Golf and my Faith

Here’s a Summer contribution to our blog series on how our studies influence our faith. For the Summer Fr Ian invited his University Chaplain of many years ago, the Venerable John Duncan, for a blog post in the series, knowing Fr John would come up with something a little different – as indeed he did – on Golf. He writes:

Golf – and faith

‘Golf’, it has been said, ‘is a dangerous obsessional condition – should have a government health warning!’  Much like ‘religion’, perhaps.   Indeed, interesting, illuminating, even entertaining, parallels can be drawn between golf and religion and their practice – gatherings of the like minded, devotion to particular places and persons, memorable experiences seared in the mind.

Sam Torrance wins the 1985 Ryder Cup

As a golf addict of the mediocre class of more than seventy years,  perhaps I’m qualified to offer a few parallels, which may have theological or ecclesiological resonances.   Like a joke, they shouldn’t be given ‘plonking’ explanation – they either resonate or they don’t.   Golf carries its own great traditions going back to the founding ‘fathers’ on the east coast of Scotland at St Andrews, and, so far as I personally am concerned, for five generations of my family.   My grandfather was a founder member of Moortown Golf Club in Leeds, where Britain and Ireland beat the USA in the Ryder Cup in 1929.   My father saw that contest, as I and my son saw England and Europe win at the Belfry, near Birmingham, in 1985,  Sam  Torrance (later a Ryder Cup captain) raising his arms on holeing the decisive putt, an indelible iconic moment:   Concorde  collected the losing team and dipped its wings in salute over the course:  legendary heroes, contemporary greats, memorable moments on hallowed turf in iconic places.

On the whole, those who watch and marvel at the ‘greats’ , the McIlroys and Mickelsons of our time, are golfers themselves.   Generation by generation, they use the same equipment, play on the same turf, have to resolve the same puzzle of hitting a small ball with a small surface.   So I can see my father setting out for golf at Moortown on Tuesday afternoons in a 1930’s Morris, much as I do on Wednesdays, and my son does on  golf breaks with longstanding fellow obsessives.   Times change.   Equipment evolves.  Romantically named clubs – spoon, baffy, niblick – are supplanted by numbered clubs.   Shafts, once hickory, are now carbon fibre.  Battery driven caddy cars to carry bags of clubs replace the characters who were the caddies.

Max Faulkner in 1951

And then there is the aesthetic and physical background to golf which can impinge on ‘natural theology’ – the main aspect of faith of British people.   Many of golf’s settings, notably on duneland near the sea, can speak of a Creator.   The company of fellow players, often the same over many years, is a reticent school of regular companionship, understanding and love.   And very occasionally, skill, personality, beauty come together in ‘mystic harmony’.   In a glass case at St Andrews Max Faulkner’s lemon plus fours and purple shirt are displayed.  Max was not merely a Brylcreemed dandy of the post-war fairways;  he won the British Open.   I see his iron shot to the green, the ball brilliant against an indigo sky and coming to rest next to the pin.   And, once, I hit a seven iron to six inches from the pin at Moortown.  

This is the sixth in our series of how our studies influence our faith. Previous posts have looked at Metallurgy and my faithMathematics and my faithEntomology and my faith,  Family History and my faith, and Physical Chemistry and my faith


About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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