Upside-down rugby paddock

Rugby vs golf

by Ben Hoyt

In these gloomy days I’m sure to need a disclaimer, so here it is even before I’m asked. Those who know me will know that I write with my tongue in my cheek. Partly serious, mostly not. And certainly not politically correct. Those who don’t know me could misread me, but at least they have been warned.

I’ll state my theory up-front: rugby is better than golf. Not only cooler and more fun, but actually better. I could even be bold and say it’s more Christ-like. In an age when right and wrong mean nothing, in an age which knows of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, this is going to be hard to prove. But hard is easier than impossible, and I may just be the right man for the job – I can speak objectively because I don’t play either rugby or golf. And now, let the game begin.

Our lives are not to be aimless wanderings around a course, eighteen holes or no; they should be directed and meaningful. In golf, you hit the ball this way and that, till finally you end up, unbelievably, right where you started. In sensible sports you start at one end of the field and work your way to the other. So in rugby you head for a goal that looks like an ‘H’, and your enemy aims for the other ‘H’. Heaven and Hell, perhaps? Rugby emulates the real world; golf does not.

At root, golf is self-centred and individualistic. It’s all about me; it’s about number one getting a hole in one. Unlike rugby, there can be no unity among the brethren, because there is only one player. Today we hear a lot about “being a team player”, and despite this cliché being abused by politicians, it is true. The Scriptures say that we are “not one member but many”, and that we must use our different abilities – together.

One of rugby’s virtues is that it is manly, and sometimes to be manly means to fight. Take the “grandmother case”: your grandmother is about to be cruelly robbed and murdered by a crook. If you see this and merely watch, you are no man but are worse than useless. Christ calls us to be peacemakers, but not pacifists. And certainly not cowards. Now in rugby, our grandmother’s life is not at stake, but what better way to discipline ourselves for “the good fight of faith” than to train? Golf might train us for some things, but it doesn’t train us to defend.

Is Jesus really the gentle, mild, and most of all, handsome man we all know and love? He is certainly gentle to those who seek His help, but He is quite un-gentle to Pharisees and hypocrites. As for those who ripped off others in His temple, He stands up for what is right by pulling out a whip. Rugby teaches us to fight for what is good, for the goal.

Neither did Jesus say “stop fighting your enemy”; but He did say “love your enemy”. In rugby this means that if your opponent falls over, you might give him a hand and help him up, for we can’t just forget chivalry in a battle. Golf, on the other hand, teaches us nothing: there is nothing worth fighting for, let alone anyone to fight. It goes without saying that the war will be over when you run from the battle and onto a deserted golf course.

St Paul sheds more light on the subject: he speaks about “running the race”, not walking it. In other words, he’s talking about rugby, not golf. He also uses the example of a boxer who doesn’t just use his fists to beat the air. Paul, it seems, would have made a better Lomu than a Woods.

Finally, there are the superficial (or perhaps strangely deep?) resemblances. Jesus had twelve disciples, giving thirteen in total – the number of players on a league team. If you include Matthias and Paul, who came later, you have fifteen: the very first XV, if you like. And rugby involves conversions: after you have scored a try, you have a conversion, much like becoming a Christian. The scrum at first glance appears similar to the Christian ceremony of “the laying on of hands”. Then, at certain points in a match, one man is lifted up above the rest, reminding us of the Psalmist saying that his “head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me”. After the match, there is the ceremony of anointing the head with lager, and a kind of baptism administered by sprinkling, under a shower.

The parallels are endless, so I will conclude with a little more from St Paul, this time advice about being forwards (not backs) in all of life: “Press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Among other things, he’s telling us to throw away our clubs, put our caddy out of a job, and start running for the try-line.