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The Straight Truth

“The Straight Truth” is straight forward. In simple words and exceedingly short lines, this rhyme of woe narrowly defines the duffer’s usual game. It is best read on a winter’s day, but only with reference to previous golfing adventures. Next season things will be different!

THE STRAIGHT TRUTH
(A Duffer’s Lament)

Off I
go
hopes too
high

Tee the
ball
let it
fly

Where it
lands
one of the
keys

In the
grass
not in the
trees

Good starts
help
to calm the
mind

Bad starts
cause
a menal
bind

Hybrids
now
crowd the
bag

Still fairway
shots
too often
lag

Sometimes
chips
turn out
fine

Then easy
putts
avoid the
line

Eighteen
holes
a challenge
vast

Flaws and
failings
show up
fast

Numbers
high
across the
card

Proof once
more
that golf is
hard.

Leon S. White
2/18/10

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Sunday Golf

The New York Times headline read “Ban on Sunday Golf May Wreck A Club.” The date May 22, 1905. The story concerned membership loss at the North Valley Golf Club of Greenwich. Because it had been closed on Sundays since it began in 1900, 35 of its 50 members had resigned. The paper noted that “A resolution forbidding the use of the grounds Sunday was passed (in 1902) and several good churchmen joined, among them a clergyman.” But by 1905 the club was in dire straits.

In Scotland, in 1618, the official (royal) line, first voiced by King James VI, was that golf on the Sabbath was acceptable, so long as it was not during the times of service, because Sunday was the only day the great mass of people would have free to play. It was not a view shared by the Kirk [the Church of Scotland]. Indeed Sunday golf at St Andrews only began at all during the Second World War and is still not permitted on the Old Course, though this now has more to do with preserving the course rather than religious strictures.

From a Google search, it looks like today only a handful of golf courses in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are still closed on Sundays.

A poem, “Sunday Golf,” in the August 1903 issue of “The Golfer” magazine provides a colorful perspective of an irreverent golf poet on Sunday play more than 100 years ago.

Sunday Golf

A Sabbath well spent brings a week of content,
And health for the work of tomorrow;
But a Sabbath profaned whatever be gained,
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow

***************************************

An excellent rule for the wise and the fool,
An object right worthy attainment;
But the point as you see, where we don’t quite agree,
Is the question, What is profanement?

When the Sabbath began, twas created for man,
In the Bible this clearly is stated;
But our Puritan throng think this must be all wrong,
The man was for the Sabbath created.

It makes a man smile that except for this isle,
There is nobody going to Heaven;
Yet, if some folks are right, ’tis the inference trite,
To which we’re remorselessly driven.

For you’ll nowhere else find people so strict of mind
In the matters of Sunday observance;
And an innocent game nowhere else meets with blame,
Or excites any social disturbance.

Then, aye, let us pray that there may come a day,
When the bitter dispute may be ended;
And Sunday employment in wholesale enjoyment,
Be no longer condemned but commended.

The poem was signed “Common Sense.”

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A Poetic Response to the Rise of Medal Play in 1912

Controversies in golf are usually associated with change in the rules, equipment or form of play. Currently, the groove rule change is front and center. In early times, controversies arose when the switch began from the feathery to the gutta percha ball in 1848 and with the switch from hickory to steel shafts in the 1920’s. The R & A banned the Schenectady putter in 1911. This was the putter that Walter Travis used to become the first American to win the British Amateur Championship in 1904.

Golf controversies today are reported by the traditional media, newspapers and magazines, but also by the traditional media’s dot.com outlets and by the social media, blogs and tweets. The impact of Internet golf reporting has shifted the focus to reporting stories bit by bit in real time with immediate commentary by “followers.” The opportunities to place a hot story in its historical context and search for humorous and ironical dimensions are few. Twitter has trumped poetry as the means for story telling.

