2005: Golf’s Golden Rule

By John Steinbreder

Best-selling author Robert Fulghum may have learned all he needed to know in kindergarten, but the greatest source of wisdom I ever divined came from Sunday School class and a sentence I read as a young man in the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12.

That’s the one that goes: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do even so to them…”

It’s better known as the Golden Rule, and the premise of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” not only is found in scriptures of nearly every religion in the world, but is regarded as a moral compass for right living.

I also consider it the only guide a golf club member ever needs.

I come to that conclusion after listening to my friend Jenkins decry the different efforts at his place to get people there to behave themselves better on and off the course. Mostly, it entails the exhausting promulgation of standards governing everything from cell phone usage to proper attire, and it has served to make the yearbook at his club as voluminous as the IRS tax code – and just as tedious and confusing to read. It also has caused him to wonder about the sensibility of issuing directives as rapidly as the U.S. Congress and what it says about the direction his retreat is heading.

His understandable concern is that it is becoming a club of rules, and every time a member slips in the slightest, the reaction is to put a new law into the books.

That’s bad management, in my opinion, and his place would be far better off if it simply threw away all those regulations and focused club philosophy on that one Bible verse that still rings in my ears all these years later.

Do unto others, indeed.

If golfers acted that way, they would bring an Eden-like calm and conviviality to their clubs. They would replace every divot, repair every pitch mark and rake every bunker. They would pick up their broken tees after hitting their drives and dispose of them properly. They would play with a comfortable sense of urgency, never tarrying long enough to hold other players up or take more than four hours to complete a round. They would dress properly on the course, saving their short shorts and gruesome mock T’s for other endeavors, and understand that they should always remove their hats and visors when they walk inside.

They always would consider how their actions affected others as opposed to thinking only of themselves. Which means, ideally, that they wouldn’t dare bring their cell phones out of their cars or pound on the keyboards of their BlackBerrys as they wait for their drinks at the 19th hole. They would play only with their fellow members at peak times and strive to bring their guests during slack periods of play, so as not to inconvenience the club. They would take caddies whenever possible, buy all their balls and clothes from their PGA professionals, treat their club staffs with respect and understanding, and tip the guys in the locker room who shine their shoes as well as the fellows who serve drinks and snacks in the halfway houses. They would never hit into groups ahead or cut in front of anyone on the 10th tee. And they would yell “Fore!” when they hit an errant shot, but otherwise do their best not to be heard outside their own foursomes.

They would, in summary, act like ladies and gentlemen when they go to their clubs, and there would never be a reason to print reams and reams of regulations – only the need to abide by that simple verse in Matthew.

Philosophers have pondered the meaning of the Golden Rule for years and advanced various interpretations. Among the most thoughtful modern thinkers on the subject is Harry J. Gensler, a teacher at John Carroll University in Cleveland as well as the author of books on morals and ethics. He opines “to apply the Golden Rule adequately, we need knowledge and imagination. We need to know what effect our actions have on the lives of others. And we need to be able to imagine ourselves, vividly and accurately, in the other person’s place. . . .

“The Golden Rule is best seen as a consistency principle. . . . It prescribes consistency (and) it tests our moral coherence. If we violate the Golden Rule, then we’re violating the spirit of fairness and concern that lie at the heart of morality.”

I read those passages to Jenkins and asked him simply: What else do we as golfers truly need to know?

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