Fergus Bisset: Golf Is Still More Than A Game

Post lockdown and the return to golf, Fergus considers why golf means so much to him

Still More Than A Game
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With lockdown, the return to golf and reaching the age of 40, Fergus Bisset considers why the sport still means far more to him than simply knocking a white ball about with a selection of sticks.

The title of my blog on the Golf Monthly website is “More Than A Game.”

I didn’t choose it flippantly as some sort of cheesy cliché, hoping to give an impression of really caring.

At the time I began writing it, some 14 years ago, I’d just moved back to Scotland, principally in order to play more golf.

I was out on the course almost every day and I couldn’t get enough of it. Golf was certainly more than a game; it was part of my daily life.

As time passed, things moved on and priorities shifted with the arrival of children and the challenges that increasingly encroach on proper adult life.

Golf continued to be of great importance but altered circumstances steadily precluded it from being such a steadfast part of everyday routine.

I’ve been aware of my relationship with golf changing over the years, but the lockdown and the return to the fairways has caused me to think more on it.

Golf remains more than a game to me, although not in the way it did.

It’s no longer purely about the playing, things are a little more complex.

Golf has so many qualities: It’s exercise, it’s competition, it’s a challenge, it’s highly sociable, it’s fresh air in beautiful, varied surroundings, above all it’s fun…

But it’s what’s beyond those fundamentals of many sports that now sets golf apart for me.

There are few activities that require so much optimism or provide such reason for hope that all sorts of brilliant things are possible.

Golfers must be, and are, aspirational people.

Even those of us who are outwardly cynical must be believers deep down, and there’s something truly heartening in that.

Then, inevitably, we must frequently face the humbling realisation that things are not so simple, and we then have to deal with the realities, limitations and disappointments golf throws up, and do so with as much sagacity and serenity as possible.

Golf delivers life lessons as much as, perhaps even more than, any other sporting activity.

How should one react to achievement and setback in order to glean respect from contemporaries?

We learn from golf that respect is earned through humility in success, and level-headed acceptance in failure.

I’m still a (very) long way from attaining that admirable level of behaviour, on course or off.

But I’ve played golf with enough people who do manage it to know that striving in that direction is a worthwhile objective.

I also find golf to be hugely cathartic, whether I play well or poorly.

Good shots are enlivening, sending serotonin coursing through the veins until positivity oozes from the pores.

We do not play golf because it is easy, we play because it is hard, and that is why the possible levels of achievement and associated satisfaction are so great.

On the other side, bad shots or bad breaks allow for a release from all sorts of frustrations which, if I think deeply enough, almost always stem from occurrences or circumstances off the golf course.

How we deal with and bounce back from these irritations defines how effectively we can move forward in golf and life, as well as how we are perceived by others, in whatever situation.

Golf offers a window through which to look into yourself, a chance to survey what’s lurking in the darkest corners.

It’s a chance to be brutally honest and perhaps to trigger a positive change if you don’t fully like what you see.

When the resumption of golf was announced, I wasn’t interested in hovering anxiously at my desk waiting to join the electronic scrum to secure one of the first tee times.

I didn’t want my return to golf to be imperfect or stressful.

14 years ago, I would have been champing at the bit just to play the game. Now I’m a little more patient.

But when I did get out there, golfing in two-balls with an uninterrupted flow of play and more relaxed feel reminded me what a beautiful game golf can be.

It’s so simple in objective, even if demanding in execution.

Walking onto the ball and cracking it away as soon as ready is how it should be, and it creates a far more laidback atmosphere across the course.

Golfers seem generally calmer. Neither rushed nor delayed, they have more time to consider why it is they’ve always loved the sport.

With time to play freely, to enjoy the surroundings, to speak (or not speak) to a single playing partner, I for one have enjoyed the chance to think on the reasons why I believe golf to be the best sport there is.

Golf is ostensibly a physical activity but it’s also an examination of character and our ability to control behaviour.

It asks us not to get ahead of ourselves when the going is good and to pick ourselves up and try again when we’re knocked down.

The best golfers, and in this instance, I don’t mean those with the lowest handicaps… No, the best golfers have the skills to be humble yet generous, patient, tolerant, hopeful and accepting. These are the people who demonstrate why golf is more than a game.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?