The Philosophy of Golf: How Aristotle Can Help Lower Your Score and Transform How You Perform on the Course


Like Socrates, Aristotle was interested in the question: how should we live? His answer: seek happiness. But what, exactly, does he mean by this?

Some people might think that happiness consists of doing things they enjoy, like taking a vacation or playing Augusta or Pebble Beach. But Aristotle believed that happiness can’t be achieved through fleeting feelings of bliss. In fact, he believed that happiness isn’t about how we feel.

Instead, he says that we can achieve true happiness (eudaimonia) by developing good character. How do we do this? He says that we need to feel the right emotions at the right times which will lead us to behave well and achieve a good life.

This can also be applied on the course. Maybe you’ve seen some epic club tosses at your local course. Or perhaps you’ve even sent your wedge spinning into a tree after chunking a chip. Negative feelings like these lead us to behave poorly and develop bad character which leads to unhappiness both on and off the course.

Or at least that’s what Aristotle would say.

“Aristotle’s approach to ethics isn’t just of historical interest,” as one scholar points out. “Many modern philosophers believe that he was right about the importance of developing the virtues, and that his view of what happiness is was accurate and inspiring.”

Instead of increasing feelings of pleasure, these virtue ethicists believe that we should do the right things for the right reasons. That’s what makes a good life. Think about it. If you’re quick to anger, blame others for your problems, and lack kindness and empathy, you will not achieve true happiness or lead a good life.

The same holds true with golf because if you feel angry when you shank a shot, blame your instructor for messing up your swing, and are impatient with the pace of play in front of you, you will never feel true happiness as you play or fully master the game.

This might seem like just a bunch of inspirational, self-help stuff. But it’s not. Aristotle believed that people need to interact well with others in an organized society, and happiness, he tells us, can only be achieved by living well with others in a well-ordered political state.

And this can be applied to golf by simply living by the Rules of Etiquette — e.g., respect your fellow players, respect the course, and respect the game — because let’s face it: playing (and living) well with others is what golf (and life) is all about. Right?

Either way, Golf Digest recently came up with a ranking of the ”Good Guys” on the PGA Tour. Criteria included involvement in charity, friendly to fans, kind to the so-called ”little guys” (drivers, attendants, volunteers), nice when no one’s looking, media friendly, and being good ambassadors for the sport. Rounding out the top five “Good Guys” were Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell.

So what’s the takeaway?

Aristotle would say that to find true happiness both on and off course, we should feel the right emotions at the right time which will help us behave well (e.g., being friendly, respectful, charitable, empathetic, respectful, generous, polite, and kind) which will help us develop good character and achieve a well-lived life and a game well-played.

And there you have it — Aristotle and Golf!

Next up: Plato and the Form of the Perfect Swing.

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