Golf and the Meaning of Life

Where do we seek comfort and reassurance when the certainties of life crumble underneath us? For the award winning Scottish poet and novelist Andrew Greig this was the question he faced as he recovered from a potentially fatal brain condition.

The answer for Greig was to take to the golf courses of Scotland. He charts his journey in Preferred Lies: A Journey to the Heart of Scottish Golf. Along the way he discovers questions and answers that he didn’t know he was looking for.

With his mother ailing, the golf courses serve as a reminder his duties as son, both to her and to the memory of his father. His father’s benevolent ghost haunts the book as it haunts Greig. As he conquers his own fears about learning to live again, his fears for his mother and his sadness for his father this becomes more than a golf book.

It is a book about life, a book about death. Eventually as his random tour of Scottish golf ends it is clear that it is very much also a book about living.

As a guide to the courses of Scotland this is quirky. Royal Dornoch features but so to does Bathgate and the less visited courses of Ronaldsay and Iona. Greig covers the rich variety of Scottish golf – and in doing so perhaps captures the very essence of the game in Scotland: the variety of courses and players makes golf in Scotland a unique experience.

Along the way he hooks up with a crowd of Buddhist golfers. Is this the spiritual moment when golf merges with something intangible and become a metaphysical experience? Not really. But this strange collection of people (brought to life warmly and amusingly) do teach Greig to relax and have fun on the course. Perhaps that is a more valuable discovery.

From his reaction to his illness to his facing down of his school day demons whilst playing Dollar, Greig delivers a narrative and prose that lift this above most sports books. The weaker moments comes as he describes some of his rounds in great detail (shot by shot accounts of rounds are dull in anybody’s hands), the strongest when golf becomes the lens through which he considers his relationships.

As he plays with old friends and his family, as he considers his mother and feels the shadow of his father and as he savours the family that he has recovered to enjoy, Greig’s journey takes him to his own heart.

And if he fails to find the heart of Scottish golf then that, in the grand scheme of things, hardly matters. If you do choose to use this book as a guide book then, like a kaleidoscope throwing pieces in the air to achieve something truly beautiful, you will enjoy a strange and wondrous journey in the home of golf.

If not then sit back and enjoy a man learning to live again, taught – as had been as a child – by the frustrations, joys, characters and scenery of the game of his homeland.

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