The Art of Golf
The late Ben Hogan once said, “As you walk down the fairway of life, you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”
Not only is this quote a good reminder to slow down and appreciate life in general, but it also reminds us about the beauty of the sport itself.
Indeed, there are roses on some golf courses–and there are azaleas, cacti, Cypress trees, sand dunes, river, lake and ocean views and much more, too– not to mention the other living creatures you might encounter as you play through, such as birds, deer, turtles, sheep, alligators and a variety of additional species, depending on your region.
In addition to the natural landscape, there’s also the golf course design to appreciate. Golf course architects are artists, taking into account vegetation, paths, stone and woodwork and precise locations of sand, hills and slopes, making the course as visually pleasing as it is playable.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is too easy to take our surroundings for granted when we’re struggling with our game or grumbling about slow play. That’s when another well-known adage comes to mind: “A bad day on the course is better than a good day in the office.”
We should regard every round we get to play as a special treat. It’s four hours away from stressors like work and chores, spent in the great outdoors with great company, playing the greatest game on earth.
I was reminded of this recently as I was helping my dad, John Suess, set up for his art show at the Frank L. Weyenberg Library in Mequon.
A former librarian, my dad retired in 2007 and has since devoted his free time to playing golf, working in his award-winning garden, taking photographs and…painting. In the last 15 year, he’s produced over 150 works of art, many of which are landscapes, based on local scenery.
Quite a few of those landscapes are based on photos he’s taken while playing local golf courses such as Currie Park, Dretzka, Kettle Moraine, Fire Ridge, Ives Grove and more.
“I find my inspiration outdoors. While working in my garden, playing golf, or taking a walk or drive, I will often be captivated by the beauty of nature and stop to capture it with my camera. Then, I’ll make it come back to life on canvas,” he said in a recent interview, noting that looking at the scenery and admiring it helps calm him down while playing, taking his mind off of thinking about swing mechanics, etc.
After running out of wall space at home and gifting many paintings to family and friends, dad has begun showing his art at various locations around the city and he now has an Etsy Shop and website. He’s also completed several commissioned works from his parish, individuals, and local golf courses, such as Browns Lake in Burlington.
While I didn’t get my dad’s fine art genes, I did get his appreciation for the game and nature, as well as a creative streak. Last summer, I did my own “golf art” project by hitting balls coated in paint into a canvas to create an interactive abstract piece. It was a fun way to practice.
Which brings me to another way in which the game imitates art–through shotmaking and the swing itself.
As the great Roy McAvoy of Tin Cup fame once said, “I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem…” and he was on to something, for poetry is an art form and so is the swing.
You’ll often hear phrases such as “the art of shotmaking” or “the art of putting” and, while every swing may not be pretty, each swing is unique to the golfer or the situation. Just consider the different swings of Jim Furyk, John Daly, Lee Trevino or Fred Couples.
The sport also requires a creative mind; you have to visualize your shots and sometimes, you need to get imaginative, trying to escape trouble like Seve Ballesteros or Jordan Spieth. Or you might have to think outside the putter and use a hybrid or wood around the greens.
To quote another World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson:, “No other game combines the wonder of nature with the discipline of sport in such carefully planned ways. A great golf course both frees and challenges a golfer’s mind.”
So, next time you’re out on the course, free and challenge your mind. Stop and smell the roses. Maybe even photograph or paint them. At the very least, pause to appreciate them and be sure to enjoy your round.