Guest Blog: More Than A Game; The Healing Nature Of Golf

Kevin Robson shares his perspective on how golf is helping him deal with a largely invisible injury

Have you read the articles or seen the videos on the subject of how ‘Golf saved my life’? If you haven’t you should, even legendary musician Alice Cooper got in on the conversation, which is pretty cool, but still its Alice Cooper, so I have the heebie-jeebies. Not to be overtly profound on the turnaround golf made in the life of Alice Cooper, but to recognize and allow it to ruminate.

This is a story of golf, as a cure. Alice shared how golf helped cure him of his aliments, substance abuse, where he famously told the Telegraph “some people turn to god, I turned to golf”. My favorite Alice quote in the Telegraph article was, “I’ll loft a ball into the dunes just so I can utter a golfer’s prayer, just to share a few seconds of private meditation.”

Well said.

This does a good job at capturing that moment, for framing that environment, of illuminating that existential release. This is where the omphalos of heart and hope collide in the sanctity of golf. But does this explain why golf is such a powerful force? Or, why military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are flocking to the course like Canadian snowbirds to Florida in December? No, but if you golf, it sure resonates with you and it is far from sanctimonious.

The Unseen

I am a person with an invisible disability. I acquired a traumatic brain injury in 2015 and the collateral damage was significant episodes of mental illness and even exposed, suppressed trauma equating to PTSD. I grieve the loss of the person I was, while being in an endless pursuit to discover the person I am, ought to be or to become; all while dealing with daily stigmas and a regular barrage of unabashed ignorance by other assertions and expectations because, “I look or seem fine, today”.

However, when I am on the golf course I am free; one with and in nature, focused on a task, working at my pace and within my skill set to achieve a goal or set of goals. I do all this while unapologetic-ally basking in the glory of my surroundings. Blessed by the manicured state of beauty to which will challenge me on that day.

While gleefully lolling under the rays of the sun, I am at peace. Even while feeling the drops of rain upon my cap, I may pause to speculate on to whom, in our past, might these drops have once fallen on.

The point is that golf is where I reflect, where I breath, where I socialize, relax and get some form of mild exercise. It has become a holistic cure to the everyday blues that unfortunately can be relentless in pursuit. But as long as I have that warm sun beating down on me and I am amongst the sounds and colours of nature, I am providential. This is my spiritual place.

A regular scene for me is finishing the 18th hole just as the sun dips below the horizon, after having been chased along by the illuminating rays of reds and purples that danced along the crest of sky and land; this is a true joy that absolutely fills my cup.

I was told to continue to golf, to play and or be at the course as often as my symptoms would allow, while respecting my pacing requirements and obviously not impacting my energy levels for my family requirements. This, for me, equates to roughly 1.5 rounds a week, in which I split my rounds between walking and riding. To my wife, I am sure this must have been malarkey. However, it’s a form of psychotherapy. 

The field of study is within systems theory and is known as Ecotherapy, or better put, nature therapy. It suggests that we (individuals) are connected to this web of life, that our psychological state is not isolated or separated from our environment. The connection with earth or nature being at the core of this form of therapy.

The interventions include things like mediation in nature or exercising in nature, amongst other techniques. The field of study works to improve mood disorders, stress, anxiety and has been proven to help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity.

For myself, living with ‘limited’ cognitive capacities while managing the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury are intensified when juxtaposed with mood disorders. The order of operations is to deal with the mood disorder first, to be able to see relief in the physical or cognitive issues. They work in tangent, in the fox hole together, you might say. Many therapeutic programs are catching on. Golf is an outlet for improved physical and emotional health.

The PGA of America has its Honoring Our Patriots Everywhere (HOPE) program. With a memorandum of understanding, the PGA and the Department of Veteran Affairs, have done something small, yet profound. The memorandum enables recreational therapist to refer veterans to PGA HOPE program as a form of therapy. The most incredible part of this is that it is free. This is a 6-8 week curriculum offered by a PGA professional at no cost, the goal of the program is to enhance physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. Beautiful.

In Canada, ‘Soldier On supports our veterans to overcome and adapt to permanent physical and mental illness through physical activity and sport.’ In 2013, Soldier On partnered with PGA of Canada CEO Gary Bernard to bring four Canadian veterans to Scotland and play St Andrews. I happen to know one of the veterans who had the opportunity to be on this trip. Again, amazing.

Golf is special in so many ways. However, for many it is becoming recognized for more, for being therapeutic.

Winter Is Coming

The benign but powerful manner in which golf works existentially is remarkable. Case in point, as the snow blankets my world around me, I begin to turn the tide, I know it. The restlessness, the edginess, the fatigue and angst begin to set in. 

I fear, fear, for the coming months yet again, dark, cold and dreary. The long winter is paralyzing for someone in my position. Cognitive behaviour therapy would have me recognize this, chase the bouncy ball back to where it came from and through it in its hole. I do my best. I listen to my doctors, I attend my weekly appointments. But it’s just that much more difficult with the void of golf. In the summer, I was settled. The only angst was the excitement to get out with my father on our regular Thursday evening round or for the odd competition that I still have to play.

All that to be said, I have affirmed to myself that, ecotherapy, sun, mild activity, goal achievement, community; or, GOLF, is as the cliché goes, more than a game.

It really is. It is a cure.

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Kevin Robson is a member and former Club Champion at the Hylands Golf Club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He studied at and play collegiate golf at Durham College and the University of Ottawa. He has played events on the Great Lakes Tour and Mackenzie Tour. He has served with the Canada Border Service Agency and Health Canada. He is also a Trauma Survivor.