The idea, pretty
much, was that I would attend this kooky-sounding, three-day seminar, meet a
wide range of well-meaning, highly earnest people, drink their Scotch and then
make fun of them. The first annual Deepak Chopra/World Business Academy/Golf in
the Kingdom Invitational, held this summer, was described as "your
invitation to explore the linkage between mind and body in golf, in business
and in life." With its mystical-spiritual bent, with Chopra riffing on
"finding the now" and "letting the game play you," there would
be New Age jargon to send up, and touchy-feely moments at which to roll one's
eyes. Plus, it would take place at the Ojai ( Calif.) Valley Inn & Spa,
where golfers partial to guacamole could treat themselves to something called
the Avocado-Oat Body Treatment. (The Pumpkin-Melon Scrub, alas, would not be
available until the fall.) It was an easy mark, is what it was. But a funny
thing happened on the way to my laptop. I got my mind opened. I hit golf shots
I'd only dreamed of hitting.
Sure, it was cool
to brush up against celebrity, whether it was discussing course design and
poetry with Robert Trent Jones Jr. or eating barbecue with Thomas ( Hollywood)
Henderson, the former All-Pro linebacker and recovering drug addict who told
me, roughly one minute after we'd met, "Golf is hard, but so is life, and
so is getting off crack." Hollywood doesn't do small talk.
I would share an
intimate moment with Courteney Cox, who happened to be at the Inn the same
weekend. (I smiled at her; she, in turn, did not call security.) And I would be
introduced to Malcolm McDowell, who was gone before I had a chance to tell him
how much I enjoyed his work in Caligula.
I would bond
briefly with McDowell's friend, Michael Murphy, the alter ego of Shivas Irons,
the gonzo golfing philosopher animating the pages of Murphy's wildly popular
1972 novel, Golf in the Kingdom. He's also the cofounder of the Esalen
Institute in Big Sur, Calif. "I think they have seminars there on tantric
sex," my wife would later observe. "Did you get his card?"
in this afternoon's round-table discussion in the Shangri-la Pavilion are
seated at a long, rectangular table. Oh, well. I am at a smaller table with
Claudine, a Deepak disciple, and a fellow writer, Joe Queenan. All of us had
begun the day with a yoga session in the spa's Mind & Body Studio. Says
Queenan, "I don't trust any sport where you don't keep score."
that," rejoins serene Claudine, "is why you need yoga."
I would like to
point out, for the record, that it is only after Jones reads to us from his
golf poetry that a pair of older "explorers," as we are called, nod off
at their tables. (It is rather warm in the pavilion.) Later, another elderly
gentleman shares this lament, "I used to envision myself driving a nail
through the ball, but I've lost that capacity." I make a mental note to
introduce him to the urologist I'd met in yoga.
Joseph Parent, author of Zen Golf, drops this koan on us: "Golf is 90
percent mental and 10 percent...mental." Even as we laugh, we struggle to
reconcile that kernel with what Fred Shoemaker had told us that morning. The
Shoe had counseled us to not "get stuck in our heads," to "be in
apparently mixed message, Queenan challenges Parent and Shoemaker, "Which
of you is right?"