Why Golf Brings Us Joy
By Ryan Adams, PGA
2023. Oh, what a year it has been for golf.
We’ll spare you the best of / worst of moments because you’ve likely had your second or third helping of those articles by now. Instead, this is a piece that is in rhythm with a central theme of the holidays.
You know . . . joy? It’s defined in Merriam-Webster as “a feeling of great pleasure or happiness that comes from success, good fortune, or a sense of well-being.” That’s pretty easy to understand, but it seems like joy is in short supply these days.
And unfortunately, joy and golf don’t always sync up. A tee shot hit into the trees — not so joyful. A short putt that does a loop around the hole and stays out of the bottom cup? That doesn’t exactly exude “great pleasure and happiness.” Golf brings a ton of non-joyous moments to us in a multitude of ways but if we look a little deeper, beyond the individual shots, strikes and putts, there’s something really, actually pretty joyful about golf.
Which brings me to the moment a few months ago when I realized this. It was a chilly, fall day in Minnesota, and I was home visiting for my best friend’s wedding. The days of Minnesota golf were dwindling but there still would be time for my dad and I to sneak in an afternoon round at a course special to us. He picked me up at the airport and we bolted to the course, checked-in and went to the range. There was rain on the horizon — you could see it coming in — but there seemed to be this invisible force shield holding it west of the course.
My dad and I were the only ones on the entire 18 holes as a result. The leaves were burnt orange, the grass emerald green and the vibes were, well, joyous. This was a course my dad and I had played many times — and it was a course he played with his dad all the time, too, growing up. The opportunity to play it together living in different states for us was rare. And we knew it.
We approached our 17th hole of the day, where 14 falls earlier, I had made my first hole-in-one with a pitching wedge. We hit our shots, headed to the green and could feel the pitter patter of light rain. Our luck was running low on fuel.
Then, my dad said something I’ll never forget.
“This is so great, Ry. So, so great,” he remarked. “It,” he said with a little bit of emotion in his voice, “ . . . reminds me of when my dad and I would play here. Thank you for doing this.”
It was hard for me to respond. I was choked up, trying to say “Of course,” or “No problem, dad.” Instead, I didn’t say anything. I looked at him and just smiled. He smiled back. We were both smiling and gave each other a hug. It was one of those hugs where you don’t want to let go, wishing time would stand still.
To me, that was the ultimate example of joy in golf. There was happiness spilling all over the two of us, to the point where words wouldn't do it justice. It made me realize how important golf was, how it could make people think back to certain moments of joy in the past, or maybe the future.
While the numbers on a scorecard may illicit immediate happiness, it's really how golf allows you to be free, even if it's just for a few hours, of any worries or angst that came with you to the first tee. That's the true joy golf brings us, no matter what.
While the numbers on a scorecard may illicit immediate happiness, it's really how golf allows you to be free, even if it's just for a few hours, of any worries or angst that came with you to the first tee. That's the true joy golf brings us.
It’s why when we look at the year that was, and the year ahead I see joy everywhere in golf.
The Veterans of PGA HOPE, like Rick Ferguson, who experience the bonding power of golf with other Veterans and how it can save lives. The Cinderella story of Michael Block, PGA, at the 2023 PGA Championship and the ace at Oak Hill that elevated his fairytale into the stratosphere. A hard-working PGA of America Golf Professional finally getting their “, PGA” next to their name after years of tests and travel. Or, a PGA Jr. League kiddo, who never thought golf was for them, getting armed with a driver and making contact for the first time.
The moments of joy golf brings can push away the collective darkness that sometimes seeps into our game. For the five negative stories, there are almost 50 positive ones. More people are playing golf these days than turning it away. This isn’t an attempt to rah, rah you into endless optimism about golf, as it's surely experienced a rollecoaster ride of a year.
But a simple prescription of golf, by yourself, with friends or family, or maybe someone you've never met, is something you should try if you haven’t. And if time's run out, give it a try next year . . . maybe a New Year's resolution.
The grass under your feet, the sound of celebration after a great shot, a look-around the course that makes you grateful for where you are and those around you?
Yes, that's joy you’re experiencing. And it’s golf — as it has and always will — that’s bringing it your way.