Golf courses differ all around the world based on geography, course design, and climate, yet they’re all designed to challenge golfers and provide a beautiful experience. Travel gives us the opportunity to take on new challenges, see different courses and landscapes, meet new friends on the course, and learn about life and culture as we golf.
Most golfers have a bucket list of places they’d like to play, like St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, Pinehurst, or perhaps places like Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, Ireland, or the Dominican Republic.
The great thing about golf is that we can take our game on the road, playing courses with terrain we’ve never experienced. Sure, “hitting in the rough” may feel a bit more ominous if we’re in Scotland or at Whistling Straits, but we’ve still got the know-how to make a solid effort on those shots.
Similarly, as golfers we know the rules of golf will guide us wherever we are in the world. Even if we can’t read the signs on the course or tee boxes, we can figure out the lay of the land and nuances of each hole. While this might require us to do some quick math to convert hole distances from meters to yards, we can get by as golfers.
There’s something else, and something more important, that transfers when we golf in new places, especially internationally.
I’m talking about the language of golf.
This language starts with the “things we do” as golfers and that are similar no matter where we play. We experience this in the way we interact with each other, that’s based on etiquette, respect, and honor (for the game itself, and our fellow players). These ideals are understood by golfers around the world. In addition, habits we acquire as golfers such as following the honor system, showing respect & silence on the tee box and green, raking sand traps, and replacing divots don’t get lost in translation in courses around the world.
I want to take this language of golf idea a step further, though, and link it to one of my bucket list golf experiences when I golfed at a course in Spain with views of a 16th Century monastery. My experience solidifies the reason I love golf and the reason I love travel. Spoiler, this isn’t about golf or travel really, but rather people, and the fact that we’re really all the same, no matter where we go or what we do.
Flashback to early August. I was wrapping up a three-week trip to Spain. I was grateful to be in my favorite country, catching up with good friends there. My friend, Beatriz, had invited me to golf, and Rocio, an art history professor, would join us as our photographer and historian. During an English immersion with Spaniards, Beatriz and I connected over our mutual love of golf, and she invited me to play at her home course someday.
Our round at Real Club de Golf La Herrería (one of Spain’s top 100 courses) did not disappoint. Its fairways were lined with century-old ash and oak trees and offered views of Madrid and the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial. Rocio tells me that this monastery is “the best way to travel through the history of Spain and particularly the reign of Philip II (16th century) because it’s the monument that best sums up the ideological and cultural aspirations of the Spanish “Golden Age.” It’s the largest Renaissance building in the world, and a Spanish royal site that functions as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university, school and hospital. Plus, it’s considered as an 8th wonder of the world and has been on the World Heritage list since 1984.
As we approached the course and saw the monastery in the background, I knew I was in for something magical. It was a chance to try a new course, and to play with good friends on the other side of the world. And, since COVID had essentially taken away a year’s worth of interactions with friends in general, this visit meant the world to me.
As we golfed, my friends also told me that the monastery had been considered the “center of the universe” for centuries, and the entire area surrounding it was known to be very spiritual. I sensed this as I “aimed for the windows” of the monastery from the 8th tee and felt it when the church bells rang as I putted on one of the rolling greens. (Which, by the way, were all challenging and consequently offered a wonderful excuse for missed putts. With each miss, Beatriz would say, “It’s the mountain . . .” Proof that everyone around the world has ways of dealing with annoying missed putts!)
All these details made the experience special & mystical, but the true magic of the day was my realization of what had just happened. There I was with my two wonderful friends, sharing an afternoon together while appreciating the beauty and history of the course and the fact that we could actually do this again after all the events of 2020. I didn’t worry about my game; instead I tried to appreciate every minute of this opportunity.
And, friends, that’s what golf does. It brings people together for moments in time and gives us something to reflect on later. It could be a conversation on the green. It could be one encouraging word when things were looking bleak. It could be realizing that your fears, in