COMMON GROUND

COMMON GROUND

From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Common Ground

Growing up in Egypt, I never had a chance to play golf or even come close to being on a course, even though Egypt was (as a golfer once told me) “a big sand trap.” Now, courses are sprouting everywhere in Egyptian resorts.

Golf is too much of an individualistic and disciplined game for someone who, for most of his life, played the undisciplined game of football (soccer), which is full of improvizations and creativity.

Golf is a sport found in a culture of abundance, where players usually bring their own balls, bags, shoes, umbrellas, raincoats, hats, carts, clubs and caddies. For years I subscribed to the notion that golf is an elitist game, where men with ugly pants go to strike business deals on the course away from women and minorities.

When I went to the course for the first time I found, to my surprise, mostly younger baby boomers with nice pants. And the only thing they cared to strike was the ball. The only business they talked about was the business of controlling this small ball and keeping it straight on the fairway.

I was alone and leery as a first-time golfer, equipped with only my golf bag and a few trips to the driving range, mostly wondering about the rules and the etiquette of this enigmatic game.

First, they lined me up at the clubhouse with three other men I had never met before. Very few sports do that. They asked if I could fill out a foursome. I wondered for a second if this had something to do with my handicap.

On the 1st hole, we were just men getting to know each other for the first time. On the 5th hole, we became associates. Once we strode off the 9th hole, we became drinking buddies (nonalcoholic, please). Golf is one of the few sports that you can play and drink at the same time—if you don’t count bowling.

By the time we got to the 18th hole, we had become friends who had just spent more than half of the day away from work, families and wives. We were cut off from any sign of civilization, bonding together, surrounded by the primitive nature of the course.

What a refreshing experience and a wonderful treat for me as an Arab-American, surrounded by people who looked at me as one of them. I wasn’t looked at as a hyphenated American, to be interrogated about Middle East affairs and asked to explain Saddam Hussein’s complicated self-destructive behavior.

I was not asked to help find Osama bin Laden. All that was asked of me was to find the ball. The only jihad we had was to fight the course terrain and stay on the fairway. With this camaraderie, we were cut off from our ethnic roots, bias and prejudice. We were merely men against the course. We had transcended our race, color and ethnicity. The only color we saw was the color green. On the course, no cultural sensitivity or diversity training is required. I was just another golfer. Bad golfer I may be, but never a bad Arab.

The concentration and the exotic exhilaration of smashing this small ball onto the fairway overwhelmed our own stereotyping, racism and ethnocentricity. We were liberated men, free of all the societal burdens of accomplishing big tasks in life.

For Arab-Americans, our energy has been consumed for years by the long debate over the fate of a piece of divine real estate thousands of miles away that we can’t do anything about. On the course, the only piece of divine real estate was the green before us. This game was our reality, and I was the only one who could do anything about it.

Golf anyone?

Ahmed Tharwat Abdelaal

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