Temples of Worship

To some they are merely golf rooms, but for their creators they hold sanctified status

Our punch list filled pages: Pick the drawer pulls, choose the sconces, select a wallpaper for the powder room. They were the conundrums of privilege, and we faced new ones daily as my wife’s inventory of essential choices unfurled itself like a drugstore receipt. Wood decking or PVC? Log fireplace or gas? Natural stone or engineered? Building our forever home was supposed to be fun, but the joy of getting what we wanted had morphed into a fear of fudging our only shot.

I wish I could say I was there to hold Allyson’s hand through the tough calls—Lamb’s Breath or August Lint for the bedroom paint?—but when it came to our new digs, all my interest was set upon one room. More specifically, I was laser-focused on 14 square inches of our new abode. Allyson could have turned the rest of our place into Alice in Wonderland or Alice in Chains and the only thing I would have noticed was the hole I had requested the builders cut into my office floor.

Having an actual practice hole and flag in my office (or the Golffice, as my girls have christened it) might seem a strange or extravagant feature to some, but those aren’t the sort of people we invite over, and they certainly aren’t the type I would welcome into my green-carpeted sanctum, where the walls have grown crowded with remembrances of golf past. My decorating style was accidental—a pin flag here, a pilfered shoehorn there—as I emptied boxes of dormant souvenirs, finally framing them in the limelight, even if I was their lone admirer.

As the Golffice filled with fond memories (all my Augusta memorabilia went over by the window, in Amen Corner), I found myself leaving it less and less. Allyson and the kids were spending more time in here too—of course, I’m writing this from the comfort of my green retreat above the garage—though none of them would call themselves golfers. There is a deep coziness associated with being ensconced in stuff, and as our most manically decorated room became our most popular, I speculated about the impulse that drives some of us to entomb ourselves in our interests. Is it healthy? Does it warrant a diagnosis? I wondered about the line between curator and hoarder, and as I searched for a spot for yet another headcover, I worried I had tripped over it.

Whether this instinct to gather, organize and display is a product of our personas or our pastimes is unclear, but it seems some loyalties are more prone to overindulgence than others. Collectors of beer steins or nutcrackers or cherub-faced Hummels may be able accumulators, but rarely do their collections overtake their living quarters, and not to the extent that a room derives its purpose and title from the tchotchkes stuck to its walls. Disney fanatics seem particularly at risk for going off the decorating deep end, and when they do, they’re judged as maladjusted; it’s only the sports fans who amass and exhibit with impunity. Most folks give up on themed-room living around the age of 9, but a clinical fixation on a team or a game is not only tolerated in modern American society, but celebrated. Envied and imitated. Showboated on social media and in quarterly magazines. And golf, with its first-tee buffets of free collectibles (yes, of course I need nine pencils and a hat full of ball markers), plus its pre- and post-round shopping rituals—it is no wonder some of us have more stuff than we have space. And then my friend Montana Gerry sent me some photographs, and my walls—suddenly they looked so bare.

Photo by Rebecca Stumpf

As I studied the photos he sent, I struggled to discern whether I was looking at a room blanketed in golf souvenirs or a horde of golf souvenirs sculpted into a room. I might have stored him in my phone as Barefoot Gerry, because that’s how he played when we met up in Anaconda for golf among Old Works’ black-slag sand traps, but Montana won out since he had played every one of its golf courses. Thus his claustrophobic collection of treasures: It chronicled his odyssey across the Treasure State. I noted the hand-carved tee barstools and the everywhere balls and bag tags, and rather than feel overwhelmed (if I’d have been staring at Mickey Mice or Beanie Babies, it would have been a vivid nightmare tableau), I felt drawn to its warm and crowded embrace. I wanted to go there and sit and feel welcome; I wanted to disappear into this temple to the game I love.

 Pardon the sacrilege, but “temple” fits. It not only captures what Gerry has conceived, but also helps explain what is going on in my office, or what my friend Gregg has done to his bathroom in Wisconsin, or what Ed is up to in his Cape Cod barn. Humankind has been carving out sacred spaces for a very long time, and we crowd these chambers with images and tokens that help us make sense of ourselves, our journey, our human condition. Allow me to suggest that our golf rooms are much the same. Enveloping ourselves in our interests, turning our passion into a physical space—it’s the intersection of hobby and identity. We feel at home there for the same reason the righteous feel welcome in church: because it’s where a random and unruly world recedes, and what’s left are the things that play according to our own rules and predilections. It’s our best selves, collected and framed and ready to host a Super Bowl party.

It’s our best selves, collected and framed and ready to host a Super Bowl party.

As you peruse these images of a shitter transformed into Magnolia Lane, this might all sound like a bit much. Blending religious experience with a collection of ball markers is perhaps a touch grandiose, even for a guy who spent two years looking for carpet that rolled at a precise 11 on the Stimp. But there is something about our penchant for inhabiting our passions that is not just acceptable, but, dare I say, healthy. We aren’t celebrating the divine in these self-made temples; rather, we’re celebrating the way we choose to experience the world. With every inch of available wall space, we are reminding ourselves of what we do and who we are, and that we are quite content with both.

There may even come a day when we stop noticing all the placards and the keepsakes, but the showcase was never really the point. The idea was to craft a space, trinket by trinket, where we felt at home in our own skin, at peace with our proclivities and accepting of our foibles. I suppose you can spend a boatload on therapy to figure all that out, but for some of us, we’d rather just raid the starter’s goodie box.

Ed Benz / Orleans, Massachusetts

Prized Possession: Carpet from the Eastward Ho! pro shop: “I just happened to be there the day they were ripping it up. I gave the guys $200 to cut it into sections for me. Timing is everything.”

Photo by John Huet

Gerry Veis / Harve, Montana

Prized Possession: Sand from the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews and the back bunker from No. 7 at Pebble Beach: “I used [the sand] to replace my father’s ashes after spreading them in both locations. I have one more place on my list, and it’s No. 12 at Augusta National.”

Gregg Thompson / Kenosha Wisconsin

Prized Possession: Pin flag from the 2012 Masters, signed by champion Bubba Watson: “It was the only time I was lucky enough to be a patron at the tournament.”

Photo by Todd Rosenberg