Golf is a Religion

I’m writing this from the Starbucks in Ponte Vedra, while a constant stream of golfers, golf-fans, and wanna-be-golfers passes through.

You see, it’s a big weekend in Jacksonville. We’re hosting THE PLAYERS, and that means we’re hosting Tiger Woods, Rory Sabbatini, Phil Mickelson, and anyone who wants to be anywhere near them. I heard someone say today that “Golf isn’t a sport, it’s a religion.” And the more I contemplated that, I have to agree.

It’s not just that golfers have their own vocabulary, dress code, and spending priorities. The game itself has a lot in common with religion.

You see, golf is impossible. Trust me. I’ve tried it. They give you this little white ball and tell you to hit into a hole barely larger than the ball. Mind you, the hole is three or four football fields away! If your swing is off, the ball knows. If your back is stiff, the ball knows. If you’re having a stressful day (or game) and you tense up, the ball knows. No mercy, no grace from that cursed little white ball.

The players are no better. They love to be exclusive, enjoying membership at the local country club. Worse, they are sticklers for the rules. And there are a lot of rules. I learned you can’t just pick your ball up and throw it over the *&#^*# water hazard. Someone told me, “You shouldn’t play golf with someone who challenges a seven.” Good advice.

Golf requires dedication and commitment. Passionate golfers agree that you can’t get better if you only play occasionally. And getting better, make no mistake, is the goal. A constant, relentless pursuit of “The Handicap.” (Don’t ask me. I have no earthly idea what that is.)

It made me think today about the guys that invented golf. Somewhere in Scotland, I believe. Could they have ever imagined it would become what it is today? That their fun pastime would become a multi-billion-dollar industry? Once again, a lot like religion.

The Church hasn’t done a very good job over the centuries of preserving the intent of Jesus Christ when he established the church. For that, we are deeply sorry. The Church has developed a lot of rules. Created our own culture and vocabulary. Drawn clear lines between those “inside” the faith, and those “outside” the faith.

Hey, we’re not alone. Have you seen the rules other religions offer? The fact is, every time man tries to come up with a way to get to God, it involves rules and country clubs. But, when God came up with a way to reach women and men, it was all about relationship. Imagine that. God loves you. Not in a trite, “Have a nice day!” way—but in a real, passionate, “I would die for you” kind of love. Intimacy with our creator and our savior. God. Loves. You. Stay there just a minute. So much that he knows you’re never going to get the ball in that little cup on your own, so he offered himself as the solution.

I’ve read that among professional golfers there is a little bit of a stink about being partnered with Tiger Woods. It seems that players consistently play worse when they are paired with Tiger. No surprise. Can you imagine the pressure?

I realize that a few of you reading this are probably golfers, so bear with me as I try to put this into your language: Imagine if you were paired with Tiger, not just once, but all season. And imagine that he was just as nice a guy as we all want him to be, but even more so. In fact, he helped you on each tee. Gave you tips and advice. Not in an arrogant, all-knowing way, but in a kind, helpful manner. Helped you navigate the course, and gave you really practical instruction. And then, at the end of each tournament, he traded scorecards with you, and you went home in the new Buick. That, my friend, would be a picture of grace.

God wants to develop a relationship with you. Desperately. And Access Church exists for the sole reason of helping you along the way in that relationship. We don’t ever want to become the rule-keepers. We’re not setting a dress code. We’re not experts at the game. And we hope to never become a country club. I guess you could say we’re just the greenskeepers, working hard to create environments where you and God can enjoy a great game. Grab your sticks and invite a friend to join you on the course!