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A Golfer’s Poetic Lament – Winter is Coming

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from Harvard University in 1880 wrote a poem that should appeal especially to golfers who live in snowy areas of the country. In his title, Keene uses the word “monody,” meaning lament, to set his tone.  (A suggestion: To have the most fun with this poem, read it out loud and speed up towards the end.)

A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall

No greens, no tees;
.     No fragrant breeze;
No harmony of happy-hearted birds;
.     No verdure deep;
.     No roaming sheep;
No faithful collies, watchful of their herds;
.     No sunny glade;
.     No woodland shade;
No ferny path beneath the rustling trees;
.     No springy turf;
.     No murmuring surf;
No passing hum of honey-laden bees;
.     No motors fleet;
.     No golfers’ meet;
No lazy caddies lolling day by day;
.     No warning call;
.     No flying ball;
No contest in the fine and friendly fray;
.     No clubs to wield;
.     No drive afield;
No plaudits as the ball, far-driven flies;
.     No close-trimmed lawn;
.     No bunker’s yawn;
No hidden hazards lurking with bad lies;
.     No brassy swift;
.     No niblick’s lift;
No ringing click of iron, clear and clean;
.     No cleek’s true swing;
.     No mashie’s fling;
No careful putt along the velvet green;
.     No Club-nights gay;
.     No moonlit bay;
No dinners marked by mirth and merry jest;
.     No music bright;
.     No dancers light;
No broad verandah thronged with happy guests;
No winding walks;
No golfers’ talks;
No genuine delight for every member;
.     No matches more;
.     No games galore;
.     No joyous strife;
.     No zest in life;
.     November.

This poem is included in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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The Ball

Woodley Flier

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) was a famous American short story writer and also a poet. Among his poems was one called “The Car.” It begins,

The car with a cracked windshield.
The car that threw a rod.
The car without brakes.
The car with a faulty U-joint.

And continues in a similar fashion for 44 additional lines!

Using Mr. Carver’s poem as a model, I wrote a more modest 20 line poem called “The Ball.”

 THE BALL

The ball with a smile.
The ball with dimples.
The ball with two colors.
The ball with a liquid center.
The ball with mud on it.

The hard wooden round ball.
Old Tom’s featherie ball.
The  Woodley Flyer ball.
The balata ball.
The three piece ball.

The ball that missed the tree.
The ball that hit the spectator.
The ball that hung on the edge.
The ball that sits on the tee.
The ball that lands in a trap.

The ball lofted in the air.
The ball lost in the gorse.
The ball left on the range.
The ball belted with a driver.
The ball signed by Tiger.

 

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Golfpoet.com’s Top Ten

First, I would like to thank all of you for supporting golf poetry by visiting golfpoet.com. We have passed the three year mark and you have registered more than 60,000 page visits. Together we have made golf poetry, mostly poems written before 1920, a little more visible to the golfers of today.

Response to the Blog also encouraged me to complete my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages with a Foreword by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

The Blog now has more than 120 Posts. Of that number, I though it might be interesting to list the Top Ten at this point. They are as follows:

1.  Golf Ball Poetry

2.  A Golf Poem You Can Relate To

3.  Doug Sanders’ British Open Miss for the Ages

4.  An Old Golf Magazine and a Poem for Old Golfers

5.  Lying in Golf Poetry

6.  Golf Ball Poetry Continued

7.  If Johnny Cash Had Been a Golfer

8.  Attitudes Toward Women Golfers in the Early Days (Part 1)

9.  The Importance of Golf – A Sentimental View from the Past

10. Twines — Two Line Golf Poems from Twitter

If any of these titles look interesting, please take a look and enjoy.

Finally, I would encourage you to send links from this Post/ Blog to any of your golfing friends who might enjoy the experience a reciting golf poetry. Thanks.

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The Haskell-Gutty Controversy in Verse

“The Haskellisation of Golf” is the title of an article by the famous English amateur golfer and writer, Horace G. Hutchinson, that appeared in the October 17, 1902 issue of Golf Illustrated, a weekly golf magazine. Hutchinson discusses the question of whether the gutty ball should be replaced by the recently invented Haskell ball. For background see a previous Blog entry, Haskell on the Brain, http://golfpoet.com/2010/07/05/haskell-on-the-brain/.

