Golf is more like religion than I thought

The newspapers tell me there's a line of golf balls with Bible verses on them. It is a pleasure to return from the Holy Land and find this teed up for me. It's like a little bit of manna on a tiny white stick. Harken unto me, O manufacturers. In the Land of Scot have you made balls bearing passages including 2 Timothy 4:7 ("I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.") That one makes some sense, since according to Hebrews 11:1 "faith is ... the evidence of things not seen." Which in my case would include not only improvements in my score but, all too often, my ball itself.

But you also used Ezekiel 46:9 ("But each shall go out straight ahead") and Isaiah 40:26 ("Lift up your eyes on high and see ... not one is missing") which prompts the immediate thought that many Bible passages must be taken allegorically, as the latter appears to contravene the rule "Lift not thy head until thy follow-through be complete." The former I do not ever expect to see fulfilled even in an allegorically comprehensible fashion.

Before I deliver my sermon on the sphere ("Blessed are they who lay up, for they shall experience bogey not triple") I should acknowledge the hazards, lateral and otherwise, of experiencing faith-related inspirations while visiting Jerusalem. I'm told Israel has a hospital ward full of tourists who were unexpectedly the second coming. So let me stipulate that I made no experiment at the Sea of Galilee respecting unusual buoyancy. (I did in the Dead Sea but apparently that doesn't count.)

I also won't bore you with the story of watching my own mother, a few years back, hit a special floating golf ball on a high, graceful arc into a pond to whose murky bottom it promptly sank. There is already far too much room in golf for Job 8:2: "How long wilt thou speak these things? And how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?" Especially in the clubhouse after the round. Maybe I'll get it on a shirt. But the simple fact is that I am entitled to put "Matthew 3:3" on my ball.

Yea, verily, I say unto you, I have not only heard, I have personally been, a voice crying in the wilderness. Not in the Judean desert. In the rough down the left side of the fairway. As a matter of fact, I think I wandered there for 40 strokes. Why do you think I was crying? It is true that my ball tends not so much to cross Jordan as to splash ignominiously into it. But then, Moses didn't clear the last water hazard either, so I could get his name on a ball. Or Jonah's. I cannot say for sure that a whale ever actually swallowed one of my balls, but if not it wasn't for lack of opportunity.

To those Talmud scholars who point out that Jonah got back to dry land, I say I have skipped balls over ponds and had them come to rest under trees that might have been gourds. You don't know they weren't. You weren't there. OK, so it wasn't in Nineveh; I can't hit it that far. But my brother-in-law once successfully played a ball bobbing up and down on some seaweed. Never mind Jonah; how about Lazarus?

Please don't go rending your plaid pants here. I have great respect for both golf and religion. Both speak of suffering and redemption, the futility of good works without grace, and the necessity or at least the inevitability of humility. What golfer has not staggered from the course with "tekel" ringing in his or her ears? (From Daniel 5:27, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," it is the original "writing on the wall" or, in this case, the scorecard.) I routinely repent my misdeeds the whole way from the first tee to the 18th green. And which will take longer to arrive, the Messiah or a teacher who will cure our slice? Oh, right. The teacher. Even Billy Graham once said God always answered his prayers except on the golf course.

So another verse that would go naturally on a golf ball is Genesis 3:17, at least the "cursed is the ground for thy sake" bit. I've also seen the thorns and thistles of Genesis 3:18 up close although I didn't eat the herb of the field. Instead it wrapped itself around the hozzle of my 7-iron causing me to duff my shot. A few experiences like that and I've found myself thinking if the moon is going to turn to blood it should do it now so I don't have to write down my score. Plus I wouldn't be surprised to learn that shank rides a pale horse.

Wait a minute. This whole Bible golf thing will never work. At least not until some kind theological liberal edits out Exodus 20:7. You know. That silly bit about taking the Lord's name in vain.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson