- Author: Harry Brown
- Publisher: Bloomsbury
- ISBN: 9789386606525
In the history of sport, golf bears a unique relation to the natural world. The game evolved on the Scottish “links,” a peculiar terrain linking arable land and the rocky coast, which farmers could not domesticate as plowed land or pasture. Modern course design aims to simulate this semi-wild borderland, artificially constructing the water hazards, sand bunkers, and rough grass that occur naturally on the links. Golf simulates the effort to traverse and tame this landscape, with players hopping among islands of fairway and green while attempting to avoid hazards. In this simulated expedition, the golf ball functions as the player’s avatar, different from a baseball, soccer ball, or a billiard ball because it represents the attempt of a single person to navigate an unpredictable landscape. In this sense, the ball is an assertion of control over the natural world, an extension of the ego: a bad shot can arouse violent anger, while a good shot can feel sublime. Technical refinements in ball construction reflect ongoing attempts to enhance this sense of control. Consequently, golf course design has evolved in response to the evolution of the golf ball, which is now constrained by rigorous standards created to forestall the obsolescence of the world’s courses.
Despite their considerable technical refinements, golf balls reveal the futility of control. They inevitably disappear in plain sight and find their way into hazards. Golf balls play with people. They do things we do not anticipate as if by their own will, so we project a will on to them, telling them: “Go left!” “Stay out of the trap!” or “Get in the hole!” But the imagined “will” of the ball is just a function of its interaction with a terrain, a natural world, we do not fully understand, and in this sense represents a vestige of animism.