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Waiting for the Spring Opening of My Golf Course

Chapter 17 001

 

It is about this time of year that frustration sets in if you live in a cold climate area. Spring has arrived once again as an unplayable. Where I live in Massachusetts as I write this, snow still covers half of my backyard and probably half of the local golf course. The Golf Expo has come through town, the few golf emporiums than remain are beckoning with sales and I can still do no better than to practice putting in the playroom.

The poets understood the meaning of Spring to golfers who must wait out its first weeks until the temperatures rise. Clinton Scollard in an epic poem of some 90 stanzas may have said it best more than 90 years ago. In describing the travails of a novice golfer, he concludes with three stanzas that describe the golfer’s anticipation of his second season. (Suggestion: read the three stanzas out loud and slowly; don’t worry about a few strange words; and when you finish read it once more. I guarantee you will enjoy both readings, but especially the second.)

Yes, he can wait until the vernal chord
Softly smitten, and the umbered sward
     Quickens beneath the sun’s renewing fire.
And stripling Spring is Winter’s overlord.

 Then feel his feet the tempting turf once more,
While down the distance floats his ringing “fore!”
     And he is brother to the hale desire
That is of all reviving things the core.

 Others may catch the scattered scrap and shard
Of exultation, but to them is barred
     The keen elation that the Golfer knows
When Spring’s first ball is teed and driven hard.

These last two lines illustrate once again how a poet’s few carefully chosen words can speak so personally to every avid golfer:

     “The keen elation that the Golfer knows
 When Spring’s first ball is teed and driven hard.”

[Clinton Scollard was a prolific writer and poet. For eight years he was a professor of English literature at Hamilton College in New York. The poem (in three Cantos and an Envoy) appears in a book called The Epic of Golf published in 1923. The 17th chapter of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes - Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages includes more verses from Scollard's poem and a description of the entire poem  ]

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A Weary Winter and Thoughts of Golf

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I’m sitting in my home-office looking out the window as the snow comes down hard again. This has not been an easy winter in New England. When not look out the window I’ve been looking for a poem for this Post. In that search I came across a song titled “The Weary Winter Weather of 1886” by David Jackson (Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Leven) in his slight volume Golf – Songs &Recitations. Jackson’s song is to be sung to the tune of “Johnnie Cope.” (see http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Johnny_Cope)

The poem/song was composed after Winter had passed and reminds those of us who are snowed-in that we will yet cheer the coming of warmer days and a new golf season. Here is the song’s Chorus,

But hurrah! Hurrah! The Spring has come at last,
And loosened the burns, that were a’ frozen fast,
And we a’ rejoice that the Winter is past,
For we’ll get a round at Golf in the morning.

Jackson wrote in Scots which makes the song a  bit more challenging. The song has seven verses.

Here is the first verse which describes our Winter as well,

Oh, lang and dreich (long and tiresome) the Winter has been,
And mony (many) a stormy day we’ve seen,
When the frost was sharp and the wind was keen,
And nippit a’ oor noses in the morning.

The third verse brings to mind this Winter’s Olympics,

When the ice was strong, the Curlers with glee
Were busy at their game  sae merry and free;
While the Golfers would wish, wi’ the tear in their e’e,
That the ice would be thawed in the morning.

And the last two verses are what gives us hope,

But the Spring has come wi’ sunshine and rain,
And the wast (west) wind has blawn the snaw off the plain,
And the trees and the flowers are budding again,
And the lark sing early in the morning.

 And the Links are looking as bonnie, fresh, and green
As if nae cauld, frosty weather had been,
And the old and the young sae merry are seen
Awa for a round in the morning.

On a cold winter’s day, this poem allows us to form a link in common with a golfer who was playing in Scotland 128 years ago. That warms me up a little. I hope it does the same for you.

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A Tribute for a Golfer

Lyrics of the Links

If you search this Blog using the word “elegy” you will find three poems linked to the famous poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” written by Thomas Gray and first published in 1751. Two of these poems are parodies. And now I have found a third titled “An Elegy on the Links” written by Francis Bowler Keene.  (Last November I published another poem by Keene called “A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall.”)

Keene’s poem is similar to Gray’s in structure, form and mood, but only the first verse can be tied closely to the original. The poem or lines from it could be used in a tribute to a golfer that has played his final round.

An Elegy on the Links

The sunset slowly tells the death of day.
At last deserted in each sand-strewn tee.
The caddie homeward wends his weary way.
And leaves the links to silence and to me.