But, of course, this has not always been true. For example, in the early 20th century most amateur golf in Great Britain was played under the rules of match play. But the introduction of the score card and pencil stub made medal or stroke play scores easy to record. And by 1912 medal play was on the rise. Robert K. Risk, a Scottish poet and writer and a golf traditionalist, believed that match play defined golf and that this shift harmed the character of the game.

In voicing his opposition to the increase in medal play he was not limited to a time deadline or to 140 characters. Instead, he took his time and fashioned a poem of depth and imagination and biting wit. His poetical protest did not stem the tide of medal play, but does survive as an interesting contrast to how golf controversies are aired today.

“Medalitis,” Risk’s poem, was originally published in the English humor magazine Punch on October 2, 1912. Please be patient as you read it. If you have time, a second reading will help to fully enjoy Risk’s work.

Medalitis

In the full height and glory of the year,
When husbandmen are housing golden sheaves,
Before the jealous frost has come to shear
From the bright woodland its reluctant leaves,
I pass within a gateway, where the trees,
Tall, stately, multi-coloured, manifold,
Draw the eye on as to some Chersonese,
Spanning the pathway with their arch of gold.

A river sings and loiters through the grass,
Girdling a pleasance scythed and trimly shorn;
And here I watch men vanish and repass
To the last hour of eve from early morn;
Dryads peer out at them, and goat-foot Pan
Plays on his pipe to their unheeding ears;
They pass, like pilgrims in a caravan,
Towards some Mecca in the far-off years.

Blind to the woodland’s autumn livery,
Blind to the emerald pathway that they tread,
Deaf to the river’s low-pitched lullaby,
Their limbs are quick and yet their souls are dead;
Nothing to them the song of any bird,
For them in vain were horns of Elfland wound,
Blind, deaf and stockfish-mute; for,in a word,
They are engaged upon a Medal Round.

Making an anxious torment of a game
Whose humours now intrigue them not at all,
They chase the flying wraith of printed fame,
With card and pencil arithmetical;
With features pinched into a painful frown
Looming misfortunes they anticipate,
Or, as the fatal record is set down,
Brood darkly on a detrimental 8.

These are in thrall to Satan, who devised
Pencil and card to tempt weak men to sin,
Whereby their prowess might be advertised —
Say, 37 Out and 40 In;
Rarely does any victim break his chains
And from his nape the lethal burden doff —
The man with medal virus in his veins
Seldom outlives it and gets back to Golf.

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Golf Poetry in a 1921 New York City Restaurant Ad

The American Golfer must have had a lot of New York City subscribers in 1921. Otherwise, why would the Rogers Restaurant (45th and 6th Ave, Tel. 2070 Bryant) have run an ad on page 29 of the March 26th edition? And why did the ad promote Rogers with a rhyme? We did see that Spalding ran an ad with poetry seven years earlier. And I have pointed out in previous Posts that poetry was included in most of the early issues of golf magazines.

So here is what the Rogers ad said.

You’ll never be doon
If ye’ll take yer spoon
When drinkin’ soup at Rogers
Na need to seek with mashie or cleek
Or the rest of yer artful dodgers
And I’m telling ye Mack
Yer lips ye’ll smack
At the grand food they’ll provide; er
Clams, yams, and Virginia hams
They’ll make ye a powerful driver.

The poem was signed “Sandy,” presumably Sandy Rogers. The poem/ad seems to be a poor attempt to speak in a Scottish dialect to the local golfers. But I can’t imagine that “clams, yams, and Virginia hams” brought many golfers to the door!

Historical Note: Near to Rogers, on 45th street, was the site of the Hesper Club, a gambling house run by Herman “Beansie” Rosenthal, a mobster who in 1912 blew the whistle on the extortion attempts of Lt. Charles Becker of the NYPD. Becker had Rosenthal killed in a notorious hit that sent Becker to the chair in 1915.

I’m not sure of the Hesper Club survived Rosenthal’s death or if Rosenthal had been a golfer. But I assume that by 1921 the neighborhood was a little safer.

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