I picked up the game in earnest later in life than I would have if I could start over knowing what I do now. In that way, golf is not unlike a great many things in retrospect– I would choose Boy Scouts over Little League, slide rule over girls, and God’s will over my own ego. I don’t remember exactly when or where I first saw the game played, but think it was at the old Port Groves Golf Course affectionately known by locals as “the Pea Patch.” A few old men hit the course each morning and spent the rest of the day in the makeshift clubhouse playing poker and drinking beer. We termed it a pea patch because it more resembled a garden or abandoned field than it did a place to play the royal game. Greens varied little from fairways and fairways were only slightly better mown than the San Augustine growing wildly in “the rough.” The only elevation on the course came from the slight rise on the edge of the bar ditch creating the course’s border next to Monroe Street in The Groves.
My father bought a starter set of Northwestern clubs for me and another for himself at Christmas. We played our first round a few days later, and it was so cold that our bargain balls cracked and a few even shattered when struck. I survived the arctic eighteen and started playing regularly at the old Pleasure Island course owned by the City of Port Arthur, playing with my best friend after school and every spare minute when we could escape. He was good; I wasn’t, but loved every minute on the course and couldn’t get enough. In fact, the only time I was ever summoned to the principal’s office was for skipping last period my senior year of high school in order to go play golf. I purchased a new set of clubs from J. C. Penney after graduation, stowed them in my ample trunk and set off for college in my ’65 Ford Galaxy. Golf was my less-than-magnificent obsession– I played frequently and watched golf on weekends. I wasn’t any good, but didn’t know enough or have the money to take lessons in order to improve. Eventually, I laid aside the clubs and the game I loved, and endured life without golf.
I didn’t swing a club for twenty years, until a friend convinced me to pick it up the game again a year ago. This go around I took lessons and am playing better than ever before, but the real difference is mental. My caddy these days is grace. I strive to improve, but what I want most is to enjoy the moments strung together on the driving range or golf course. I’ve relieved myself of the awful burden of perfection and embrace the joy of standing on manicured greens and strolling down pristine fairways, surrounded my reminders that God is good. Better yet, my wife–a decent player and even better companion–often accompanies me, adding to the glory of it all. I’m working steadily to improve my game, but mostly I am allowing myself to enjoy it.
Can I enjoy the game of golf even though I’m not any good at it? Is it possible to love Jesus even though I stumble repeatedly over being salt and light? Allow me to frame it differently: What if discipleship is less about performance, and more about passion? What if Christ-following is more about desire than technical skill? What if the desired end result is not what I am able to produce, but who I become along the way? Grace abounds; joyful are those who revel in and are changed by it.