Throughout the world, at modest golf courses where no pro stands behind his counter to sell you a shirt, you will find an enduring symbol of the true spirit of golf: the honesty box. The golfer arrives at a first tee where no starter is needed; the course is open, the fairways and greens are mowed, and all he need do to begin is to put his green fee in an envelope, tear off his receipt, put the envelope in the box, and off he goes.
What a great way to start a journey that is all about discovering who we are that day! And isn’t that the reason we play the game? The object of the game is to propel a ball into a distant hole, but that’s just an excuse: the real reason we’re there is to evaluate ourselves against our potential. After all, the ball is just sitting there, waiting to be hit, and there’s no defender charging at us or batting it away from the target. Only you yourself determine the result.
Think about the last time someone asked you for your handicap. Did you say, “My handicap is 12 (or 5, or 2, or 27)?” No, most likely you said, “I’m a 12.” And so you are.
We may not always acknowledge that this process of self-definition is why we play the game, and we may not be able to express it, quite, but our actions reflect it. When we’re in the woods and nobody sees us, we don’t kick our ball into an open spot; we play the ball as it lies. We don’t use those so-called “hot” balls that violate the rules and standards of the game, even though they look pretty much the same as all other balls and nobody else would know. We would know, and we would know that our results were a lie.
We want our scores to be an accurate reflection of what we’ve accomplished. We want to be able to feel pride in our pars, swell with our birdies, and keep our bogeys under control – and we can’t do that if we know we’ve skirted the rules to get there. We may think we want the new driving cannon that is guaranteed to launch the ball 270 yards to the middle of the fairway, but if we look deeper we’ll know that we wouldn’t want to play a game where we can buy our results. The rich have enough advantages in life; we don’t want to add another, any more than we’d go along with a rule that lets us pay $100 to lower our score five strokes.
True golfers understand that the game has to be a game of honor. We’re not playing for our livelihoods; this is our passion, our pleasure, and we enter and leave the field with a clear conscience – either that, or we’d be better off not playing at all.
The ultimate honesty box is the one we write our scores in.