Whole and One

Focuses on Stephen Cohen, president of the Shivas Iron Society in California. Promotion of golf as a vehicle for mental and spiritual transformation as original purpose of the organization; Total number of organization's members; Comments from Cohen.

By Dennis Pottenger, published September 1, 1995 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Why would a guy who hated golf give up his career to start an organizationpromoting the game as a vehicle for mental and spiritual transformation?

Stephen Cohen, president of California's Shivas Irons Society, says he founded the group three years ago as a way for fans of Michael Murphy's mystical novel, Golf in the Kingdom, to network. But Cohen, a former gestalt therapist at Big Sur's Esalen Institute, reports that the Society has grown far beyond his initial expectations.

Indeed, the group boasts some 1,200 members, from nearly every state and 10 countries. The society may also be the only group to host a gathering covered by both Sports Illustrated and New Age Journal.

But Cohen, who learned golf as a kid but gave it up on the grounds that it was elitist and trivial, says the biggest headlines are yet to come. Word is that a Golf in the Kingdom film is in the works. Plans are also under way for Operation Golfstart, a national educational effort aimed at introducing the virtues of the game to youngsters.

For those unacquainted with "true gravity"--the state of mental bliss golf pro Shivas Irons describes in Kingdom--just what is the society out to accomplish? "We are all rooted in secret powers," claims author Murphy. "The Society will open new windows on the vistas of self-discovery."

Golf as a transformative experience? "I remember when I realized I had the potential to play the game really well," says Cohen. "I started trying to play well--and as soon as I did, I stopped playing well."

Eventually golf became a mirror on the rest of his life. "It became clear that the way I was approaching golf was how I was doing everything in my life. As soon as I started trying to do well, my performance fell off. But when I let go and just did what needed to be done, performance would take care of itself. Golf is a perfect tool for self-discovery, because to do well you have to lose yourself in the doing. And that's what true gravity is all about."

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): A guy with his golf club.