Would You Keep Playing Golf If You Knew You’d Only Ever Get Worse?

Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether they would keep battling on. Fergus says yes, Jeremy says no.

Would You Keep Playing Golf If You Knew You’d Only Ever Get Worse
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Golf is one of the most challenging and frustrating sports out there. But it can also be one of the most rewarding when you find that perfect shot, shoot your best round or make a discovery that gives you hope of better things to come. What though, if you looked into a crystal golf ball and saw that you were never going to get any better than you are today, in fact, that you're only going to get worse? Would you continue to play?

Yes says Fergus Bisset

Fergus Bisset

Never surrender

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

For a start, I’ll always believe I can get better. Yes, I’ll inevitably find I’m losing distance within the next 10 years or so, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve my overall game. My short game needs considerable work and my accuracy is sometimes questionable owing to poor tempo – that’s something I’m getting better at recognising and rectifying as I get older and slower. One area I think most of us improve in as we age is golfing strategy. I feel I’m a far better strategic golfer now than I was in my youth. The other day I even found myself chipping out sideways from thick rough rather than trying to blast it forwards.

Even if a soothsayer showed me a glimpse of a dismal golfing future, I would continue to play. At the heart of it, to borrow from an old Scottish text, I play “not for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.” For me golf is freedom. It’s freedom from the mundane, freedom from everyday worries, freedom to breathe. Golf gives you the opportunity to succeed but the freedom to fail. Playing golf is one of life’s great pleasures and I will not give it up as long as my legs will carry me and my arms will pick up a club.

I wouldn’t stop if my handicap went up from here and never stopped going up, I wouldn’t care if I never won another club event (I can’t remember the last time I did.) I’m certain I will continue to enjoy the whole experience of golf – from getting my kit organised to the post-round pint. Golf is a part of my life and my life would be less without it.

No says Jeremy Ellwood

Would You Keep Playing Golf If You Knew You’d Only Ever Get Worse

Why won't it go straight anymore?

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

Listen, I know there is an inevitability to this as Father Time eventually catches up with all golfers, and club golf relies on most golfers facing this reality and deciding the answer has to be yes.

But this year has hinted that my answer may well prove to be ‘no’ come the time. I’ve struggled, despite occasional glimpses of ‘normal service’, and there’s no doubt that not being able to play as well as I once could has reduced my enjoyment to the degree that I’ve pondered replacing golf with simply walking, on the grounds that you can’t really ‘do’ walking wrong (unless you twist your ankle, of course).

Not that I was ever any good in an absolute sense, but I did somehow retain a 5- or 6-handicap for two decades despite a dodgy swing. People might say, “At least you’re not doing it for a living,” but while I understand what they’re getting at, surely if I’m not doing it for a living it’s even more important that I actually enjoy it, otherwise what is the point?

Yes, I may well get over this, and improvements in certain areas following a club fitting have offered glimmers of hope. But the reality is I’m approaching 60 and the passing years are taking their toll a little both physically and mentally. I may snap out of it and accept that it is what it is, but right now I’m struggling to feel that. Most golfers must reach a similar crossroads and come to a different conclusion. Golf has been a huge part of my life, so I hope I’ll still be able to join them… but at the moment, I just can’t see it. But I haven’t yet stopped believing that I can either arrest or even reverse my current decline, so we’re not there yet.

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?