership, but we have something in common other than just a love of golf.  Be we Irish, Jewish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean, our families’ arrival and ultimate success in this country was accomplished despite facing prejudice and mistrust.  Is this how we honor those who came before us, by destroying our own community?

Finally, some proponents for the destruction of the club have justified their position by arguing that the club has changed or is dying.  Well, what hasn’t changed in the past few decades?  Golf clubs will never  again be the center of members’ social lives that they were in previous decades.  We’re all too busy or too mobile for that.  But that hardly makes a case for euthanizing the club.  Great institutions survive by sticking to their core principles while adapting to changes in their environment.  There is no evidence that Lake Merced can’t continue to innovate and attract new members.  The same regional economic revival that induces a real estate developer to offer a huge price for our land is also creating a staggering amount of wealth all around us.   And you know what they say: where’s there money, there’s bound to be golf.  You want to sell something? Sell memberships in a great course right on the outskirts of arguably the best city in the United States.


All hail Augusta!

It’s time for the Masters, the major tournament that embodies so much of what’s right and what’s wrong about golf. Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we?

The Masters, along with opening day in baseball, is an event of hope, proof that indeed the days are getting longer, and a sign that the warm days of May and June are really not all that far away.  The PGA season has been underway for months, but it has been a sojourn through vacation destinations:  Hawaii, the desert and Florida.  The arrival of the tour in Augusta signals to golfers in the northern latitudes that soon enough playing a round of golf will not require the purchase of a plane ticket or four layers of clothing.

As a venue, Augusta allows, in fact encourages, a bolder, more dramatic form of the game.  The US Open, on the other hand, with its brutal layouts and rough is more a war of attrition, where the winner is the last man standing.  It rewards steadiness, not boldness, and as a result a list of US Open champions includes more than a few of the charisma challenged professionals of their day.  The Open, played on golf’s Ur-courses, is a stage for creativity: the 125 yard bump and run, the intentional ricochet off the stonewall on the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

I’m not suggesting that there haven’t been brilliant shots at the other Majors–that would be ridiculous– but the Masters, without coincidence, is where many of the game’s most memorable shots have taken place: Phil’s six-iron on #13 in 2010, Bubba’s “Bend it like Beckham” wedge in last year’s playoff.  The errant shot doesn’t land in the soggy shag carpet of a US Open or the gorse and brambles lining the fairways in Scotland.  Instead it sits on a bed of pine needles in a grove of trees whose low-lying limbs were trimmed away long ago, saying to the player, “Go ahead, go for it.”

The shots may also be more memorable for another reason.  To some degree all golfers in the US have two home courses: the one they play regularly and Augusta.  One is our real home course and the other is our fantasy home course.  Think about it.  If you’re a golf fan, you know that course, or at least the back nine, by heart.  Thus the Masters captures the essence of our own less attractive version of the game: a series of unpredictable events on a very familiar stage.

Perhaps more than any other course, the camera angles at the Masters, particularly on the par-5’s on the back nine, convey the image of the golfer as heroic figure. You see the player from the rear, framed against a backdrop of Georgia pine and flower, the well guarded green far in the distance.  These are often the decisions and shots that determine the outcome of the tournament, and all you see is the player and the course. On holes like 12, 13 and 15 there is no gallery clustered around the green. All you see is golfer, club and ball.  There is a purity to it that is somewhat unique in the game as a telecast event.  We are a long ways from the 16th at the Phoenix Open.

But enough of this. Let’s get snarky.  What about the bad stuff?

Well, since we were just talking about television, let’s segue to the CBS coverage. Whoa, let’s lather on the treacle shall we?  It’s enough to cause Type B mental diabetes, a condition brought on by over consumption of hyper-sentimentality.  And the music as they go to commercial breaks?  Really? I’m not advocating for hip-hop or heavy metal,but  could we have something different, please?  It’s like lounge music for a nursing home.

Which brings us to the telecast tagline, a “tradition unlike any other.” Well folks, the sad truth is that the traditions at Augusta are unfortunately not that unique, just more entrenched.  And of course I’m talking about Augusta as a bastion of privileged white maleness, an image that impedes the growth of the game as much as pace of play.  While those of us involved in the sport can point to as many indicators of diversity in today’s game as we can find, the image of the game from the outside remains locked in this stereotype of country club life.  We can have moments such as 2001 when the traditional victor’s ceremony featured Vijay Singh helping another man of color, Tiger Woods, put on his second green jacket, but the reality of Augusta in 2013 is that it is an organization that just last year had to be dragged into the 1980’s when it finally relented and let two women in as members.

But wait, there’s more!  Augusta isn’t content with merely being retrograde when it comes to membership policy.  You have to be especially reverent when you’re there or even when talking about the place.  (This latter advisory  is an obvious reference to Gary McCord’s simply brilliant observation in 1994 that the closely mowed 17th green had been “bikini-waxed.”  For this impropriety the Masters asked that he be banned from the CBS broadcast team.  He has never returned.)  If you’re there as a spectator, be careful not to run or lie on the grass, and never, never wear your golf cap backwards, because all of these are violations of the sharia law that governs conduct on the sacred grounds of Augusta.

In fact I’ll tell you exactly how uptight Augusta is.  I just read that Bobby Jones felt that it was inappropriate to refer to Augusta as having “front” and “back” nines because–wait for it– this might lead people to go one step further and talk about the course’s back side.

But, here’s the catch.  Will I be watching? Of course.  Am I happy that it’s Masters Week? You bet.  Will I root for the kind of finish we had in 2011? Oh yeah.  All of this is true despite my misgivings about the place.  I just have to take the good with the bad.


The Golf Haggadah Returns!

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.

And in a new development since the last time this post was unleashed on the world, I discovered–thanks to 23 and me–that I am 1% Ashkenazi Jew.

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.

Family heirloom for the Golf Seder Plate

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.

The Plagues

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




Just imagine they’re all wearing yarmulkes

Loss of tempo

Coming over the top

Loss of confidence

Poor course management

Shanking it


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 doneto 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.

The meal

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.