A Sport Built on Character
The reason those specific qualities came to mind so readily is not just because Jeff has spent a career in guiding golfers himself. It is also one result of a youth golf program known as First Tee. The qualities Jeff mentioned from memory are among the nine core values of First Tee: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. The purpose of First Tee is not only to nurture better golfers but to build character as well.
The program started over 20 years ago with a simple question: Why don’t more kids play golf? Early in the process of promoting the game to youth, First Tee recognized the profound possibilities for character-building that are simply intrinsic to the game. Golf, at its best, embodies qualities that make good family members, responsible citizens, hard workers, aware and composed human beings with ethical values. It’s just built into the game if you pay attention. And here on Callawassie Island, we’re fortunate to see the results every year when the exceptional Big East college golfers come here to compete for their conference championship.
Demanding More than Skill
For one thing, golf is an inside game. “The mental strength that golf requires – I’d put that up against the physical strength of any other sport,” Jeff said. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t hit a golf shot. So, 70-or-so times per round, a golfer comes to grips with quieting and focusing his or her mind. Concentration is not a process that is much encouraged in a society that has made a virtue out of “multi-tasking,” surrounded by mobile screens designed ingeniously to put our mind somewhere that our body is not. The virtues of real awareness, not virtual sensations, the ability to “be here now,” are not being promoted in many places today. Golf offers young people an environment that demands the kind of concentration that is too often scattered today. It’s a life-giving reminder to us at any age.
Golf demands responsibility, too. “Nobody’s going to hit the shot for you,” Jeff said. There’s no one to take up where you left off in golf. Unlike team sports, responsibility is not shared. And your acceptance of that responsibility is right out there in broad daylight, in full view.
“Play it as it lies” is one of the rules of the game that carries well into life off the course. Acceptance of a situation is the beginning of addressing it well. So here again, young people and golfers of any age are confronted with a life lesson, dozens of times per round. “You’re going to have to adapt, and think your way through new situations, and see them through,” Jeff said.
Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, is about the game itself first, and the opponent second. The impossibility of playing this elegant game perfectly is the first challenge that a golfer must rise to meet. Out-playing, the opponent, comes second, and strangely, is less demanding than mastering the game.
Everything counts in golf. Everything from your preparation and conditioning to the turf conditions, to the wind and weather, is a factor in the game. This can bring with it a kind of humility if a golfer is truly paying attention. The fact that things beyond your control can play a part in your game can bring with it the kind of sense that family farmers used to have. You have to do everything right, and even then, the weather or the price of your crop is still outside your grasp. Somehow it doesn’t lessen the need to do your part well, but it puts your powers in perspective. Golf is like that for the player who pays attention.
The Vital Nature of Connection
Finally, with all this concentration on the inside game and the personal dimensions of responsibility, golf is about connection, too. It’s one of the clearest links between the sport and the experience of living here in the community of Callawassie Island. Connection with yourself, with Nature, and with the other golfers in your party, is an enormous part of golf’s appeal.
The sheer enjoyment of the day, the course, and the company remind us that connection is a part of the human condition that we all need. Sometimes it’s risky; occasionally it can be disappointing. So, we seek those environments that make connection easier. We find, here on Callawassie Island, that we have just such a place like that. We have a home here where Nature is almost always kind. Our neighbors – in all their fascinating variety – are in some way still like-minded essentially, with similar values, goals, and intentions. And the course we set through life from this uniquely-blessed vantage point in the tidal waters, under the ancient oaks, is a course that we are glad to share.
A Reminder We Celebrate and Enjoy
The young players in the Big East Golf Tournament bring us each year a vivid, enjoyable reminder of what we have to be thankful for, here on Callawassie Island. “Integrity, perseverance, and honesty – that’s what golf does even to the youngest players,” Jeff said. “These are pieces they learn early in golf.”
They are also qualities that contribute to the joy of living here on Callawassie Island. Each April, when the Big East returns to the Callawassie Island Club, we get a festive, refreshing, pleasurable, and satisfying reminder.