Golf Is NOT Your Usual Competitive Sport

The game of golf requires skill, focus and a certain “zen of being in the moment.” There are so many parts of the whole that have to come together at the same time to make the “perfect” swing, the “perfect” putt, the “perfect” chip, fall into place “perfectly.” It’s a very hard game to master.

This morning I was on the practice range with a friend who is just learning to swing a golf club. She told me she wasn’t much for competitive sports and wondered if I found the game of golf to be as competitive as she had heard.
Her question started me thinking about the game itself. Of course there are major competitions in golf. We see them on TV all the time. And there are those local competitions among club champions at every public and private golf course across the country. I belong to a local woman’s league that plays competitive games every week.

Still, I don’t think of golf as your usual competitive sport. At least not for me. When I play a round of golf my focus is seldom on beating the other players. I actually pay very little attention to anyone’s score but my own. My competition is with my own game: with how I am playing today compared with how I have played yesterday, or the day before. I am always competing with myself: one hole at a time, one round at a time. I am always trying to best my past record, lower my handicap and increase my ability.

Here’s a question for you: When you play the game of golf, with whom are you really competing?

  6 comments for “Golf Is NOT Your Usual Competitive Sport

  1. Richard Lowe says:

    Jim, you nailed it. I’ve played for 40 years and do everything you mentioned when playing recreationally (99% of the time!) Playing “strict rules” is great as an almost spiritual discipline, but golf is way, way more fun when we agree to take our great drives out of divots and rake the sand trap so that an explosion is possible.

  2. Jim North says:

    No doubt, Pat, you cannot give or receive advice. As we become more sophisticated and actually hire a caddie, this is part of their role. However, you don’t have to ask for information when you can clearly see the line of a playing partner’s putt. Likewise, from the fairway and tee box you have the opportunity to see what the others in your group are doing as they play their shots. This helps your own game as you benefit by watching them. Finally, since the player with the lowest score tees off first, they bear the risk of accounting for wind, slope, etc. without the benefit of watching others. The last player to tee it up has an advantage, at least if adverse conditions are present. I’m not aware of other sports where this is as much of a factor, and has such a diminishing affect on the competitive element of the game.
    In my experience golf is much more about feeling good and beating the course than trying to crush my opponent. In fact, in casual rounds with my boys we will sometimes throw the rules out the window and openly ‘caddie’ for each other. Why not?

    Speaking of bending the rules, here are my suggestions for better golf without degenerating into ‘playing at golf’ rather than playing golf:
    1- Openly share advice on ball placement, break, etc. Especially if the course is new to one or more in the group. You NEVER see the big boys play an unfamiliar course. Do you have the time and resources to arrive three days early and play practice rounds before the qualifier, before the cut?
    2- If you lose a ball in the fairway rough, toss out another ball without penalty where everyone agrees it most likely should have been found. After all, you don’t have a gallery and USGA spotters running around locating your ball for you.
    3- If your ball lands in a divot, or on scorched earth in the middle of a fairway, move it. Granted, the pros play from these lies, BUT it is very seldom that it is actually necessary. Can you imagine Augusta with a dry patch in a fairway? And every night they send crews out repairing ball marks on greens and divots in fairways. This seldom happens on the courses that the masses play.
    4- Speeking of crummy lies. When was the last time your ball landed in a dirt trap? Why not rake a reasonable layer of sand into place and drop your ball into the newly formulated layer? No pro on earth would ever be expected to play from the mud and dirt that passes for sand in the bunkers near where I play.

    I guess the point of my message is, none of us will ever be on television, but when we watch golf on TV we sit and admire not only the players but the fabulous courses on which they play. Since I will never be able to afford to play on the Riveria, or Augusta, or many others, why not make them ‘virtually’ equitable. I can do this and still have a fair and competitive round without sacrificing my standards – as long as I’m not playing a sanctioned USGA tournament with my 9.7 handicap.

  3. Jim North says:

    For me golf is indeed competitive and I believe there is self deception involved to say otherwise. This is especially true when playing match play, and less so in normal stroke play rounds, but lets face it, even the rules of golf state that the player with the lowest score on the previous hole tees it up first. This is competition. However, I find the competition level with other players secondary to my competition with the course, and my fellow golfers are actually my allies in trying to beat the course. For example, if another play in my foursome has a putt with the same line as my own, but is a foot further away than myself, I am very happy. He has just become my ally in defeating the course since the better his putt is, the more likely he will show me the line and improve my putt as well. I believe this is the most unique aspect of the competitive element of golf.

    • Pat Mullaly says:

      I agree Jim. Each player can give and receive aide from another player by watching putts. But in a tournament or real competition the game rules prevent you from asking or receiving advice from another player unless you are in match play and you can ask advice of your partner… if you do ask advice from another player other than your partner there is a one stroke penalty…. or it may be two… i have to look it up.

  4. Mike Wood says:

    I do not believe that golf is a competitive sport. You have no way of affecting anyone’s score but your own. There is no “one-on-one” competition where you can affect another player’s score…like basketball, football, soccer, hockey, most sports. I hate it when someone says that they “beat” someone else in golf. No, they shot a lower score than the other players…but NEVER beat anyone else. I also hate it when people set out at the beginning of a round of golf to “beat” the other players. When Tiger Woods does his famous fist-pumping…what is that for…he didn’t beat anyone else…he wasn’t competing one-on-one where he could impact another player’s score…so why the fist-pumping like he was in some sort of competition with another player in which he affected that player’s score?

  5. Josh Hanagarne says:

    Hey golfgurl, what an awesome site. I’ve tried golfing a couple of times and can barely avoid chopping my head off with the club. You’ve made my day, and thanks for the kind words on the problogger post. I’m a little freaked out by everything that’s happening, but in a good way:)

    Take care, friend. Thanks again

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