A hundred years ago, golf was a game to embrace for its personal challenges, competitive qualities and unique history. It was not yet a big time professional sport. Nor was it a huge business dependent on tour sponsors, equipment sales and resort travel. It was just golf played for enjoyment, “for [its] vigor without violence, for life-long joy of youth.” The relationship of the average golfer to golf was straight forward. He was a duffer trying to improve without much help from his golf clubs or the few sources of instruction then available. Golf poetry at that time provided an interesting window into the minds of ardent golfers.
Here is how Francis Bowler Keene, an 1880 graduate of Harvard University and later a high level foreign service officer described his enthusiasm for golf in the last stanza of a poem called “Song of the Enthusiast.”
When reading the poem consider how today’s golfers might relate to these sentiments.
I have reveled in athletics since my toddling days were done,
And from peek-a-boo to polo I have played them every one;
And, familiar with their merits, I emphatically say
Life would not be worth the living if we had not golf to play.
. Golf excels them one and all,
. For its pleasures never pall.
It will last you for a lifetime, till the sands of life have run
. When the twilight falls at last
. O’er death’s bunker dark and vast,
You may hope for golf in heaven, on the links beyond the sun.
The stanza above is part of one of 68 poems include in a book Keene published in 1923 called Lyrics of the Links – Poetry, Sentiments and Humor of Golf. Grantland Rice, in his time described as “the dean of America’s sportswriters,” wrote the foreword. And also included in the book is David Robertson Forgan’s definition of Golf later often reprinted as the “Golfers Creed.”
Francis Bowler Keene, born in Milwaukee in 1856. Ten years after graduating from Harvard, he wrote to his Class Secretary that on a long trip to Europe he spent four weeks in Scotland hunting and playing tennis. No mention of golf. On his return to the states, he began a newspaper career, but later returned to Europe first as U.S. Consul in Florence in 1903 and then Geneva. He became Consul General in Zurich in 1915 and then in Rome from 1917 to 1924. I found no information indicating when and how he became so attached to golf.