In Austria, golf is a sport - yes, it is indeed a sport - that has quite a following amongst the local and foreign folk. In fact, the Austrian Golf Association has a current count by the hundreds of memberships spread throughout the country. And, it is growing. Though the climate here tends to be on the cold side, we do enjoy months of warm weather at the inception of the spring season that beckon most of us to get out and enjoy hours of this sport. Fortune is on our side, as the spring season extends each day longer. We do have to contend with rain and at times, raining snowflakes, but these last only a few days. Over the years, I have learned the rhythm of the weather here, especially in Vienna, where I have resided for over two decades. Whenever the weather gets warm, it is followed by a few days of rain, and then it is back to sunny and cloudless skies. Soon enough, days roll by for hours of golfing to be had. And, no matter the days of inclement weather and rain, there will be time enough to enjoy this sport activity for nine months of any calendar year.
Let us start with the concept of golf through the Austrian perspective. It is unique in its core values as an association, taken seriously by its committee and members. On their website, www.golf.at, the Austrian Golf Association states the following: the purpose of its association for golf is to uphold the value and develop the interest in the sport of golf in Austria. And, it is noted specifically that winning is not the sole priority.
According to its tenets, this association espouses cultivating and developing the game of golf within Austria, as well as internationally. Its members are expected to represent themselves accordingly within Austria, and most especially when representing themselves as golf players of Austria internationally. Rules and regulations are to be followed at all times, according to the standards set by this association. Together with hundreds of golf clubs throughout the country, this association coordinates tournaments that are mainly friendly gatherings and opportunities for developing individual performance of the game, as well as for building new and old friendships. Besides ensuring that rules and regulations are followed, tournaments are properly and timely organized, and members are provided support to develop their performance and progress. The Association is fully cognizant and keenly observes rules against anti-doping, and any other activities that would harm the development of this sport.
Having outlined this, I would like to add my own personal experience as a foreigner playing golf here in Austria. The courses I play on are mainly in Vienna, and its surrounding provinces. In general, I am touched by the spirit of the players of all levels. The local folk are not only friendly, they are generous in sharing what they know of the courses, and have shown me guidance, as well as cheer on my small successes. I have learned so much from playing on rounds alone with them, that it has significantly contributed to my love for this sport, especially my confidence.
In most cases, Austria is known for its tourist scene, especially those to be had in its two main cities of Vienna and Salzburg. The wonder of golf is that it takes players through areas of Austria that are rarely seen, and are accessible only through playing this sport, or tagging along in company of a player. The golf courses are expertly laid out in keeping with the natural undulations of the terrain, and incorporate its natural surroundings into the courses, so that it looks like the earth on which it lays was created for this sport. There are kilometres and kilometres of breathtaking scenery in the middle of forests, along the tops of hills, dotted here and there by alternate views of farm houses. castles, and churches. Horizons that edge the fairways and greens are lined with rows of crops waiting to be harvested. In most locations, golf courses are laid out next to vineyards, so there is surely wine-tasting to be had after rounds played be it casually or at tournaments.
As long-term employees of the United Nations, my husband and I, like many of our colleagues, enjoy our annual memberships to the United Nations Golf Club, UNGC (www.ungc.eu), that brings us to about a dozen different golf courses in which tournaments are organized with local golf club members. This club organizes these events usually with dinner included, so that tournaments are a monthly highlight to foster and cultivate friendships amongst members all around. Terming these friendly rounds of golfing as tournaments may be daunting, but in fact, the only competition is with oneself. Golf by its own nature is an undertaking that concentrates itself on the performance of the individual. No one competes but with him or herself. Awards are given to the best scores, that even those with an impressive handicap are pitted against challenges faced by him/herself because there is no one course, no one day, no one flight that guarantees an excellent score every time. This is what brings golfers back to the course again and again. There is no guarantee. As such, each success is celebrated by each and everyone because we all know, the next shot is no guarantee.
This spring I am due for the celebration of my 55th birthday, and every year is one that I celebrate as a miraculous blessing. Playing golf reminds me how truly blessed I am to have a body that is strong, and yet to be fully challenged. In fact, it was when I turned 50 that I decided to seriously take up the game - well, not as serious as my husband thinks I could. In golf circles, there is a term called, 'the virus', which is a healthy version of some madness that takes over one's being, driving one to seek the nearest golf course regularly. Golf looks, from the eye of the uninitiated, a simple act of swinging at a tiny ball. Yet, unless you actually walk the walk, talk the talk, you would never know that this sport actually uses all parts of your mind, body and soul. The endurance alone, that it demands in hours of walking, swinging, setting up golf balls, walking up hills and dales in search of golf balls shot in the wrong direction, is a feat all its own.
Now, my dear kababayans, I can only recommend that you give golfing a try. We in Europe have the great advantage of having this sport within our means. And, don't even start on me about having financial obligations that get in your way. It is a matter of choice. For the same amount of time, money and energy it takes to keep up a social life, one could exchange it for taking up golfing. What you get back in return is a healthy mind, body and soul that will take you farther in to your golden years. And, talk about bringing your golf prowess back home to our 7,100 islands - well now, for all the wonderful feasts to be had, golf offers a respite in which to burn calories, move stiffened muscles from sitting through long hours of being hosted. Golfing brings that much needed breath of fresh air. I had my first discovery in 2014 of some of our golf courses back home, and it was an absolute joy to discover. Granted that we are spoiled with our caddies and umbrella girls, and the services provided by golf clubs that reduce golfing down to the minimum, we still have the opportunity to see parts of our country in ways that we rarely have the opportunity to. As 'snobbish' as the reputation that comes with this sport, let's get real folks - the health and life-giving properties it gives as a sport raises us above that perception. As I wait out my money tree to regrow its branches for our next visit back home, the longing grows to connect with our home country through this unique sport.
Photos courtesy of Mae Cayir.