July 23, 1999
M. Scott Peck, M.D. is a psychiatrist, golfer, and the famous author of The Road Less Traveled, the best-selling self-help book of all time.
His newest offering, Golf and the Spirit: Lessons for the Journey (Harmony Books; $25 SRP) is the first one I read.
All in all, it’s an interesting take on the sport, but most readers won’t suddenly feel they are in the presence of revealed truth.
In many respects, Peck appears to have written this book for the segment of his self-help audience that neither knows nor cares much about golf. For these non-golfers, Dr. Peck provides a mostly accurate description of dozens of its physical, mental, and spiritual elements.
Peck explores and explains the game’s search for perfection, luck as a factor, its rules and etiquette, the fickleness of failed moments in character or performance, and the appreciation of the skills required to play it well. Much of this description, based largely on Peck’s personal experiences, will nonetheless be extremely familiar to those who have (a) played golf with any regularity and (b) given it some thought over the years.
The doctor tries to use golf as a way to continue his long-standing exploration of the paths toward personal growth, development, and enlightenment. It’s a hard road at times, especially for those for whom the study and discussion of religion and philosophy are rare events.
After all, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a game is just a game.
Much of this book is devoted to the paradoxes of golf, such as the need to be in the present while remembering what worked (and didn’t work) in the past. Peck loves paradoxes, the never-ending competition for dominance between two co-existing ideas. He shows in several ways how golf is non-linear, while organizing his book in a linear sequence of hole-by-hole chapters.
Peck describes how Zen Buddhism preaches paradox and applies to golf. He also devotes several pages to Taoism and the need to “go with the flow” during a round. Peck then describes the paradoxes of the Christian mysteries and finds a way to connect that discussion back to golf.
The heavy philosophical/religious discussion seems a bit much for this old game to carry on its shoulders. Nonetheless, for those who see golf as a metaphor for life, the game is up to the task. Feeling this way about golf, however, first requires thinking and working through a vision of the purpose of life on earth.
For Peck, the essence of his extended analysis comes to this:
One is highly unlikely to envision the frustrating game of golf as a potential spiritual discipline unless he has first been captured by the vision of the whole of life as a journey of spiritual growth, as a pilgrimage. Once he has been so captured, however, he can begin to see golf as a particularly lovely stretch on the journey where great movement is possible. Again, I do not mean outward movement from tee to green to tee; I mean inner movement of the soul.
At one point Peck concedes that he may be simply preaching to his choir of devoted readers. I had this impression on several occasions, and not just because the book is sprinkled with quoted passages from his previous works. On the other hand, I turned down the corners of over two dozen pages to go back and read again.
Maybe this book will grow on its readers. Or not.