«Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle.» Author Unknown
After having traveled the world for over 20 years and visited a hundred-plus countries (and played golf in half of them), you quickly discover it’s the beguiling little cultural differences that are more telling than the larger, more obvious ones.
For example, Japanese food tastes exactly like it sounds – weird. Italian fashion is far stranger than any words that have yet been developed to describe it. The Brazilian word for ‹yes›, can, when fully employed, mean ‹certainly›, ‹maybe›, ‹probably not›, and ‹no› all at the same time. New Zealand’s fascination with sheep and all things furry is only matched by India’s worship of cows and cricket in equal measure. Considering their crap weather and even worse culinary options, the existence of the famous British Stiff Upper Lip is as easily understood as US foreign policy; which in turn reads like a particularly bad Tom Clancy novel. And let’s face it, what the hell were the French thinking when they included ‹escargots› as a highlight of their culinary exports? Yet, for me at least, these all pale in comparison to one of the strangest cultural anomalies I’ve experienced in my travels – the Swiss concept that golf is an exclusive, upper class sport.
Growing up in Australia, a nation that has swapped formalized religion for the worship of chasing, throwing, kicking or hitting anything semi-circular that moves.The Swiss assumption that golf is elitist is one of the most unquestioned yet bizarre cultural traits I’ve yet experienced. There are other things that are rather different about our respective nations. Australia, by and large (and it is a VERY large place) is flat. Switzerland is not. The Swiss pride themselves in putting holes in cheese. Australians see that as a rip off – half cheese, half air. In Switzerland the women call their knickers ‹Thongs› and wear them… well, where you would expect. In Australia, the women don’t wear knickers, and ‹Thongs› are something you wear on your feet. The Swiss have banks where they like to invest all of their money. In Australia we call these places ‹Pubs›. But the assumption that golf is an exclusive sport is probably the biggest difference of all.
Somehow, the true essence of golf has been lost to Switzerland, possibly at the hands of fashion, business lunches, or the mistaken belief that a plethora of rules takes the sport out of the grasp of the common people, especially the young. Changing this perception is one of those hard to remove stains, not unlike brown sauce on a bride’s dress at a wedding BBQ. In reality, it’s nothing like that at all. Yes there are rules and a lot of etiquette you need to be aware of before ignoring. And yes, the idea of celebrating a 20-meter putt in the style of Messi and the rest of FC Barcelona after pounding the winning goal in the Champions League final is still frowned upon. But the simple fact is, Golf is shitloads of fun!
My father introduced me to golf when I was three years old. Even then, my exploding like McEnroe after a duff shot was not frowned on by my father or his friends, who usually made comments like, «Ahhhh…. isn’t he cute!» I wasn’t alone. The pet name for golf where I come from is ‹WackFuk›; so-called because the moment after hearing the ‹Wack!› of your attempt to obliterate all traces of that tiny, hallowed piece of plastic is inevitably followed by a loud «FUUUUUCK!» as you watch it sail smugly out of bounds.
My first local course had no greens. At least, no grass greens – it was fine blue metal sand, as water was not available to maintain ‹Greens›. You carried a sand scraper along with your putter. Meanwhile the hundreds of Kangaroos that are drawn to the fleshy leafed fairways are seen, at best, as distance markers… but most of the time as targets. An Australian ‹handicap› is defined by how many beers you can drink during a round. Whichever way you look at it, this is a far better definition of a handicap.
I have played for – and often lost – pride, Champagne, beer and a coffee. Once, three shots down with three holes to go, I wagered my mate’s wife on the outcome of the match – and won. Now there’s a Trophy Wife, in the truest sense. The first time I played golf in Switzerland, they asked me for my license. I replied, «How fast are these golf carts, for fucks sake? Surely you don’t need a License to drive one?» Yet, amongst it all, past the funky pants, rules, etiquette, stiff attitudes or stern glances, golf is a chance to get outdoors, spend some quality time with friends, and above all have a laugh. Whether you play like Tiger Woods, Happy Gilmore or treat the whole experience a bit like Caddyshack – it’s a great day out.
Golf may not be your cup of tea, but it is one of the funniest pastimes with mates that I’ve ever experienced.
The reality is: you will never know until you give it a go!