It was a...spiritual experience. I was blessed with being grouped with three other golfers who were very gracious with my horrible playing. They all remembered what it was like to struggle to hit the ball, and they did not put any pressure on me whatsoever. I am forever grateful to them for their graciousness. Yet, as I played golf (very badly) for the first time, I was struck by how I found God everywhere on that golf course.
One of the aspects about the game of golf that struck me the most was how courteous golfers must be to others. If you create a divot with your club (something which I did regularly...while simultaneously missing the golf ball), you must repair the divot. If your ball lands in a sand trap ( another very familiar experience), you must rake over your footprints and swing marks. You should make every effort not to slow down the golfers behind you. If there are golfers ahead of you, and you hit your ball, you must yell "Fore!", which is golf-language for, "Excuse me madam or sir, but my ball is coming your way, and I would hate for you to get hit by it. So, please kindly move out of the way."
If playing with more than one golfer, the farthest one from the hole usually gets to go first, again out of courtesy for your fellow players (you guessed it, the other three golfers with me almost always waited for me to hit the ball first). After your group finishes a hole and moves on to the next one, the player with the best score tees off first ( right on! I always teed-off last). Throughout all 18 holes, even though I was focused on my own (horrible) golf game, I was always keenly aware of the other golfers around me.
This was a new experience for me, because, in all my previous sports experiences, I could care less about the others around me. Golf is completely different, and it reminded me of the Prophet's statement to his companions, "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." Imam Nawawi, one of the most famous Muslim scholars, commented that, "the brotherhood referenced [in this statement] is that of humanity." Golf challenges one's own covetousness, and as God says in the Qur'an, "whoever is saved from the covetousness of his own self will attain to a happy state" (59:9).
The game itself is a very fruitful spiritual exercise as well. Even though you may be playing with other golfers, perhaps in a tournament, you are still mainly playing against yourself. If you have a bad shot, or hit the ball in the water (something which I did only once, amazingly), or hit the ball completely off course (something which I did many, many times), it is very easy to get flustered and frustrated. Many, if not most golfers, succumb to this very natural feeling and become angry during their game. Yet, when you get angry, you frequently do much worse. Thus, it is a constant challenge to always remain calm and forget about previous bad shots. One golfer, in fact, told me he does much better after a couple of beers, because the alcohol relaxes him. Now, I will never, ever drink alcohol because of my Muslim faith, so I will have to learn to be patient with my terrible golf game on my own. And, when I do this, I will find God there with me on the golf course because, as He says in the Qur'an, "Believers, seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for verily God is with those who patiently persevere" (2:153). And believe you me, I did a lot of praying that day.
I also found God that day directly because of my horrific play. I think I hit the fairway only once throughout my entire time on the golf course; all the other times I spent playing in the rough, among the trees, shrubs, and bushes. It gave me a unique opportunity to truly enjoy the beauty of God's creation, to enjoy the elegance of birch, evergreen, and other trees. Furthermore, when I was in the rough, it was very serene and peaceful (because no one else was there enjoying nature with me), allowing me to reflect upon God and His Wondrous Majesty. It made my first ever golf experience all the more enjoyable.
You know, some may find it surprising I would find God at the golf course. Yet, for me, it is only natural to see God everywhere I go, because He told me: "Never can there be a secret confabulation between three persons without His being the fourth of them...and neither between less than that, or more, without His being with them wherever they may be" (58:7). I only pray that the next time I venture out on a golf course, the Precious Lord comes with me again, because whenever God is with me, everything has to go right, even if I shoot a golf score with more snowmen (and their wives, children, and grandchildren) than a Chicago-area neighborhood in the dead of winter.