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“He’ll yet a gowfer be.”


If you search my blog using the word “duffer” you will find 10 Posts out of a little over a hundred that include the term. Duffers are common on the golf course and in golf poetry as well. But what is the opposite of “duffer?” It might be the perfect golfer, except there are none. But that hasn’t stopped golf poets from musing about the possibility of playing perfect golf or what it might feel like to be a perfect golfer. In my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry, I include several poems on golf perfection. I found another, this one on a duffer’s view of perfect golf, in a book called Divots for Dubs, privately published by J. Ellsworth Schrite in 1934.

The Par Buster

I pray that some day I might be,
Allowed to step up to the tee,
And there with all my friends to see,
I’d swing–so smooth and evenly
That they, who’ve seen me in disgrace,
Would marvel at my new-found grace.
And as the ball sailed straight and true,
I’d hear them murmur: “What hit you?”

With practiced calm I’d stand and stare,
And watch the ball sail thru the air.
And when it settled to the land,
My friends would grasp me by the hand
And mutter: “Gosh! I’ve never seen,
A drive hit so near the green.”
I wouldn’t strut–I’d trudge along,
Stilling my heart from its victory song.

My second, with an iron I’d hit,
With plenty of spin to make it “sit.”
Of course, I’d be allowed to grin,
When it rolled almost to the “pin.”
I wouldn’t have to use my putter,
For, “Pick it up”, I’d hear them mutter.
From every tee I’d drive them far,
On every green I’d laugh at par.

The rough, the traps, and all that stuff,
Would see that I was good enough
To guide my ball beyond their clutch,
I’d pass them by with hooks and such.
And when the course I’d travel o’er,
I’d let my caddy add the score.”
I wouldn’t faint nor shout with glee,
If he should look with awe at me.
But how we all would celebrate,
When he shouted–sixty-eight.

I wonder, would I lose the thrill,
Playing that well–perhaps I will.
Oh well, a day dream now and then,
Gives us hope–we try again.

So in the end it is not unreachable perfection, but the hope of getting better that drives us all. John Thomson, an Scottish lawyer, golfer and poet, put this idea to verse in 1893:

See yonder lads upon the links.
Go, find a duffer there but thinks,
For a'[all] the jeers and wylie winks,
He’ll yet a gowfer be.

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“St Andrew’s Law” by Robert Browning

Much of the golf poetry in this Blog is straight-forward. You read it once, understand what the poet is trying to convey and respond with some kind of thought or emotion . . . or not. For the most part, the best of the golf-poets of the past were entertaining verse-writers who on occasion reflected their feelings for the game poetically.

A few of these poets went beyond verse writing and wrote at what might be described as a higher level. Their poetry requires more careful reading (not necessarily what Blog readers are looking for), but such reading can also be rewarding. One such golf poet is Robert H. K. Browning, a writer, golf magazine editor and golf historian who was active in the first half of the 20th century. His poetry has been included in my last two Posts.

I found Browning’s poem, “St. Andrew’s Law,” sub-titled “(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)”, in a book called On the Green edited by Samuel .J. Looker, published in 1922. The reason for “apologies” is that the poem is a parody of Kipling’s poem, “Poseidon’s Law.” Both poems include warnings about lying while recognizing the inherent inevitability of stretching the truth, whether in a sailor’s tavern or clubhouse bar. I hope you will take the time to read “St. Andrew’s Law” out-loud . . . to fully enjoy Browning’s humor, his keen understanding of golfers’ foibles and his poetic skills.

St Andrew’s Law

(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

When prehistoric swipers sliced, and blamed the sloping tee,
They got so riled, Saint Andrew smiled, and “Blasphemers,” said he,
“Henceforth the lightly made excuse shall give you no resource;
Ye may not win to act or use of falsehood on the course.

“Let Peter judge his fisher folk, whose unexamined scales
Their easy consciences provoke to all-unswallowed tales;
But ye the prickly whin shall test, the bunker shall condemn:
The gods of golfing love to jest–but do not jest with them.

“Ye may not hope with putts untrue to reach the narrow tin,
Nor cozen [bamboozle] of their lawful due the bunker and the whin,
Nor tempt with drives that are not straight the slice-avenging rough,
Nor keep your ‘good’ strokes from the fate of stokes not good enough.

“But since the twisting ball that’s bent before the rising wind
Must always meet its punishment to tell you ye have sinned,
Be yours the frank unwavering eye, the open soul that shrinks
From any though of rotten lie–while ye are on the links.”

About the rugged moorland track on which his course was laid
The cave-man kept the law intact–until his game was played;
But once the last short putt was holed to crown his heart’s desire,
Audaciously mendacious [duplicitous] strolled the cave-man to his fire.

The prehistoric head of flint adorns our clubs no more,
But still the new clubs drive a-squint, exactly as of yore;
The prehistoric stone is now the radium-centred ball,
But ah ! the prehistoric man has never changed at all.

And driven in by rain or sleet, or by the Evening Star,
He moistly occupies his seat beside the clubhouse bar
And as or yore around Stonehenge, when golf was in its youth,
The swiper takes his great revenge upon the gods of truth.

If you have the time, you might find it interesting to look at Kipling’s poem and see just how Browning went about transforming a poem about sailors to one about swipers. And here is a website for help in understanding Kipling’s lines. But don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.

 

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