lessons from the golf course: open to all?

One of the interesting things about going around a place like Barnbougle (or any golf course you care to name) is that there are golfers of all standards out and about.

There are the hacks like me, who play a couple of times a year, enjoy the game a great deal, but never really know where the ball will go when it is hit.

There are the regular club guys and gals, who work hard at their game, play regularly, and reach a standard of proficiency or at least consistency.  Playing once or twice a week matters in any sport, but particularly in golf.

And then there are the guns, those for whom excellence in golf is a passion (or even a job). Who love being challenged by the course, and love to push back, trying to beat the designer, the pin placement, the weather….and optimally, the “par” score.  All are welcome.

There are those who head to the course with the latest and greatest equipment. Titanium headed drivers, stunningly machined irons, stylish clothing, massive luxury golf bags with all kinds of features I didn’t know exist. Perhaps even golf balls that at a price will help you hit longer, straighter, more accurately and with more spin (if you believe the marketing material!).  And there are those who head to the course with a cheap set of 20 year old clubs, old scuffed balls and whatever other equipment can be pressed into service.  All are welcome.

A good course has features that challenge players at all levels. Maybe the fairway is wide and flat closer to the tee, giving the shorter hitters the chance of finding the fairway, while it tightens up further down, or includes strategically placed fairway bunkers to stretch the more capable among us.  Maybe the green is big, so that those of us a little less accurate can simply focus on making the green, while a tough pin placement pushes the better players to fly in over a bunker to get really close.  All are welcome.

Those who are members of a golf club also know that there are systems to enable everybody to compete on an even footing. The handicap ranking allows those who usually shoot 100 to compete with those going around in 90, 80 or even 70.  If you play a little better than your normal standard, going around in a few shots less than your average, you can take a win even over those who shoot less than you.  That’s the golf handicap system.  All are welcome.

Golf has something for everybody.  All are welcome at its table.

Or are they…?

Golf anywhere costs.  At Barnbougle, one of the worlds best golf courses, a game costs enough to make it perhaps a once a year deal for me.  At my local course I can play for around $25.  That makes it affordable for me to play when I have the time….but for some that too is beyond reach.  An annual membership in a local might by $500 or more (sometimes a whole lot more).  So while all are welcome, golf is not accessible to everybody.

And like any sport, there are customs and culture. There are dress standards, behaviour, golfers ‘etiquette’.  And so, while all are welcome, there is a sense in which they are only welcome if they abide by the expectations of the golfing community.  To the outsider, some of these seem reasonable, some bizarre. Some are only known to the insider.

When I was growing up I played more frequently, and one of the unspoken rules was to do with the wearing of hats indoors in the club house.  If you were found wearing a hat, you were expected to shout all at the bar a round of drinks.  No kidding!  Those kind of unspoken rules and expectations set up a strong insider/outsider feeling.

So I get to wondering how other aspects of our community life compare with golf.  Where all are welcome, but with conditions.  With limitations.  When you think about it, about sports, hobbies, social groups you might be involved in, its not at all unusual.

And I find myself thinking particularly about the church.  We say we are a community open to all.  Where all are welcome.  Where young and old, male and female, rich and poor, healthy and sick can exist side by side, in a kind of utopian community.  We make all sorts of claims about being open, friendly, welcoming and committed to hospitality.

How much of that is true? If a homeless person walked into your church community, a week since the last shower…how welcome would they be?  If someone with mental health issues, or someone who speaks with language some might find offensive…?  Or even someone who fits all the stereotypes, but doesn’t get the unspoken rules and behaviours?

I went to a church service on Sunday, and tried to take an outsiders perspective. It’s a weird experience. People stand up and sit down for no apparent reason. Pray together using words that are not printed anywhere.  And they sing communally….not an experience common for many in the wider community.  The notice sheet announced a midweek bible study open to all, and held at “Ruth’s House”.  Who is Ruth? Where does she live? Who do I talk to if I want to know more information?

These things are important, and bring meaning for many inside the church. But in small ways, subtle ways, unspoken ways…..they reinforce an insider/outsider perspective.

What would a faith community look like if it were truly welcoming to all? If it were designed from the ground up as an open learning space?  If all were truly welcome at its table?

Lessons from the golf course is a continuing series of reflections


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