The shadows lengthen on the grassy slopes
Where nibbling sheep still dot the scene with white.
They fade away, like fleeting earthly hopes,
And melt into the shades of coming night.

All silent, save for sounds of bleatings faint
That float to me upon the evening air;
Or, from the darkening wood, some twittered plaint
Of birds that seek nocturnal shelter there.

Upon these close-mown greens, this fading field,
Where hazards full of hidden dangers lie,
The warriors of peace their weapons wield,
And in the friendly contest daily vie.

No more to-day, with shouts from happy lips,
They send their greetings on the ambient air,
And tingle to their very finger-tips,
Enchanted by this game beyond compare.

For them no more the faithful caddie slings
The well-worn bag his youthful shoulder o’er,
Or polished clubs to them, unbidden brings,
Or helps record the all-important score.

Not all who tread these greens can win success,
But few can hold the cups and medals bright.
Yet all may gain that priceless blessedness,
The ruddy health that makes all burdens light.

Let not ambition blind the devotees
Who worship at golf’s grassy temple green.
It is not only they that rule the tees
Who summits of athletic joy have seen.

Full many a man may play a modest game
And feel a joy unclouded, heaven-sent.
No anxious aims entice him on the fame,
He’s free from care, and with his lot content.

For such as this, when golfing days are o’er,
And death’s angel putts the winning hole,
And those above sum up his life’s full score,
Write thus his epitaph, and seek his goal.

The Epitaph

Here rests a manly man, beloved by all.
True sportsman. Golfer. His example take.
Good luck or ill might guide his cheery ball,
He always played the game for play’s own sake.

Though small his skill, yet strong his frame well-knit.
Of nature kind and patient, slow to wrath.
His heart was large, and genial was his wit;
All nature smiled along his sunny path.

Seek not between these lines his faults to read,
He lacked success, yet happy was his fate.
A legacy of sunshine is your meed,
If you his cheery virtues emulate.

Keene’s poem is from his book Lyrics of the Links,  published in 1923.

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The Joys of Life and Golf

I have now been writing this Blog for five years. I began with a discovery –  an unknown literature of golf poetry – and a thought that it would be nice to share some of the best of these poems with other avid golfers. Along the way I decided to include some of my poetry as well.

I am pleased to say that over the five years this tiny space on the Internet has attained more than 100,000 page views from more than 120 countries. I am very grateful for all of you who have come and have encouraged others to try the site as well.

In this year-end Post I would first like to share with you a short poem by Robert Frost that I enjoyed and have re-read several times. I include it as an example of how poetry like music can immediately make you feel better.

Dust of Snow
Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

After reading Frost’s poem I thought of a poem that I wrote called “On Course” where I tried to create a feeling of joy about playing the game of golf. I hope you will enjoy it.

On Course
Leon S White, PhD

Golf is a singular way
to take temporary leave
following a zigzag path
in search of a small white ball;

to abandon reality,
but stay the course,
hole after hole;

to create a new story,
always different
to be told to someone
before it’s forgotten.

An extraordinary chance
to pretend for a brief time
no matter how unskilled
that each stroke will be flawless;

to endure the pain of failure
without really failing,
and even if only once a round,

to truly enjoy
the pure pleasure
of hitting the ball rock-solid
or sinking a long tricky putt.

“On Course” is included in both of my books, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages and If Only I Could Play That Hole Again.

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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Golf Poetry from the Majors

On occasion I have been inspired to write a poem about a Major event. These have previously been published in Posts on this Blog, but I thought that for Masters week I would put them together. These poems are also included in my new Ebook, If Only I Could Play That Hole Again which is available on Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle app.

Starting with last year’s Masters here is how I saw Bubba’s memorable sweeping hook:

♦Bubba’s Master’s Shot

About B.W. let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Another Master shot that will always be remembered, is Tiger’s 2005 chip show on the 16th hole:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

In July 2012, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. As the fourth round began, Choi held a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.
Again the newspapers and magazines have told the story of the last nine holes in straight forward prose. I thought it would be fun to re-cast this minor epic in a more traditional form.

♦Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

She was cruising along with a five shot lead
And just nine more to play
But the ever-present golf gods
Had not yet had their say!

As she turned for home with a  big Open lead
Fans saw her name on the cup
Especially now with it down to a match
And she was the one five up.

But the golf gods knew the score as well
And on ten they went into action
Soon enough Na Yeon Choi
Was losing more than just traction.

Her drive went out and couldn’t be found
She was back on the tee for her third
When her putt finally sank she was up only two
But surprisingly undeterred.

