I have a hypothesis that the things we do for recreation are usually metaphors that allow us to express our caveman instincts in socially appropriate ways. The nearer an activity is to our basic hunting and gathering nature, the more we like it.

Consider golf. Until recently, I had never golfed, and was baffled by its appeal. On the surface, the game is nothing but random rules about the proper way to put a round object in a hole in the ground. I have a good imagination, but prior to taking up golf, I couldn't imagine enjoying the so-called sport. That said, as part of my "Year of Trying New Things" (more on that another day), I leapt into golf with both feet. Result: Instant addiction.

What the hell??? How could such a bizarre activity be so appealing? I needed to understand this thing. I started by mapping the components of golf to their caveman origins:

-          Using clubs (Okay, that one is obvious. Humans are tool users.)

-          Problem solving (Every hole is different.)

-          Hunting (Locate your ball)

-          Killing (Whack the ball when you find it.)

-          Territorial instinct (Try to capture the green.)

-          Tribal hierarchy  (The handicap system)

-          Being outdoors

-          Mating displays (Colorful fashions for men)

We know from animal studies that random rewards are far more addictive than predictable rewards. Golf has the most random-feeling outcomes of any sport I have experienced. No matter how well you golf, you never really know what will happen after you swing your club. On those few occasions when the ball goes exactly where you intend, your brain's reward center gives you a big payoff.

Golf also has a selective memory phenomenon working for it. I had always heard golfers say they remember only the good shots, but I didn't realize how true that is. Your memories of the few good shots do in fact stay with you while the bad shots fade away. Golf has a great aftertaste.

On Friday, I golfed with family members for over four hours, and during the four hours on the course, I never once thought of anything beyond the moment. That's a big deal for me, because my mind wanders in every other context. I can watch a great movie and still organize my to-do list in my head. But on a golf course, the rest of the world stops existing, and the feeling lasts for hours.

If you prefer high octane fun, you can get more of that from soccer, tennis, basketball, and lots of other activities. Society labels golf a sport because humans need to put things into categories. But golf is a different animal. It stands alone as a simple and direct connection to your primal nature.

The takeaway here is that if you're trying to design a product, or organize an event, you'd do well to find a metaphor to our primitive nature. That's what people respond to. Everything else is just rationalization.

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Jan 4, 2012
I'm afraid I'm with a certain Mr Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain - golf is a good walk spoiled. If it floats your boat though fair enough - if I'm making the effort to do sport it will involve sweat.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 29, 2011
As someone with a golf habit that would make heroin addicts blush (I play until the snow falls, as long as it's over 40 degrees out, and run back out to play as soon as all the snow melts!) ... I'd say a combination of random rewards and the fact that you gradually acquire more skill over the years, so you get increasing rewards. Early on it's your first par, then trying to get a par every round, then your first birdie, then trying to reach a par 5 in 2 shots, going for your lowest score ever, etc. ... there's lots of little "accomplishments" to notch and you never really run out until you're a pro, which most of us won't be.
Dec 28, 2011
A friend of mine always wondered why people run.Always wondered what people are running from....

Where they running from their demons, past lives, the cops. He would come up with the most asinine

freudian bullcrap he could come up with.

Usually we figured everyone was running from the cops though. Because all of the runners in this

town run right past the crosswalks, in clear violation of pedestrian bylaws...
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 28, 2011
The very reason I've never swung a golf club.
My "sport" of choice is darts. Not that electronic crap, but good old horse hair board and darts that can inflict injury (which can cost the price of a good Ping driver). Most assuredly part of the caveman arsenal. Talk about addicting.
Dec 27, 2011
I'm glad you're enjoying yourself but for me golf is just too little action with too much nothing in between...

I get everything on your list playing tennis plus the mating displays are reciprocated - you may have noticed tennis skirts are more than a bit shorter than your average business suit and unlike most (if not) all other sports men/women can play together (mixed doubles)...
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2011
This is the most interesting golf story I've ever read or been told, and yet it was still just moderately interesting.

The first rule of golf in the rule book should be "Spend less than 12 seconds describing what you did golfing, explain no more details unless asked follow up questions or you are trying to get somebody to spend less time with you."
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2011
Some refer to Sporting Clays (not to be confused with skeet shooting) as, "Golf with Guns." It has all the same attributes you've quantified for Golf with the very appealing characteristic of shouting -- PULL! -- then harnessing gunpowder to blow a rapidly moving little clay target to bits. You should find a nice course and try it, I think you'll find it's genteel Neanderthal qualities even more addictive than Golf. And there is the added benefit of keeping your neighbor's guessing when they see you loading a shotguns into your trunk early Saturday morning.
Dec 27, 2011
Typically when I am on the golf course simulating a great buffalo hunt, my wife enjoys pawing through the discount clothing racks at TJ Maxx, which to me looks a lot like gathering berries.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 26, 2011
"I have a hypothesis that the things we do for recreation are usually metaphors that allow us to express our caveman instincts in socially appropriate ways. The nearer an activity is to our basic hunting and gathering nature, the more we like it."
My recreation includes (but not limited to) reading & commenting on this blog. I don't see a good connection between hunting/gathering and commenting. Maybe there is a connection to tribal politics, but if your argument is "I like x, cavemen did x, I have a similarity to a caveman," then there isn't much there.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 26, 2011
Today I took my wife to buy some ear rings at a jewelry store. I imagine that our earliest male ancestors strung together pretty, shiny stones and presented them to our earliest female ancestors. Wait...Scott's hypothesis involves recreation. Well, most men enjoy "wrestling" with women, and I imagine good 'ol Caveman Ogg discovered many millenia ago that giving jewelry to Oggette made her more inclined to want to wrestle with him.
Dec 26, 2011
I read the bones were found in the caves because the predators lived (and ate) there.
Dec 26, 2011
This is part of the reason I have never tried golf. I feel the same way you one did about it, but I've heard so many stories of people becoming addicted to it that I figure I should treat it like crack.
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