Golf etiquette is a strange thing to the uninitiated. Rules abound. Don’t stand on your opponent’s putting line, stand still and don’t talk when others are playing, those who have the honour tee-off first, repair plug marks, replace divots (except on the tee), offer to tend the pin, shirts must be tucked in, the list goes on. Etiquette is the things golfers do to make the game more enjoyable for each other but it can easily become snobbery and petty law-keeping.
During a recent game, I told a fellow club member that I liked our club because it didn’t have too fussy an attitude towards etiquette but he disagreed. He liked to maintain standards, he argued that it’s good to have high expectations of each other. We decided that the problem with golf etiquette is not its high standards, which make the game more pleasant to play and to which men instinctively aspire, but with the way many clubs deal with transgressors. A lack of grace is the real problem with etiquette.
Golf etiquette can help us see the gospel in miniature. Jesus sets high expectations for his followers, for their mutual benefit to make life better, more enjoyable: Don’t get angry because God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; don’t commit adultery because God is faithful; be generous because God gives and gives and gives. Jesus expects his followers to expect each other to keep his high standards. But he also expects grace, for his followers not to treat one another in a way their sins and transgressions deserve. He died for our sins so we die for one another’s. We forgive when others fall short Jesus’ standards because he first forgave us. He forgives so that his expectations of his people are kept high.