Why I Need My Golf - And I Need It Now
Hello again one and all and welcome to my latest blog. I hope you are all safe and well and doing whatever you can to keep Covid free. We are almost a month into the latest lockdown in the UK and it seems like early March is going to be our earliest reprieve. Having written the opening I am staring at a blank screen wondering how the rest of this will pan out. I know what I want to write and the feelings I want to evoke and what I want you to take away but this may not be easy and we may wander into some strange areas. Let's see what happens but above all if you read this and it resonates, or even make you recognise something inside you, please comment and remember you won't be alone. Right then lets get this on!
Lets start with the basics. I work in the NHS. I have am well into my second decade with the same trust and while I came from a recruitment background, for the last two and a half years I have worked in an intensive care unit. I am not involved medically but I am there five days a week in the eye of the current storm and shoulder to shoulder with all the nursing and medical professionals working tirelessly and without question in this second wave. My job title is Administration Manager and I am one of those junior managers people seem to think represent a lot of what is wrong in the NHS. In essence it is probably a grandiose title for what I actually do, which in essence is to try and take as much of the day to day administration and time-consuming silly little tasks off the senior nursing team, the sisters and senior nurses so they have more time to provide dedicated patient care (especially in the current crisis) and in a world after Covid, mentor, train and support the newer or inexperienced members of the team.
That is all well and good but I am sure you are asking how this bears and semblance to the title of this post and what it has to do with a golfing blog at all. Good point well made dear reader. Let me allude in a bit more detail but before I do, please do not think this is some sort of "woe is me" post. It is a simple statement of where I am and why I need golf back in my life and why I need it now.
Our intensive care unit has seen unprecedented demand and we have grown from a twenty bed unit and escalated into adjacent wards and theatre space and running at forty bed capacity. This last week has been especially manic and quite simply the hardest of my working life in any capacity. I find myself mentally and physically shattered and at a very low ebb. This is where my golf would step in.
There is so much documented evidence on how golf is so good for mental well-being and to a large extent formed the backbone to the English Golf Union's lobbying of government to let courses remain open as they have done in Scotland but sadly to no avail.
I touched upon how much my father had influenced me and introduced me to golf in my last blog - The Generation Game (which you can catch up with here). As you will know from the front page of this site and my previous blog, Three Off The Tee (which you can still read - Three Off The Tee Blog). I am a golfaholic and love nothing more than playing or practicing and tinkering with my game. That is a trait I share with Padraig Harrington (as he confessed on the "Chronicles of an Open Champion" TV programme - although there is arguably a tiny difference in ability). Without this my weekend is drawing out in front of me and I have nothing to fill the void.
Sitting here today in the current lockdown everything feels wrong. It seems that my passion for everything golf related, has vanished overnight. Playing socially as well as having time to myself to practice has always been really important to me, and that combination of the game itself and spending time with my friends at my home club, Royal Ascot, really helped get me through Covid to this point. However a month into this current hiatus and things feel different.
I have had various dalliances as a member from an extended membership when the club was situated inside the world famous Ascot racecourse, to taking time out to look after my mum when cancer hit, and coming back when the club moved to its current home. When you get involved in club life and especially in some of the roll-up groups the banter can be fierce but it is always done from the heart without malice and I am lucky to have a large number of golfing pals I consider as friends at the club that I look forward to seeing, playing with and enjoying a few beers in the 19th.
I feel like the environment definitely plays a big part in it all, too. It’s something that you don’t always recognise in the moment, but then you look back on it and you can see the impact of being out there in the open and the sunshine, and what a help that was.
Research in the UK reveals that every week one in six adults suffer from common mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and global reports demonstrate that poor mental health is one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide. Covid has definitely exacerbated the problem and I know I am not alone in currently finding myself emotionally adrift without my beloved golf.
With the positive impact of green space on mental health becoming more evident, it can be argued that golf holds a unique position as a sport and hobby, owing to the game’s green swathes, mature trees, the wildlife on display and the enticing scenery. With this fact in mind, can golf benefit a healthier mental lifestyle? Ultimately, could it be part of the solution to the modern mental health crisis? I think to get out and play golf you are really helping manage your mental health in a very holistic way and perhaps no surprise that my club along with many others saw an upturn in membership after the first lockdown.
First of all, it’s a social sport. People can play alone, obviously, but most golfers tend to play with other people. Secondly, it’s improving your physical activity. It keeps you mobile, which is key. Thirdly, you are challenging yourself in terms of technique and practice. Finally you’re getting this big beneficial effect to your psychological wellbeing through exposure to the natural environment. Golf combines all of these factors in one activity.
