Ever Wonder How Golf Got Its Name?
by Terry Betterton
One theory, certainly unscientific but with a touch of logic, goes this way: All of the other appropriate – inappropriate, however, for a family publication – four-letter words were already taken. So were torture, humiliation, and embarrasment.
Now, that theory can not be verified, but it is still mentioned repeatedly at the 19th hole. It is also known as the relaxation exercise following a typical 18-holes of frustration, despair, and the realization that you are not Arnold Palmer. Astronauts go through debriefing following a space flight. Golfers go to the 19th hole to relive every slice, shank, splash, and whiff in what is supposed to be a pleasant few hours away from the stress of everyday life.
Anybody who plays golf has experienced a slice, shank, splash, and whiff, plus a four-putt green. For those who don’t play golf, these are not good things. They are things associated with failure. Even Tiger Woods has experienced the failure that is part of the game, although not nearly as often nor to the degree of the more mortal among us.
Still, people keep coming back.
Don’t try walking up to the Morro Bay or Dairy Creek golf courses and expect to get on the first tee immediately. It ain’t going to happen very often. You call ahead for reservations or wait in line like everybody else.
Why? Why do people subject themselves to something that is often humiliating and sometimes degrading? Why put yourself in a position to doubt your sanity and certainly your physical coordination?
Believe it or not, people come back because it’s fun.
“It’s just an amazing way to spend some time outside and be with friends,” said Susan Nail, of Los Osos, following a recent round at Morro Bay with three others.
Of course, this was one of those glorious Central Coast days that makes you marvel at God’s creation – cloudless blue skies, a slight breeze and an unmatched view of the Pacific Ocean – so Nail’s reaction, understandably, could be to the conditions, not the game itself. But it's more than a good walk, even though Mark Twain once described golf as, “A good walk spoiled.”
“Golf is the most incredible game that ever was,” she said. But, she didn’t always feel that way.
“Until I retired eight years ago, I thought golf was stupid, a terrible waste of time,” she said.
Elaine Taylor, also of Los Osos and a member of Nail’s foursome, once had the same opinion of the activity she now looks forward to with great anticipation.
“It’s a whole world I never knew existed until I started playing just a few years ago,” Taylor said. “It’s great fun socially and the only time I get outside. I can’t imagine not playing golf.”
The social aspect of the game cannot be diminished, even when it includes a prank.
Recently, at Sea Pines Resort in Los Osos, Lee Pando, of Cayucos, walked 18 holes pulling a cart that was given to him by has grandfather decades ago. That sentimental gesture, however, was tested because friends surreptitiously replaced his more manly black bag with a pink one, replaced his regular white balls with pink ones, and replaced his tees with, you guessed it, pink ones. They obtained a pink putter, too, but not in time to add to the stunt.
This was not a statement of support for breast cancer awareness. This was more locker room humor than social statement.
The good-natured Pando was able to shrug off the implied insult to his manhood, at least partially because he accomplished one of his better rounds. He and his threesome were able to smile the whole time.
But, what about the frustration of knowing you can do better, the humiliation of repeated failure that is part of the game. We’ve all heard stories about golfers throwing their clubs into lakes or hitting them against trees. Truth be known, the problem is not the clubs, but the person swinging them.
“Golf is hard, very difficult, but I like a challenge,” said Shadie East of Cambria, who had just recorded his best round of the year, a 75 at Dairy Creek. “Some people quit, but then come back the next week. I love playing golf. There is nothing like it.”
Don Umhofer is a true novice. In his 40s, Umhofer, of San Luis Obispo, has had three lessons, but has already learned the reality of golf. It’s supposed to be relaxing, but it often is not. It’s supposed to be healthy, but then we use electric carts to ride instead of walk. Sometimes the joys of golf are difficult to see through the fog of failure. It can be difficult to feel the enjoyment when you’ve just hit out of bounds, or into the water, or onto the adjoining fairway.
“I’m looking for something new, a social activity and I like the outdoors,” Umhofer said after hitting some practice shots at Dairy Creek. “But, I’m learning that golf is a game of opposites. It has the potential of be very frustrating.”
Kent Lauble, the head pro at Dairy Creek, can click off numerous reasons why people play golf, most of which have been declared by others. At first, Lauble said there were “No” reasons not to play golf, but then he edited that opinion.
“Golf is hard to learn and it can be intimidating,” Lauble said. “Calling it a challenge is a good way to put it.”
Yes, golfers keep score. But, really, golf is a match against yourself and, because of human nature, you will probably never be satisfied. A person who has just broken 100 for the first time will immediately begin striving to break 90, then 80, and so on. If you make a bogie on the 10th hole at Morro Bay, you will want to make par the next time.
The constant in golf, however, is the stories. The stories that are repeated often, like those familiar tales repeated at family gatherings. How truthful the stories are really doesn’t matter. They are the kind of tales that make you smile. Since most are embarrassing, they usually happened to somebody else, like the incident Lauble, the golf pro, witnessed.
“A guy hit down on his tee shot, drove it into the ground in front of him, and it spun backward behind him,” Lauble said. “It happened 20 years ago and I haven’t seen anything like it since.”
East recalled a story he swears – for reasons which will become obvious – of which he had no part.
It seems, during a tournament, player A was having stomach discomfort. While player B was putting, player A, whose discomfort was getting worse, putting it socially acceptably, passed gas. Loudly. Loudly enough to make player B jump and knock his putt off line.
Player A, was forced to take a two-stroke penalty, which seems like a pretty light sentence, considering the circumstances. But, it would be interesting to know where in the rule book there is a "no passing gas" regulation.
Alan McVay, of San Luis Obispo, still smiles at the one about popular long time and successful Lee Trevino, who never had a quick remark he could contain.
It seems Trevino, during stormy weather, was waving a 1-iron over his head. Now, the 1-iron is regarded as the most difficult golf club to use, but it was the threat of lightning that concerned those around Trevino at the time.
“Don’t worry, not even God can hit a 1-iron,” Trevino said.
The moral to the story has nothing to do with golf: Don’t challenge the Big Guy. During a storied career, Trevino was hit by lightning – twice.