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Ageless Advice from Lord Darling

The following appears in a description of the book A DUFFER’S HANDBOOK OF GOLF by Grantland Rice and Clare Briggs, on the Classics of Golf website.

There is no doubt “duffer” is a pejorative term. While the word’s origin is unknown, it appears in the 1800s as slang for an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person. What better word to describe a neophyte attempting golf? The first “wave” of new golfers occurred when the gutta percha ball became available in the 1850s. Its lower cost and superior durability enticed many citizens to gather a few clubs and try their hand at the sport, some woefully ignorant of the rudiments of the game. “Duffer” first appears in the golf lexicon in 1875 in Clark’s Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game, in a poem by “Two Long Spoons.”

The poem was titled “Duffers Yet,” and was written by Lord Stormonth Darling (1844-1912), a judge, a Scottish Member of Parliament for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities from 1888 to 1890, and also a golfer. Lord Darling wrote other golf related songs and verses including one called “Keep Your E’e on the Ba’.” It is subtitled, “Ballad of the Beginner,” and tells the story of when on Musselboro’s “famous old green,” Lord Darling, then no doubt a duffer, first “sought for the key to the game.”

The caddie that fell to my lot
Was old, hard of hearing, and wise;
His face had a hue that was not
Entirely the work of the skies:
He knew how the young player tries
To remember each tip all at once,
And, forgetting the vital one, sighs,
And despairs of himself as a dunce.

So, deep in his mind he had set
A rule that pervades all the rest;
‘Tis the maxim you ne’er can forget,
If you w’sh in you game to be blest:
‘Tis the greatest, the first, and the best,
The beginning and end of golf-law;
And ‘twas thus by my caddie expressed ─
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Darling, not satisfied that he had a complete answer, asked other questions. Was he standing properly? What about his grip? Should he worry about the bunker ahead?

To each query the answer I got
Was that rigid, inflexible saw
(Of deafness and wisdom begot),
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Lord Darling concludes,

Whate’er be the mark to be hit,
This truth from the caddie I draw ─
In life, as in golf, you’ll be fit
If you aye keep your e’e on the ba’

Although written more than a hundred years ago, Lord Darling’s words of advice are hard to improve upon!

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  1. [...] Swing Principles By golfpoet In an earlier post, I included several stanzas from a poem by  Lord Darling called “Keep Your E’e on the Ba’.” While Darling limited his advice to a [...]

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