I was recently asked to participate in an innovative wedding between a bride and her golf-loving husband. The ceremony took place on a beautiful Long Island course and started with a golf cart wedding processional. The groomsmen announced the beginning of the event with a contagion of drives off the tee box of the third hole, where vows were exchanged on the green. Although I used only portions of this essay in the ceremony script, I enjoyed the opportunity to make the connections between a game we adore and a happy marriage.
I have long been a fan of golf, not only as a complicated sport, but one that is filled with traditions, symbolism, pageantry, and dignity. Golf is not a simple endeavor, and most people who have played are struck with the ups and downs of their skill (and handicap). Golf, generally speaking, doesn’t afford us the luxury of consistent improvement, rather—like life—unexpected challenges crop up…perhaps when we least expect them. The typical golfer, who routinely keeps his ball in play in the fairway, may be surprised when he suddenly begins to develop a nasty slice. So too, a productive marriage that happily moves through time may, on occasion, come upon an unwelcome and inexplicable problem. To move through both sets of challenges, it takes time, patience, and a willingness to address the matter at hand, sooner rather than later. As in the game, when we stumble upon a vexing obstacle, in a good marriage we are afforded second chances—an emotional Mulligan, if you will. A kind, forgiving partner will routinely allow a gimme—assuming the best in his or her beloved.
Not only has golf been a game of gentlemen (and gentlewomen) over the years, even the casual weekend golfer is called upon to exhibit a level of respect and honesty. Whether on modest public links or a distinguished PGA course, innumerable situations arise that demand good judgment and a commitment to fair play. If a ball goes out of bounds, a true golfer will accept the outcome and uphold the commonly accepted rules of the game. In a good marriage, a well-intentioned husband or wife must always embrace fairness and own up to his or her part in whatever disagreement may arise. There’s no bending of the rules in a well-played golf game, and no emotional cheating in a mature marriage. An estimable golfer will be considerate of others—making a tee time, for instance, or allowing other to play through when he is slow. He will leave a hole in the same fine condition he found it, fixing his divots along the way. To my mind such an orientation is akin to a kind husband or wife will be mindful of treating his partner with empathy and respect.
Golf, at its best, embodies humility and a willingness to learn and change. The prudent player will seek the advice of those with wisdom—whether it be a coach, club pro or Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. In marriage, the most potent lessons we often learn are from the loving marriages we witnessed as children. And, if something isn’t working, a serious golfer will honestly assess the situation. When reviewing video of a long held swing, he will be willing to try a different approach. Just because some grip or stance has been a lifelong habit, it might not the best choice for a more productive outcome, any longer. In marriage, thoughtful husbands and wives will evaluate a marital impasse, and consider altering styles of communications and relating.
When I was coming up, we had an expression “Drive for show, and putt for dough.” A golfer at any level will enjoy enormous satisfaction from hitting that sweet spot on the club, yielding a long, straight drive and easy set up for the next shot. But, it is with the finesse and prowess of his short game that he will save strokes and lower the all-important handicap. In marriage, as the writer Wilferd Arlan Peterson says, “The little things are the big things.” Grand romantic gestures have their place, but it is daily acts of kindness and generosity that are the foundation of a happy home.
While many consider this an individual sport, the opportunities for true partnership, shared values, and common objectives are innumerable. The interdependent relationship of a golfer and his caddy can be heartwarming–consider the loving partnership between Tom Watson and his caddy Bruce Edwards, as described in the book Caddy for Life. While one is in the lead, he willingly consults his companion, taking seriously advice that is offered. I suggest to you that the format of the scramble is one that is replicated time and again in marriage. The team prospers by capitalizing on the strengths of the individuals. Over time, reliance on the advantages goes back and forth—with one partner taking the lead, and then the other. But, always they are working in concert for the benefit of the couple and family.
A joy of golf is its reverence of history—all that has come before. Whether the fabled Green Jacket at Augusta or the homage we pay to Bobby Jones, it is important to recognize the sport in the trajectory of its rich history of centuries. And so, I invite you to prepare to exchange vows, promises offered by untold generations before you.