Golf is a strange game, particularly, to those who do not understand it. One must ask why so many people want so desperately to play the game as often as possible. With a little thought, at least six reasons emerge for this:

1. Golf is a very difficult game. If it were easy, there would be little interest in it. While every other sport has its “natural” athletes — those born to excel by virtue of their physical attributes — there are no “natural” golfers. Everything about the golf swing is “unnatural.”  Thus, everyone of every shape and size must learn the game and practice constantly in order to play well. On the other hand, since no one is born knowing how to play golf, your chance of being great at the game is as good as anybody else’s chance. That’s good news for people who don’t have the physical attributes of, say, a basketball or football player.

2. Golf is unpredictable. No matter how badly you play today, you can play better — or worse — tomorrow. Performance is governed by so many variables. One must not ignore the fact that every course is different — demanding different golf skills and strategies.  This is unlike other sports. Football, soccer, rugby, baseball and tennis are played on flat fields of a prescribed size. Every golf hole is different — different lengths, different elevations, different hazards. The course itself adds to the challenge — and, ultimately, the fun — of golf. 

3. In general, golf courses are beautiful, peaceful places to spend four to four and a half hours. They are not places to bring your troubles. In fact, most people feel guilty about bringing their workplace or relationship problems to golf courses, because they do not want to mar the setting. Therefore, they develop a strong philosophical approach to golf and find ways to control their frustrations — or, at least, save them for another place and time.

4.  In golf, there is no perfect score. There is no score to which the golfer can aspire in order to claim that he or she has mastered the game. Lacking such a benchmark, golf is about improving. No matter how much the golfer improves his or her game — even if the golfer reaches the professional level — there is always room for improvement. That can be appealing, and even addictive, for perfectionists.

5. Golf is a sport rich in history and full of tradition. The golfer who approaches the game seriously and philosophically will acquire a feeling that he or she has formed a bond with everyone who has ever played the game. Every golfer shares the same struggles, defeats and joys. Being a golfer is, in a sense, like becoming a member of a tribe and gaining a sense of belonging.

6. In golf, how one plays the game is the responsibility of the individual. Unlike team sports, there are no substitute players. The individual golfer must play every stroke without assistance. Even something as simple as seeking advice on club selection from another player is forbidden by the rules and carries with it a penalty. No one can interfere with the golfer’s play. With every shot, the golfer has an unimpeded opportunity to make a successful play or to botch it. Ultimately, that’s a good thing, because golfers feel empowered to make (hopefully) good decisions on their own. Every golfer is alone in the game, but being alone in golf is not a matter of loneliness. Every player is alone with his or her own thoughts and actions. 

There is no referee in golf. Each player is responsible for playing by the rules and monitoring his or her own mistakes. Players who adhere to the rules are considered to be honorable. Players who violate the rules, even when unobserved, are considered dishonorable and not worthy of the game.

For these reasons, golf is a metaphor for life. How one plays golf is likely to be a reflection of how one lives his or her life. The question, then, isn’t so much why do people play golf. The question really is: why doesn’t everybody play the game?

M. Ernest Marshall is a retired medical oncologist and author of Wintering Into Wisdom  (PathBinder Publisher). Visit his website at