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A Golf Controversy Regarding the Swing

The question, “How do you swing a golf club?” , has no simple answer today or in the past. Almost 70 years ago, J. A. Hammerton wrote this verse that appeared in The Rubaiyat of a Golfer:

Myself when young would hopefully frequent
Where Pros and Plus Men had great argument
On Grips that overlapped, on Swing and Stance
But came away less hopeful than I went.

As golf became popular in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S. and other countries around the turn of the 20th Century, golf books became the primary source of swing instruction. Books were written by the major golf professionals of the time and by other self-proclaimed experts as well. One of the most prolific writers on golf and golf instruction in the early 1900’s was a New Zealander named Pembroke Adolphus (sometime Arnold) “Percy” Vaile.  Joseph Murdoch’s book, The Library of Golf, lists eight books by P.A. Vaile. (worldcat.org includes 130 entries for Vaile including a number on Tennis about which he also claimed expertise! See illustration above.)

In one of Vaile’s golf books, The New Golf, published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in 1916, Vaile almost lashes out against the idea that the left hand is dominant in the golf swing:

“The hoariest old tradition that ever fastened on to golf was the power of the left. It was more than a tradition. It was a fetich. Authors and journalists worshiped at its shrine.”

Vaile goes on to attack Vardon, Taylor and Braid (“The Great Triumvirate”) as well as Horace Hutchinson, the great amateur and leading golf writer of the day for their “moldy old idea[s].” Vaile first put forth his ideas in a newspaper article maybe eight years earlier. At that time he was attacked. In his words,

” I was in the thick of it. Anybody who bursts up any useless old tradition, or even gives it a bump, in London, is a fool, a faddist, a theorist, or a revolutionist. If he does not recognize this before he disturbs any of the dust of centuries, and if he is not prepared to accept the position kindly and patiently-and temporarily-he deserves all that is coming to him-and that is much.”

And in those days, attacks were not limited to prose:

THE LEFT HAND’S LAMENT
(Picked up on the links at
St. Andrews)

Since first by Heaven’s august decree
The Royal Ancient Game was planned,
I always was allowed to be
The Master Hand.

To Me did text-books all allot
The part of propulsative strength.
The raking drive, the brassie shot–
I gave them length.

The Right Hand was –poor thing!–designed
To guide the club, and that was all;
Mine was the power that lay behind
The far-hit ball.

Now come there one upon the scene,
Whose heresy fair turns me pale–
The Arius of the golfing green–
A wretch name Vaile.

He says our Vardons, Braids, and Whites
Don’t golf’s dynamics understand;
Their view of Me’s all wrong; the Right’s
The Master Hand.

If Fate would let me but devise
Some torture for this villain bold,
Who thus would revolutionize
Golf’s credos old–

Oh! then to ball of rubber core
I’d change him for a tidy spell,
And drop him in “The Swilcan” or
“The Burn” or “Hell”;

I’d lose him in the rock-strewn sand
Whence few topped spheres ejected come,
Of Musselburgh’s notorious Pand-
Emonium.

Clearly, todays controversies  – one plane vs. two; stack and tilt; Tee It  Forward – are mild in comparison.

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Indoor Golf in Chicago Now and Then

From the current issue of “GolfTime Magazine,” a biannual guide to golf in the Chicago area:

Experience Chicago’s Most Accurate and Realistic Indoor Golf Facility!

Experience a new paradigm in year-round indoor golf facilities at Play 18 in downtown Chicago’s Loop.  Located at 17 N. Wabash, just a few blocks from Millennium Park, Play 18 aims to offer golf enthusiasts full game play and practice facilities with sophisticated golf technologies, amenities, membership packages and more – all 12 months of the year, rain or shine!

We all know that golf has a long history. But the folks at Play 18 may not know that indoor golf was played in Chicago and nearby more than 100 years ago.  According to Robert Pruter, a major golf instructional school, O’Neil & Fovargue Indoor Golf School (185 Wabash Ave), opened in 1910.  (Whether 185 was North or South Wabash, if the Indoor Golf School existed today it would be a very short walk from there to Play 18!)

But a student of golf poetry would have found reference to the Indoor Golf School, not in Mr. Pruter’s article, but in a poem called “Winter Golf” by Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921), the great Chicago Tribune columnist.

WINTER GOLF

“All the benefits of outdoors winter golf
in the tropics, at the Indoor Golf School” – AD

Within the grimy Loop’s environs,
The rubber pill may be addressed,
A man may swing his golfing irons,
And let his fancy do the rest.

The murmur in the street below,
The elevated’s boom and roar,
Will sound–if fancy have it so–
Like surf upon a tropic shore.

The air within the driving stall
Does not suggest a Stilton cheese,
To one whose mind is on the ball
‘Tis fragrant as a tropic breeze.

We, upon whom the spell is laid,
For tropic things care not a whoop,
Imagination’s artful aid
Will bring the tropics to the Loop.

The sun, the breeze, the fields, the rest–
Of them let railway folders sing.
We know, who are by golf obsessed,
The Pill’s the thing! the Pill’s the thing.

With its continued relevance, Taylor’s poem may deserve a spot on the wall at Play 18.

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