At the same time, Hutchinson wrote his piece, a poet with the initials F.J.K. wrote a poem to the editor (they did such things 100 or so years ago) in which he versified on the pros and cons of switching to the new balls.

THE NEW BALLS                                                                                            

To the Editor of Golf Illustrated

Dear Sir,

Two of the questions of the day,
We read, in circles polished,
Are whether women ought to work,
Or kissing be abolished?

But though these interesting queries
Might be discussed for ages,
They pale and pall before the one
Appearing in your pages.

The merits of the rubber-filled
American invention
From golfers one and all demand
Their very best attention:

And week by week your paper has
An interesting series
Of answers published in response
To these important queries:

Whether, in driving from the tee,
The golfer finds his task ʾll
Be simpler if he once employs
A Kempshall or a Haskell?

And if he finds that owing to
These aids so adventitious
His skill improves all around, or fate
Is, as before, capricious.

And does the new ball benefit
Our mediocre players,
And help them to attain the art
Of Braid, or Herd, or Sayers?

And if, supposing this is true,
Another finds it hard on
His excellence, a player like
Taylor or a Vardon?

And further with what liveliness
This substitute for gutta
Behaves when struck with iron clubs,
Or aluminium putter?

And yet, again, if general use
Will spoil our English courses,
And whether, this being so, there are
Remedial resources?

These questions of the day,
Vìde GOLF ILLUSTRATED
(With which, cf. the title page,
“Golf” is incorporated.

And there one finds set forth, in turn,
Assertion and denial
Of faults and merits in the ball
By those who’ve given it trial.

One hears that certain clubs demand
Restrictive legislation,
To save the gutty from the Trans-
Atlantic innovation.

Now I, unmasked, advise each man
To try, in strict seclusion,
This full-of-rubber novelty,
And draw his own conclusion.

About the distance of his drive
He’ll wax enthusiastic,
But later on he’ll wish his ball
Was rather less elastic.

About the cost he may well feel
Supremely apprehensive,
Seeing that every ball is so
Atrociously expensive.

So, if he thinks with me, he will
Abide no rubber filling,
But use an English ball, for which
He’ll pay an English shilling!

F.J.K.

Of course, issues surrounding the capabilities of golf balls continue. Recently John Solheim, Chairman and CEO of Ping, suggested that instead of a single Ball Distance Rating (BDR) limit (how far a ball can go) there should be three. In addition to the current BDR, there would one shorter and one longer. (See  Golf Digest article) Then we would have to endure ads for the longest short ball, the longest long ball, etc. I’d rather go back to the Haskell!

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New Book: Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages

 

 

Written with the help of golfing poets such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Fullerton Carnegie, Grantland Rice and Billy Collins. Laid out as a golf course with Holes (chapters) such as “St. Andrews,” Agonies and Frustrations,” “Advice,” “Politics and War,” “Links with the Devil,” and “The Women’s Game.” The text and poems provide humorous tales, historical dramas and personal accounts that will touch the hearts and minds of golfers universally. Much of the material comes from inaccessible books and magazines published in the U.S., England and Scotland before 1930. The Foreword is by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

More than five years in the making. Written to offer today’s golfers poetic snapshots of the game as described by keen-eyed golfers of the past along with a good number of historical vignettes.  Golf Course of Rhymes is available at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble and also Amazon.UK. I hope you will take a look.

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Haskell on the Brain

The golf ball has gone through relatively few fundamental changes in the last 460 years. The first ball to be documented was wooden and was played in 1550. The feather golf ball, or “featherie” was introduced in 1618. In 1848, the Gutta Percha ball or “Guttie,” made from the rubber like sap of the Gutta tree began to be played at St. Andrews and then more widely. In 1898, Coburn Haskell introduced the one-piece rubber cored ball. By 1901 it was universally accepted. Finally in 1972 Spalding began selling the first two-piece ball, the Executive, which was the first basic improvement on Haskell’s design. Now it seems like there is a new and better ball every week, leading to the Twine:

If last week’s ball by this week’s is outdone,
We’ll soon be reaching every green in one!

