Golfing at Pinehurst and Paradise Lost

by Rob Tiller

This week I finished reading Paradise Lost and played a round of golf on the storied Pinehurst Number 2. Both were challenging, and at times vexing. And both were, in the end, unique and beautiful.

The experiences actually tie together more than I expected. The beautiful garden of Eden from which the poem derives its name is a feast for the senses, like Number 2, and most every golf course — they’re special purpose gardens. And the work of Adam and Eve is, before the fall, uncomplicated, playful, and fulfilling, which is, at times, like golf. Needless to say, things in paradise changed dramatically, after Satin tempted the happy couple, and the human condition grew complicated in painful ways. So it sometimes goes with golf.

In recent years, I’ve generally abandoned books when the enjoyment quotient dipped into negative territory. Paradise Lost was certainly no walk in the park, but I decided to stay with it. Like most modern humans, I do not typically read syllable by syllable, savoring the language, and I’ve never attempted to do so on the epic scale of Milton’s great work. But I did get better at it as I went along. At the end, I experienced a deep, long, powerful aesthetic shiver.

Finishing Number 2 was not as dramatic, but was also deeply satisfying. I was the happy beneficiary of a business golf outing, with a caddie who knew the course and the game well. We walked, which is the proper way to play. The course has recently been restored to reflect its original design, which involves more native species and waste areas in place of rough. I found it much more playable than formerly. I made enough good shots to keep me hopeful, and did not lose a single ball.