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Golf Poetry for a Winter’s Day



Winter has arrived. We got about 10 inches of snow not long ago. It is melting now, but surely more is on the way. Also, in a few days, both the year and the decade end. It is definitely time to look back, time for retrospection.

Retrospection is, in fact, what W. Hastings Webling (1866 – 1946?), a Canadian writer and poet, wrote about in verses published in the magazine Golf in January 1915. Though he was only looking back to the last golf season, and though some of his words are dated, the sentiments he expresses still ring true.

I hope you will enjoy reading the poem even though it’s long. But if you fear a long poem as much as a short putt, at least read the first, second to last and last stanzas. And please feel free to share any thoughts you have about Webling’s poem or more generally about golf poetry.

RETROSPECTION

by Hastings Webling

The days are short, the winds are chill,
The turf has lost its verdant hue,
And those who played the good old game
Have slowly disappeared from view.
No longer may we watch the flight
Of golf balls as they gaily soar,
Or hear the chaff of merry wit,
Or echo of some lusty “Fore!”

Ah, well! we cannot all expect
To play the game from year to year;
To hike, like some, to southern climes
And play in balmy atmosphere.
‘Tis better so; for we can rest
And reminisce, while fancy free,
Recall the games of yesterday,
Defeats, and proud-won victory.

And we can sit around the fire
And dream of things we might have done;
Of matches that we thought a cinch
And cups that well might we have won;
And then those scores of “seventy eight,”
Only missed by some short putt,
It all will tend to stimulate
Our fond desire for future luck.

And as to “birdies”—well might I
Write of these in doleful tone;
For they have caused such deep distress
More than I would like to own.
Ah! oft I held them in my grasp
With joy to think how well they’d pay
When someone “holes a ten-foot putt”
And swift my “birdie” flies away.

But such is life, and so is golf,
The things we think so really sure;
The holes we count before they’re won
Are apt to give us one guess more.
But, after all, it is for this
We seek the prizes that may be,
And find the charm both in the game
And in its great uncertainty.

My boy! if skies were ever fair,
If winds should always favor you,
And all your “lies” were perfect “lies,”
And all your putts were straight and true—
If all your drives were far and sure,
Approaches on the green were “dead,”
The joy of combat would be lost
And vict’rys charm forever shed.

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The Golfpoet’s Take on Tiger

This Post marks the beginning of the second year of Golf Course of Rhymes. I would like to thank all of my fellow bloggers who have made their readers aware of this site. And most of all I would like to thank all of my readers who have logged more than 17,000 page views in the first year. And who said, “Golf poetry?”

To begin year two, I offer a poetic parody on the golf story of the year. The original, “Casey at the Bat,” can be found at the Poetry Foundation site.

Tiger on the Mat
(With thanks and
apologies to Ernest
Lawrence Thayer)

The outlook isn’t brilliant for the Pro Golf Tour this year;
At least at the beginning, there’ll be one less pro to cheer.
No his name it isn’t Casey, but he’s known to be a swinger,
And his story much like Casey’s must be classed as one humdinger!

[Skipping the 10 stanzas that tell Tiger’s sad story which you already
know (or think you know), we move to the last eight lines.]

The smile is gone from Tiger’s face, his teeth banged up from hate,
Was he pounded with cruel violence, a club upon his plate?
And now his sponsors keep their cash as he has dropped the ball,
And now the golf world’s shattered by the length of Tiger’s fall.

Oh, somewhere on a golf course, the sun is shinning bright;
A foursome’s playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere dubs are laughing, and somewhere “fore” is shouted;
But there is no joy in Vedra-ville – mighty Tiger has been outed.

by the Golfpoet (Leon S. White)

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A Golf Poem with a Moral

If there is one quality that separates golf from other sports it is emphasis on playing by the rules. A player is expected to call a penalty on him or herself when a rule is broken even if no other player is aware of the infraction. And, of course, it is expected that a player’s scorecard includes all the strokes played. And then there are the players who go out alone. James P. Hughes wrote about one of these players in his poem, “Individual Golf,” published in the December 1915 issue of The American Golfer.

INDIVIDUAL GOLF

He stood upon the link’s first tee
And made a straight and perfect drive.
His iron he sliced around a tree,
Dead to the pin. Instead of five
He holed a single putt for three.

Another perfect shot was made—
Two hundred fifty yards or more.
A midiron with a lofted blade
He used to help his medal score,
For with it dead, the ball he laid.

Two threes he had to start the round.
Next came a short and well trapped hole.
His drive, a cleek, rose from the ground
Straight for the green and on the pole
He holed a two with smile profound.

Thus went his game in less than par—
A record for all time, you guess.
No hook nor slice his score to mar;
No balls in rough all down  in less
Than almost nothing—there you are.

No, gentle golfer, ’twas no dream
In which this magic score was  made,
Although at first it so would seem
When former cards were cast in shade,
By this titanic play supreme.

But now the secret bare is shown
Of how these threes and fours were done.
Some putts, of course, he could disown—
In fact, he never claimed but one,
For this great golfer played alone.

Far greater than the best of clubs
Is one lone pencil in the hand—
It saves a hundred strokes to dubs
And proves a blessing in the land
Because it never counts the flubs.

Moral

When golfers tell of shots unknown,
Just ask them if they played alone.

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When Golf Poetry Matters

Jerome Travers, the great amateur golfer of the early 20th century, included a chapter called “‘First Aid’ to a golfer ‘Off his Game,’” in his book Travers’ Golf Book ( New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913). He began, “What a note of tragedy there is in those few words “the golfer is off his game.” Travers went on to write,

The golfer ‘off his game’ cannot drive, approach or putt, he doesn’t know what the matter is and he has completely lost confidence in himself.

Travers’ prose gives us a straight forward description of what it is to be off one’s game in golf. However, it takes a poet to get to the essence of the problem and its ramifications.

In a book called Humors and Emotions of Golf (1905), a poet known only by the initials (E.M.B.) tells us what it’s really like when “He’s off his game.”

He’s off his game.”

Like hollow echoes boding ill,
His heart is wild with tremors chill,
And whispers in a small voice still—
An admonition—ghostly—shrill—
.          “He’s off his game!”

His divots fly like night-bats doure;
His drives are never far and sure;
And bunkers, like Charybdis, lure
His erring ball to depths obscure;
.          “He’s off his game!”

In vain seem all the pro’s sage tips;
His little gutty always lips
Or over-runs the hole; then slips
That naughty D——I must ellipse,
.          He’s off his game!”

Thro’ distant whins and stubborn gorse
With grim expletives gaining force,
He plunges on his zig-zag course,
Until he sighs in deep remorse,
.          “I’m off my game!”

At home his brooding spirit shows
The weighty cares of hidden throes;
Too well his Golfing Widow knows
The anguish of her hubby’s woes—
.          “He’s off his game!”

Andrew Lang (1844-1912), a famous Scottish writer and poet as well as golfer, also wrote a poem of similar anguish called “Off my Game.” Could the agonies and frustrations of golf be fully described without poetry? I think not.

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