At the 1981 Benson and Hedges golf tournament in Fulford, York, Bernhard Langer hit his ball onto the 17th green from atop the limb of a tree.
"[Pursuant to Rule 13-2:] The area of his intended stance or swing" means that prior to a stroke, a player may not break any limbs growing on a tree that interferes with his swing . . . --Tom Meeks (Golf Journal, October 2000, p.56)
Hunting and gathering. 1. An evolutionary correct game with which to rekindle the savannah experience our nomadic ancestors knew in Africa. 2. A game enjoyed by small, face-to-face bands of players, wandering through artificial grasslands in pursuit of spherical prey, striking white balls with high-tech branch substitutes called clubs.
Usage I: Nonverbally, golf reconnects players a. to arboreal, b. to savannah-grassland, and c. to hunter-gatherer roots. Golfers focus incredible attention on gripping the club, e.g., which in shape and thickness resembles a tree branch. Blending power and precision grips, they strike vinyl balls as if swatting small prey animals.
Usage II: In the career realm, important deals are nurtured on the golf course. Stalking through artificial grasslands in close-knit groups (see ISOPRAXISM), sticks in hand--hunting for game balls and walloping them--business people enjoy the same concentration, competition, and camaraderie their ancestors felt two m.y.a. in Africa. (N.B.: No gas stations, subways, or billboards disturb the "natural" view.)
Adornment. "After winning preliminary rounds [to qualify for the National Long Drive Championships] the Golfing Gorilla [a Tacoma, Washington human primate dressed in a gorilla costume] has been told by officials his suit is unsuitable [because, under PGA rules, all players must 'be properly groomed']" (Kelly 1983).
Culture and the color green. "With this camaraderie, we were cut off from our ethnic roots, bias and prejudice. We were merely men against the course. We had transcended our race, color and ethnicity. The only color we saw was the color green" (Tharwat 2000:52; see below, The color yellow).
History. Originally known as colf, golf was played in Holland from the year 1297 A.D. (at least), with balls made of fine-grained hardwoods (e.g., elm, box, and beech). In 1848 a superior ball was made from tree sap known as gutta percha, boiled and shaped in iron molds.
Media. "'It recalls the savanna from which we came,'' said golf course architect Desmond Muirhead, who designed the Muirfield Village course with Jack Nicklaus. "It resonates with the older parts of our brain and our background as hunter-gatherers and upright bipedal animals,'' said David Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies, a Spokane, Wash., research and consulting organization" (Columbus Dispatch, Blundo 2001).
Prehistory I. Twenty m.y.a. in the Miocene, parts of East Africa changed from dense rain forest to open woodlands, as the arboreal ancestors of humans began living a part of their lives on the ground. (N.B.: The first ground-dwelling humanoid may have resembled Ramapithecus, a fossil ape who lived ca. 15-to-7 m.y.a. in Europe and Asia.)
Prehistory II. Two m.y.a. in the Pleistocene, the first humans (genus Homo) lived in eastern Africa as hunter-gatherers, on tropical, shrubby grasslands--in hot, flat, open countryside with scattered trees and little shade known as savannahs (from Taino zabana, "flat grassland").
Prehistory III. Homo habilis would feel at home strolling the 8th hole at Pebble Beach, e.g., with its cliffs, surf, boulders, and tree-lined hills spanning the horizon. Its fairway resembles a game trail, its sand traps could be dried salt ponds, and neither office buildings nor power poles disturb the "natural view."
The color yellow. "Stonewolf Golf Club in Fairview Heights, Ill., a private course designed by Jack Nicklaus, is suing three fertilizer companies for allegedly supplying faulty products. The course claims slow-release fertilizer released too quickly last summer, saturating 17 of 18 fairways with urea, a derivative of mammal urine, which killed the grass and turned the areas yellow" (Anonymous 2000E:7).
Trees and animals. Names of golf courses suggest we perceive them as natural habitats. The best-rated U.S. public course, Brown Deer Park (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), e.g., is named after the most-hunted U.S. game animal, the deer. The best-rated private course, the Cypress Point Club at Pebble Beach in California, is named after a tree. Hell's Half Acre, reputedly the world's largest sand trap, is located in New Jersey on the 7th hole of a course named Pine Valley.
Neuro-notes I. Because the savannah experience took place during a critical time in human evolution--as Homo's brain was expanding faster than any brain in the history of vertebrates--grassland habitats left an indelible mark on the species. Today, e.g., we remodel earth to our liking by flattening and smoothing its surface, idealizing the original plains upon which our ancestors hunted, gathered, and camped. We still find psychic comfort in semi-open spaces; indeed, Neo-Savannah Grassland, with its scattered bushes and reassuring clumps of trees, is the landscaping theme of golf courses, college campuses, city parks, and cemeteries.
Neuro-notes II: "yips". "Physical and psychological factors may contribute to a phenomenon in golf known as the 'yips' [a form of dystonia, which '. . . affects musicians, stenographers, dentists and others who frequently are forced to repeatedly assume a prolonged, abnormal posture']--an acquired problem of sudden tremors, jerking, or freezing while putting--according to a summary of current Mayo Clinic research published this week [January 8, 2001] in Sports Medicine. Aynsley Smith, PhD, director of sport psychology and sports medicine research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says preliminary research indicates that more than 25% of avid golfers develop the yips, which adds an estimated 4.7 strokes to the average 18-hole score of an affected player.
"Fast, downhill, and left-to-right breaking putts of 2-5 feet were most likely to produce symptoms, although long putts caused problems for some golfers. Playing in or leading a tournament, tricky putts, and playing against specific competitors were also associated with yips episodes.
"'While pressure situations make the problem worse, it is difficult to imagine why good golfers would suddenly begin having the yips after years of successful performance if it was only a matter of anxiety or 'choking,' ' says Dr. Smith. 'Although performance anxiety may cause the yips in many golfers, muscle and nervous system deterioration caused by prolonged overuse may be at the root of the problem for other players. This may explain why some get relief and play successfully by changing their grip or by switching to a longer putter.' In the second phase of the Mayo Clinic research, investigators measured the heart rate, arm muscle activity, and grip force while putting of 4 yips-affected golfers and 3 nonaffected counterparts. Those with the yips had higher average heart rates and demonstrated increased muscle activity, particularly in the wrists. In addition, while nonaffected golfers were able to make an average of 9 out of 10 consecutive 5-foot putts, the yips-affected golfers only made half of theirs" (Anonymous 2001).
Neuro-notes III. "It takes nearly a millisecond for the impact shock to travel up the club shaft and milliseconds more for nerve pathways to carry the sensation to the brain. So by the time a player can feel the hit, the ball has already flown as much as a foot off the tee and is no longer in contact with the club head" (Suplee 1997:A3).
Photo of golfer missing a putt (note the rounded back as the man bows in defeat; picture credit: unknown)