The Rushmore Report: The Parable of the Golf Ball


I’m what they call a scratch golfer. When I golf, everyone else watches and scratches their head. My golf coach only offered one suggestion at my last lesson. “Try tennis,” he said. I’m not good at playing golf, but I’m good at watching it. And golf is a lot like life. It all begins with the ball. Golf balls were created in the 14th century. And they have one life-altering lesson for us. That’s what this is about – the parable of the golf ball.

The first balls were made of wood, by carpenters using hand tools. By the 17th century, balls were changed from wood to leather, stuffed with bird feathers and stitched up. But they took forever to make, and were not perfectly round.

In the mid-1800s, a guy named Robert Adams Paterson made the first molded ball. He discovered that the sap from the sapodilla tree, native to Malaysia, could be heated up, placed into a round mold, and would then dry hard. Called the guttie, these were the first golf balls with mass-manufacturability, and with the added bonus that they could be reheated and re-molded if they went out-of-round.

Then an interesting discovery was made. If you owned a guttie for awhile, it got nicked and banged up from regular use. People subsequently observed that when you hit a nicked up guttie, as opposed to a brand new one, the roughed up balls actually had a more consistent flight path. And they went further. Well before the Wright Brothers or any knowledge of aerodynamics, regular folk observed that those little nicks helped stabilize the ball in flight.

Golf ball manufacturers thus began etching, carving, and chiseling different textures into guttie surfaces, trying to find the pattern most conducive to stable flight.

Up until the early 1900s, all golf balls were patterned with raised protrusions. But then an anonymous inventor discovered that surface indentations were the way to go. Now covered in dimples, the new 20th century golf ball could be smacked into seriously controlled flight, and pros could even put backspin on it to make it stop more quickly upon landing.

Today, no one would go back to the old, perfectly rounded balls. The dimpled balls go further and straighter.

Those dimples in the golf balls represent flaws and imperfections. When you think “golf balls,” think about yourself. And when you think “dimples,” think of the flaws in your own life. Here’s the deal. God won’t use you despite your many flaws; God will use you because of your many flaws.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” In other words, God uses flawed lives.

Abraham was a drunk. Elijah was suicidal. Joseph was abused. And God used them all. Job went bankrupt, Moses could hardly speak, and Gideon was tormented by fear. And God used them all. Samson was a womanizer, Rahab a prostitute, and the Samaritan woman was divorced. And God used them all. Noah was a drunk, Jeremiah was too young, and Jacob was a cheater. Again, God used them all. David was a murderer, Jonah ran from God, and Naomi was a widow. God used them all. Peter denied his Lord, Martha worried about everything, and Zacchaeus was too small. But God used them all. The disciples slept through prayer times and Paul persecuted the church. And what did God do? God used them all.

It is because of your flaws that you will go further in life. And that is the parable of the golf ball.


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