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Tiger and Jack in a Clerihew

Murder on the 8th Hole

Murder on the 8th Hole

E. C. Bentley (1875-1956), the English journalist and writer, was famous in the first half of the 20th century for his Philip Trent mystery stories. One of his short stories, The Sweet Shot, was selected for inclusion in Golf’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar and published in 1997. But Bentley, whose full name was Edmund Clerihew Bentley, should be better known for inventing a particular type of poem that has become known as the “Clerihew.” Clerihews are four line verses of the form aabb, in other words, the first and second lines rhyme as do the third and fourth. Beyond their rhyming scheme, Clerihews have a particular structure and purpose. Each focuses on one or more aspects of  the life and/or the works of a famous person while allowing for, better yet encouraging, overstatement, distortion and humor. It is also a requirement that the first line of a Clerihew begin or end with the person’s name. When Bentley was 16 he wrote his first Clerihew.

Sir Humphry Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium

Bentley, in later years, wrote at least two golf Clerihews. [Read more…]

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Who Wrote Harry Vardon’s Poetry?

Taylor, Braid and Vardon

Taylor, Braid and Vardon

The “Foreign Notes” section of the March 1917 issue of The American Golfer includes an unexpected connection between several famous English golfers, the First World War and golf poetry. The British correspondent to the magazine, Henry Leach, wrote that four of England’s greatest golfers, Harry Vardon, J. H. (John Henry) Taylor, James Braid, and Alexander Herd (who beat Vardon and Braid to win the 1902 British Open championship), were asked to write four line poems that as a group would be “disposed of in the way of a lottery for the benefit of one of the war funds.” The poems were written, framed and delivered to the Mid-Surrey Golf Club where the lottery took place.

During a 21 year period, from 1894 to 1914, one or another of these four golfers won the Open a total of 17 times, Vardon six, Taylor and Braid each five, and Herd once. However, as golfer-poets, none of the four would have made the cut.

But Vardon’s poem proves interesting in a different way. [Read more…]

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“When Travis Played the President”

   

President Taft

President Taft

As we welcome a new golfer-President, it should be remembered that William Howard Taft, our first true golfing President, became the 27th leader of our country March 4, 1909, one hundred years ago. Taft began playing golf in 1896 and was the first President of the Cincinnati Golf Club before going to Washington. While President of the United States, Taft often played golf with Walter J. Travis, founder of the magazine “The American Golfer” and for many years a very fine amateur golfer.

This is how Travis, in the June 1909 issue of his magazine, described the play of Taft,

“If the President will pardon me, I do not really think he would have much chance of qualifying in one of our amateur championships, but for all that he plays a very sound game, one free from bad faults of any kind … far better than the average ‘duffer,’ both in style and results.”

Travis goes on to write that, “Taft, in his modesty, some little time ago described his game as being of the bumble-puppy order.” Travis disagreed saying that the President “has nothing to ‘unlearn’ or correct and needs only some steady practice to develop a strong game.” Don’t we all!

Travis and Taft were sometimes partners in four-ball and best-ball matches. Apparently they played matches against each other as well. In fact, they were immortalized as being opponents in a poem called “A New Ballad of Chevy Chase,” by a poet who signed with only his initials “J McC T.” The poem also appeared in the June 1909 issue of “The American Golfer.” [Read more…]

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“The Apple-faced Sage” and Two Enduring Swing Principles

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 few lines of verse, Horace Hutchinson (1859-1932), 15 years Darling’s junior, published the first popular book of golf instruction, Hints on Golf in 1886. The book is described on the Classics of Golf website as “The first mass-produced instruction book in the history of golf, the 14 editions of this book are credited with popularizing the written word as a viable means of teaching.” In the Classic of Golf edition, Hutchinson is described as “undoubtedly the first Englishman to become an important figure in the game of golf,” by Herbert Warren Wind, American’s greatest golf writer.Besides being first, Hints on Golf may be the only instruction book ever to employ verse to emphasize important swing principles. Hutchinson writes,

HH 1903

Horace Hutchinson 1903

“The head must necessarily be steady, for it is most important that you should keep your eye fixedly on the ball from the moment that the club -head is lifted from the ground until the ball is actually struck. [Then following Darling} ‘Keep your eye on the ball,’ should be your companion text to ‘Slow Back.’ A golfing poet writes of

The apple-faced sage, with his nostrum for all,
‘Dinna hurry the swing! keep your e’e on the ball!'”

Next time you step up to the tee you might startle the members of your group by reciting the words of “The apple-faced sage”as part of your pre-shot routine!

But two questions remain: Who was this Scottish mentor? And who was the “golfing poet” who immortalized his versified advice? With the help of Google I can report the following: [Read more…]

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