I am not in the best place right now but I am fully supported in work by some fantastic colleagues and the unquestioning love and support of my wife so I appreciate I am in a far better situation than many out there and I am aware I luckier than some. That said I need my golf.
When asked, “What is it you like about golf?”, top responses were:
1. Being outdoors
2. Relaxation or stress relief
3. It presents a mental challenge
4. Spending time with friends or family
5. It presents a physical challenge
So, while the golf industry is making efforts to promote the significant physical health benefits of playing golf, it could be argued that the mental health benefits are even more significant, and also more appealing. The English Golf Union has worked tirelessly to persuade the government to reverse their current decision where courses remain closed. The EGU has made it abundantly clear of the mental and physical benefits of the game I love and it still remains a source of mystery to all English golfers that we can go fishing or go for a walk, but we can't do the latter carrying our clubs and hitting a little white ball around a huge field.
As a growing portion of the population becomes invested in forging a healthier mental lifestyle, the golf industry has a clear opportunity, backed by sound research, to present itself as a tremendously healthy and holistic activity to support that lifestyle. A round of golf involves the following therapeutic ingredients: exercise, time in nature, the fostering of new and prolonging of existing relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management. These ingredients have become known as Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes and considerable evidence now points to their effectiveness and are sometimes as or more effective as either psychotherapy or medication.
Playing golf and being in natural settings has been shown to enhance cognitive, attentional, emotional, spiritual and subjective well-being. The added bonus of this is the social element of playing golf. Spending time with my golfing pals has been crucial in developing and maintaining relationships, enhances happiness, quality of life, resilience and even led to wisdom and education from wise old sages. Golf is a challenging sport requiring extensive decision-making, planning and executing precise skilled movements. Playing such a wonderful sport entails learning to develop effective self-management skills which can foster greater emotional stability and psychological maturity, both of which are key ingredients of well-being both on and off the golf course.
With no tangible golf available what is there for me? Well let me start by saying this has proved far more cathartic and therapeutic than I hope simply tapping away on the keyboard and getting my thoughts down. What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts on the benefits of golf and have you been struggling to. Please let me know in the comment section or via my social media (links on the front of the site).
I need to find a way to park my working life and relight the golfing flame. Easier said than done of course unless the government make a surprise U-turn but I do have my blog and so expect far more content coming (and don't you dare groan, I need your support more than ever). I will try and find some ways to get the Three Off The Tee youtube channel back up and running with some lockdown content (for now you can see my current content to date here). The madness in work won't last forever and that is something I need to bear in mind. The course is undoubtedly benefitting from the rest in the wet, cold conditions we have and so when I do step foot onto that first tee again it will be in excellent nick and ready for me to peg that ball up, take aim and swing the club again.
Perhaps I am looking at this the wrong way. As an obsessed golfer have I become too immersed for my own good? Has not hitting a ball, even into the golf net I have in the garden, not working on my putting on the bedroom carpet, been a good thing. Is a change as good as a rest? Possibly although as I've explained there are numerous arguments as to why I need to be playing. I am a simple man and I don't have the answer, even for my own situation.
I know this has been a long read so I thank you for indulging me. Golf is undoubtedly a massive part of my life, my passion, my release and so perhaps there was an air of inevitability about the effect it would have on my well-being. Perhaps having worked throughout the pandemic and especially this second wave which has proved far harder to deal with I didn't take the time to appreciate that short window of opportunity we had in the late summer and early autumn to play when the weather was still set fair.
I will get through this. I feel a little bit broken right now but far from beaten. I know these are unique and unprecedented times. Golf will return and I will reap the health and well-being benefits once more. It makes me more determined to work hard on my game (I was actually playing well in the period between Christmas and the latest lockdown) to enjoy my golf (even when it doesn't go so well) and appreciate the time spent with my golfing friends and not take their company for granted. I will tinker, I will practice and I will continue in the dogmatic pursuit towards single figures or "The Quest" as it has been dubbed.
Thank you for letting me share my feelings. I hope you are in a better place than me right now and if you are struggling please share your own thoughts. If you have already suffered as I am please let me know how you got through it. I know this blog is a break from the normal fare I've served to date on here and the previous blog incarnation but I felt it was a post worth writing. I'll be back for something, hopefully far more uplifting in the very near future. Stay safe, thanks for reading and I'll be back soon.