[Thanks, Brian, for sending this our way!]
The True Story of Catholic Golf Digest
My friend Pete, who is such an entrepreneur that he actually no kidding sold bandaids at inflated prices to kids he tripped deliberately in the playground when he was in kindergarten, had a brainstorm recently and invented Catholic Golf Digest magazine, which led, in rapid succession, to The Catholic Plumber, The Catholic Florist, jazzwithjesus.com, and the short-lived but enormously famous Jesus is Back Pop-Up Books For Children!, which is a great Easter gift but there were some unfortunate design and manufacturing problems such that when a kid opened the book Jesus shot across the room like a bearded arrow, and there was that unfortunate incident when a kid in Michigan opened a book and Jesus leaped out and got so mangled by the ceiling fan that the kid became a Hindu and the lawsuit is still in arbitration. But this note is about Catholic Golf Digest, which has become such a cultural phenomenon that the need arises for some factual machete-work through the thicket of rumor surrounding the magazine.
It is not true, for example, that the only recent pope with a decent iron game was the late great John Paul II, nor is it true that JPII grimly lashed three-irons at the office windows of the Polish Communist government before he celebrated his famous 1979 Mass in Warsaw, the one where he shouted I cry from all the depths of this millennium, let your Spirit descend! which still gives me the happy shivers; it was a wedge, chosen because he had to play off cobblestones. Nor is it true that His Holiness Benedict XVI carries a brassie with him to discipline wayward theologians. It is true that Bernard Cardinal Law, formerly of the Archdiocese of Boston, was the worst golfer in the history of the universe, and birds and caddies quailed when His Eminence hoisted his bag for a pastoral afternoon on the links, for the man couldn’t hit the broad side of an ocean liner if it was docked four feet away, plus he fudged his score, and claimed he carried no cash when he lost a bet, slapping his purple robes melodramatically for effect. We have all met such men, and there is a special place in New Jersey for them.
As regards the controversy about Jesus and his short game, no, the magazine did not claim that He was lefty and had a feathery touch around the greens, for the simple reason that there were no golf courses in Judea at the time, and no one but His entourage knows if He indeed, as rumored, spent an hour every morning before office hours hitting flop shots with a huge cigar clenched in the divine grillwork, although that rumor did eventually lead my friend Pete to start The Catholic Dentist, which has done well, and spawned a whole subseries of e-newsletters for devout orthodontists and anesthesiologists and suchlike. I confess that the immediate popularity of niche periodicals for Catholic professionals came as a surprise to me, but it wasn’t to Pete, who has pointed out again and again that people who love their work, who really savor the creative use of skills and tools and talents for the direct benefit of others, are almost always wonderfully receptive to the idea that their work is, as Saint Benedict observed, prayer. Benedict himself is a good case study; note the success of the organization he founded, and the ways it has continued to grow and change while adhering to its original marketing mission, morphing even unto colleges and universities, which are, when you think about it, essentially factories for creating Benedictine salespeople.
Why, in the end, is Catholic Golf Digest such a successful entrepreneurial adventure? Beyond all the obvious reasons like superb target research and ad recruitment, I think the answer is that both Catholicism and golf are ultimately about crazy hope. Neither makes complete sense, which may be the secret to both: the religion insists on the miracle of every moment, the imminence of immanence, the irrepressible resurrection; the sport is similar, in that every shot might be the perfect one, every round a miracle, the worst flub followed immediately by extraordinary resurrection. That mostly we bumble and snarl, whiff and shank, fail and wail, is immaterial; it is the substance of things hoped for on which we set our hearts, according to Saint Paul, and who could argue with a man who drove for such distance?
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Mink River.