Getting back to the fundamental progression in golf ball technology, the early changes at least led to conflict and controversy. The change from featherie to guttie, caused a split between Allan Robertson and Tom Morris. Morris who worked making featheries in Robertson’s shop, played a guttie one day. When Robertson got word that Morris was playing the new ball, he fired him.

The Haskell was the first new ball to be made in America. And this caused at least one British golf poet to write some verses in protest. The poem as it appeared in the magazine Punch in November 1902 is as follows:

A GROWL FROM GOLFLAND

Bores there are of various species, of the platform, of the quill,
Bores obsessed by Christian Science or the Education Bill,
But the most exasperating and intolerable bore
Is the man who talks of nothing but the latest “rubber core.”

Place him in the Great Sahara, plant him on an Arctic floe,
Or a desert island, fifteen thousand miles from Westward Ho!
Pick him up a twelvemonth later, and I’ll wager that you find
Rubber filling versus gutty still and solely on his mind.

O American invaders, I accept your beef, your boots,
Your historical romances, and your Californian fruits;
But in tones of humble protest I am tempted to exclaim,
“Can’t you draw the line at commerce, can’t you spare one British game?”

I am but a simple duffer; I am quite prepared to state
That my lowest round on record was a paltry 88;
That my partner in a foursome needs the patience of a Job,
That in moments of excitement I am apt to miss the globe.

With my brassy and my putter I am very far to seek,
Generally slice to cover with my iron and my cleek;
But I boast a single virtue: I can honestly maintain
I’ve escaped the fatal fever known as Haskell on the brain.

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Golf History, Golf Poetry and the Making of the Featherie

A Featherie Ball

For many American golfers, the history of golf begins with the 1913 U.S. Open won in a playoff by Francis Ouimet over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. The author Mark Frost marks this event as “the birth of Modern Golf” in his bookThe Greatest Game Ever Played. But what about the birth of the game? To get a better idea as to the origins of golf and its early history I would suggest a book called A Swing Through Time — Golf in Scotland 1457-1744 by Olive M Geddes (revised edition published in 2007).  Quoting from the book’s introduction,

This book takes a close look at the earliest written records of golf in Scotland, from the 1457 Act of Parliament banning the game to the first ‘Rules’ of golf — the ‘Articles and Law’ of 1744 drawn up by the Company of Gentlemen Golfers for the competition for the Silver Cup played over Leith Links.

Interestingly, some of these “written records” were recorded in verse. For example, Ms. Geddes devotes a chapter to a discussion of the first book entirely devoted to golf, called The Goff, first published in 1743. It was a mock-heroic epic poem, 358 lines long, written by an Edinburgh lawyer (who later became a Minister) named Thomas Mathison.  A second edition was published in 1763 and a third 30 years later. In 1981 the United States Golf Association published facsimiles of all three editions under one cover in a limited edition of 1400 copies. One of few surviving third edition copes was sold for $80,500 in 1998.

The Goff tells the story of a golf match on the Leith Links played between Castalio and Pygmalion, the heroic combatants of the tale. But the poem also makes reference to some golf related activities of the time. In one interesting section of eight lines, Mathison describes in some detail how featherie golf balls were made:

The work of Bobson; who with matchless art
Shapes the firm hide, connecting ev’ry part,”
Then in a socket sets the well-stitch’d void,
And thro’ the eyelet drives the downy tide;
Crowds urging crowds the forceful brogue impels,
The feathers harden and the Leather swells;
He crams and sweats, yet crams and urges more,
Till scarce the turgid globe contains its store.

Ms. Geddes remarks that “Bobson” probably referred to a St. Andrews ball-maker named Robertson (likely an ancestor of Davie and Allen Robertson). The implication is that although balls were made in Leith at the time, the best balls came from St. Andrews. (Featherie balls dated back to 1618 and were only replaced by Gutta-Percha balls in 1848!) I hope that those of you who might be interested in golf’s early history will have the opportunity to consult A Swing Through Time.

