Fairway to heaven: A Cathedral’s nine holes, and the other fairy tales

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Published: August 11, 2019 1:09:21 AM

In a move that’s drawn quite a bit of publicity and a fair bit of derision, the good folk at the second-oldest cathedral in England decided to install a mini-golf course, smack dab in the middle of the central aisle.

Golf, traditional religion, fairy tales, 18th fairway, celestial presence, Hinako Shibuno, British Women, Tiger Woods, opinion newsThe golf-crazy nation was rewarded for its unwavering steadfastness to the game with its second major winner in Hinako Shibuno who won the British Women’s Open.

The Golf Gods are fickle at best. And unlike traditional religion, they’re not particularly swayed by devotion. If that was the case then most of us amateur hacks would be scratch players. In fact, if you ask me, most of us who play the game are fairly convinced that there is no celestial presence hovering somewhere up there, watching over us—if there was, then why would she put us through this lifelong angst—a litany of failures of trying to get better at this wretched game?

She’s also more than a bit sadistic: after putting us through a morale-crushing round, at the near-end of which you’re walking, as Bertrand Russell puts it, ‘dragging your soul like a worn-out coat, behind you,’ she’ll throw in a miraculous shot. You’ll cream one straight and long, and in a moment all the accumulated agony is washed away, the dark clouds clear and the sun comes out by and by. Striding triumphantly down the 18th fairway, after making a royal mess of 17 holes, you thank the heavens—You’ve figured it out! And proceed to make plans to play the very next day to put your newfound confidence to the test. I don’t need to elaborate on what ensues: we all know exactly what transpires the next time, or the time after that, or eight out of ten times you tee it up. Still, we persist.

That doggedness, in the face of constant spurning, is a mystery to non-golfers, but also a benchmark for other isms to aspire to. Recognising golf’s inimitable ability to draw and preserve its legions of followers, the clergy at Rochester Cathedral in Kent (UK), apparently had a eureka moment. In a move that’s drawn quite a bit of publicity and a fair bit of derision, the good folk at the second-oldest cathedral in England decided to install a mini-golf course, smack dab in the middle of the central aisle.

Now congregation numbers at churches have been falling over the past decade in the UK, and it’s a fair conjecture that the innovative initiative is aimed at getting more people back to church. The cathedral issued a release to the effect that ‘it hopes visitors will learn about faith, and building both emotional and physical bridges’. The nine-hole course has a bridge on every hole, a given since the course has been sponsored by the Rochester Bridge Trust. Trust officials, it may be surmised are golfers, given their exceptional ability to impart spin to the ball. The secondary objective, they said, is to encourage young people to learn more about the engineering behind bridges.

But all of this is reactionary: after a large section of the faithful has voiced its shock and dismay calling the move, desperate, sacrilege even. But, you’ve got to hand it to the cathedral: I’m agnostic, with little interest in medieval churches, religious or academic, and I’m quite sure I’d walk in and have a go if this happened in my town. And I’m reasonably sure I’d have a good time. Not sure I could say the same about religion; quite certainly can’t say the same about golf.

And while I’m there I’d probably say a prayer too. Not for myself—my game is beyond redemption—but for Tiger Woods, who’s withdrawn from this week’s PGA Tour event (after shooting a four-over 76 in the first round in better-than-perfect conditions), citing an ‘oblique pull.’ I admit getting really nervous watching Tiger stripe the ball these days; not only has he not backed off to protect his back but he appears to be swinging harder than ever. May the greatest golfer of all time play on without breaking his back. And may the powers that be give him the good sense to preserve his career.

If the Gods did shine last week, then it was on a nation that’s collectively prayed to them diligently for decades—Japan. The golf-crazy nation was rewarded for its unwavering steadfastness to the game with its second major winner in Hinako Shibuno who won the British Women’s Open. Shibuno entered the final day leading by two strokes but lost her way on the front nine and fell a few strokes adrift of the leaders. She came right back in, on the back nine with five birdies and sealed it on the last. Shibuno, a 20-year-old rookie who, unbelievably, had never played golf outside Japan before this event, holed out from 18 feet on the final hole of the tournament to win by one. She becomes the second Japanese player of either gender to win a major championship after Chako Higuchi won the 1977 Women’s PGA Championship.

Nicknamed, the ‘Smiling Cinderella,’ for her cheery attitude Shibuno wafted in like a fresh breeze on the fairways, breaking the whole steely-eyed demeanour that most top-players tend to display these days. The young lass never stopped smiling, kept waving to the galleries throughout, and even high-fived spectators on her way to stacking a winning score of 18-under par. Her easygoing attitude was almost otherworldly, given the magnitude of what was at stake. On the 18th, she could be seen joking with her caddy as she set up for her approach shot. “I was talking to the caddie over the second shot [saying] if I were to shank this, it would be very embarrassing,” she laughed and said after the round.

That’s just shocking: if that’s not tempting the Gods then I don’t know what is. I suppose they can have favourites too. One thing is certain, she’s been ordained for higher things. “Now that I’ve won, I think a lot of the Japanese people will know me, but in actuality, I just wanted to live a quiet life,” she said. As fairy tale endings go, this Cinderella is definitely going for the ball.

(The author is a golfer. Miraj Shah also writes about the game. Views are personal)

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