A Good Walk Unspoiled

A Good Walk Unspoiled

The game of golf has been described as a good walk spoiled, with the quote attributed, likely incorrectly, to Mark Twain.  The implication is that, without having to worry over the trajectory of the little white ball, it would be a most pleasant experience.  The main ingredient of that experience is the landscape through which one traverses.  Our local municipal golf course has been closed to golfers during COVID, but somewhat mysteriously available for walkers, most of whom, present company included, have been seeking places to walk that are not crowded cheek to jowl with others seeking a similar experience.

Garnett and I have been exploring new places to walk since the beginning of the pandemic.  A neighbor told us about the municipal golf course, and we checked it out.  All we had to do was walk to the edge of our neighborhood, drop down into the wooded Meadow Creek stream valley, cross a pedestrian bridge over the creek, hop over a silt fence at the edge of a subdivision under development, walk up a recently-graded hillside, and we were there!

I have been a resident of Charlottesville for 27 years, and had never stepped foot on this 155-acre parcel of land.  It was reserved for the golfers, that is until COVID.  I harbor no ill will against the game of golf.  I have sat on the periphery of groups of friends discussing the game, marveling at the combination of adoration and annoyance reflected in their comments.  Apparently, mastery is a lifelong pursuit, and that bodes well for the popularity of any game.  Those of you with teenagers may witness a similar dynamic with the game of Minecraft, although the walk is virtual, but still spoiled.

Walking the golf course just for the walking part has been a wonderful experience.  The cart paths meander along creeks and ponds, up and down hillsides, through forest patches and meadows, cresting hilltops to afford commanding views of the surrounding landscape, and, at one point, pausing beside a Revolutionary War cemetery.   You encounter other people jogging, walking dogs, picnicking, having birthday parties, or meandering around in small groups, but social distancing is quite easy on a golf course.  An alternative culture has moved in temporarily.

Photo: D. Hirschman

Of recent times, many golf courses have incorporated more naturalistic landscape features due to Audubon International and similar certifications.  However, one must admit that part of the appeal of these landscapes is their orderliness, clean lines, and sense of personal comfort.  Many people prefer their yards and home landscapes to have similar characteristics, as a long-abiding cultural trait to appreciate wilderness, but keep it at bay.

Clean lines & edges. Photo: D. Hirschman

These landscapes, of course, have other attributes: lack of biodiversity, use of chemicals and fossil fuels needed for maintenance, etc.(1)  I will refrain at this point from jumping into any debate on these topics, and only comment that walking the course was, indeed, a good walk unspoiled.

Very soon, the golf course will open again for its intended purpose, and the walkers will no longer be welcomed.  Many walkers have commented that wouldn’t be nice if these properties would open periodically for the purpose of walking – maybe one day a month or an occasional summer evening.  It would be nice, but there is also the dynamic that the golfers generate a revenue stream for the facilities, and walkers like to engage in their preferred activity for free.

Small red maple wetland at the edge of the golf course in the floodplain. Photo: E. Garnett Mellen

As for the quote, a good walk spoiled, it has been phrased in several ways since the late 1800s, attributed to the statesman William Gladstone, novelist Harry Leon Wilson, Mark Twain, and a mysterious couple called the Allens:

“to play golf is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk.”

“Golf has too much walking to be a good game, and just enough game to spoil a good walk.”


The quote also made into the title of a 2005 book: A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, by John Feinstein.

At this point, I will conclude my comments so that this blog post does not become a good read spoiled.

David J. Hirschman, [email protected]

(1) Those wishing to explore the more sociological aspect of golf courses may be interested (or outraged) by Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, Season 2, Episode 1

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