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Lost Golf Balls

A recent story of the CNN website describes lost golf balls as “humanity’s signature litter.” The article begins,

Research teams at the Danish Golf Union have discovered it takes between 100 to 1,000 years for a golf ball to decompose naturally. A startling fact when it is also estimated 300 million balls are lost or discarded in the United States alone, every year. It seems the simple plastic golf ball is increasingly becoming a major litter problem.

Some balls, of course, are recovered. Many are washed, repackaged and sold on eBay, or other sites such as lostgolfballs.com.

To help golfers find their lost balls, two nuclear scientists, apparently in their off hours, have invented ball-finding glasses. According to website, visiballusa.com,

Visiball Golf Ball Finding Glasses have become golf’s must have accessory, with more than 250,000 golfers saving time, money, strokes and frustration. Developed and patented by two nuclear scientists, Visiball Golf Ball Finding Glasses incorporate special optical filters that make white objects appear to glow.

But I’m most impressed with Natalie Rogers’ lament, titled “It’s a Shame,” that appeared in the March 1966 issue of Golf Magazine.

It’s a Shame

We live in an age of computers and space ships,
With daily a new guided missile,
But why doesn’t someone invent a golf ball
That will come from the woods when you whistle”

Now there’s a real challenge for those two nuclear scientists.


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Golf Ball Poetry Continued

Woodley Flier

From Old Golf Auctions Limited

An earlier Post featured a golf ball poem that was part of a Spalding advertisement. “My Favorite Ball,” another golf ball poem, was published in the magazine Golf in July 1900. Its claim to fame is that it plays on the names of golf balls that were popular at that time. I am not an expert on old golf balls, but did look through a number of early golf magazines to try to find the actual names being parodied.

MY FAVORITE BALL

The Blazenger, the Pewtertown,
Atrippa, Would-be Flyer,
The Oysterburgh of some renown—
Of all I’ve been a buyer.

The Cockley and Obobo too,
The Marsity and Skewflite
Have seen me, each in turn, go through
Full many an old and new flight.

Withe B-2 White I’ve tried my hand
And many an N.G. lost,
While Coopinson and also Grand
Have added to the cost.

All these and many more I’ve tried,
But none so good as my ball
On the club-house porch, as I sit beside
A fizzling, cold, Scotch high-ball.

Here is what my research turned up:

Blazenger…………..Slazenger
Pewtertown………Silvertown
Atrippa……………
Would-be Flyer…Woodley Flier
Oysterburgh……..Musselburgh
Cockley…………….Henley
Obobo………………Ocobo
Marsity……………
Skewflite…………..Trueflite
B-2 White………….A.I. Black
N.G. ………………..
Coopinson………..Davidson(?)

If anyone can help out with the blanks or find a better match than “Davidson” please leave a comment.

“My Favorite Ball” was written by Walter N. P. Darrow (1863-1926), a West Point graduate who rose in the ranks to become a General. The New York Times, in reporting his death, wrote,

[General Darrow] was for more than twenty-five years a member of the cottage colony at the Profile House [an exclusive summer-hotel in New Hampshire], and one of the first to introduce the game of golf in the White Mountains.

I found another of General Darrow’s poems in the November 1901 issue of Golf.

HIGH AND LOW BALLS

He could not hit that low white ball
When standing on the tee
Because he had too often hit
A “high-ball,” don’t you see?

So when the “high-balls” he forswore
And took the Keeley cure,
He soon found out that he could hit
The low ones far and sure.

The moral’s clear, my golfing friend,
No matter who may scoff,
If on the ball you keep your eye
It surely will be off.

And, vice-versa, it is true,
When all is said and done,
If off the ball you take your eye
You’re apt to find it on.

Let’s hope the General limited his preoccupation with high-balls to his poetry, at least while playing.

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Longer Drives – Can a Poem Help?

club-or-ball1

In 1680 John Patersone, an Edinburgh shoemaker, partnered with the Duke of York (later King James II of England) to win the first international golf match. The following year Patersone built a house in the Cannongate of Edinburgh and on the front he affixed a plaque (supplied by the Duke) that read “Far and Sure.” And so began the focus on distance and accuracy.

[Read more...]

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