A resolute Choi bounced right back
With a birdy on eleven
The golf gods were clearly hard at work
In the depths, then close to heaven.

The down and up would continue
From the next tee into high weeds
But a brilliant wedge put her ball on the green
And she holed with a perfect read.

On thirteen the gods gave one final scare
Her ball hit two rocks, au revoir
But dry it remained miraculously
Choi then made an up and down par.

In the end the golf gods seemed to remember
A dream from way way back
When Na Yeon first said “I just want to be there,”
While watching Se Ri Pak.

Accepting the cheers as she walked up the last,
Her win beyond a doubt
Standing where her hero had stood
She finally putted out.

“I’m here right now and I made it.” she said
After winning ─ though I would wager
The thought that was foremost in her mind —
Like Se Ri, I’ve won this Major.

You may remember at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, Tom Watson needed a four on the final hole to win his sixth Open championship. Unfortunately he didn’t do it. Thus, he lost his chance to make history as the oldest golfer to win a major. He was 59 at the time. Shortly after, I wrote the following poem to pay tribute to Watson’s heroic but failed effort.

♦Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream,
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting.
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning – or losing,
But how he had played the Game.

In 1970 Doug Sander missed a short putt on the final hole at the British Open that cost him the Championship. Here is a reply,

♦An Open Putt Remembered

The putt was less than three feet long
Just how could anything go wrong?

For sure he knew the stakes were high
But could he really run it by?

Doug looked as cool as cool could be
His poise was there for all to see.

But as his putter made its sweep
And those who watched made not a peep.

The ball escaped its aimed-for goal
And did not end up in the hole.

The question was, how could he miss
An easy putt as short as this?

The answer—simple, known to all:
Pressure putts don’t always fall.

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For Golfers April is National (Golf) Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, but of course for golfers it’s National Golf Poetry Month. True, the Masters gets more attention in April, but we golfers should not lose sight of the fact that while the first Masters was played in 1934, the first poem that included a reference to golf was published in 1638!  Golf poetry was most popular in the early 20th century. The golf magazines of the time included golf poems in almost every issue. A number of golf poets such as Robert K Risk (one of the best)  also published books of their poetry.

As those of you know who follow this Blog, I have tried to revive interest in golf poetry through my Posts, of which this is number 150, and through my two books:

Golf Course Of Rhymes - Links Between Golf And Poetry Through The Ages          Final Briggs Cover for Vook ebook

Both are available on Amazon.com. If Only I Could Play That Hole Again is an eBook that is also available for Nook and the iPad. (For descriptions click in the header above)

I would like to mention two other  golf poetry books that are currently available on Amazon. The first is an eBook called Eighteen Holes and is written by Mike Ellwood. Mike describes the book as “a round of golf in poetry.” It consists of 18 poems with an additional on at the Nineteenth Hole. To quote Mike again, the poetry describes the “the drama, excitement and sheer fun of a round of golf.” The second is called Golf Sonnets and its author is James Long Hale. James describes his book as “A delightful collection of humorous sonnets and illustrations about the Game of Golf.”

With Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day not too far in the future, you might consider a golf poetry book. At least you will know that it will be their first!

I can’t write a Post without at least a few lines of poetry, so here are two four-liners.

THE YIPS PURE AND SIMPLE

You have the yips if you miss- hit your putts
Frequent attacks can drive you nuts
The yips occur when you’re not controlling
The direction or speed of the ball that you’re rolling.

CHANGING ODDS

Heard said that trees are nine-tenth air
If your ball gets over you hardly care;
But if it’s low and lost from view
It’s no more than even that your ball gets through.

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Golf Poetry for Fun and Discovery

 As I have written in other Posts, the primary purpose of this Blog and my two books (see Banner) is to offer today’s golfer enthusiasts the opportunity to have fun with and learn from poetry. For many of you “poetry” is on the other side of a literary out-of-bounds line. I’m trying to bring it back onto the fairway to give you a shot at it. That’s what this Blog and my two books are about.

In this first Post of 2013, I would like to begin by wishing you (who come to this Blog from more than 100 countries) a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. And now I’d like to show you how one of my recent  searches for old golf poetry led to the discovery of a non-golf poem that includes well-known lines of inspiration.

In a previous post I included a poem from a book called The Golf Craze – Sketches and Rhymes published in Edinburgh and London in 1905. Between the Table of Contents and the first Chapter of the book, the author (John Hogben writing under the pseudonym Cleeke Shotte, Esq.) included the following verse by W. E. Henley:

“Out on the links, where the wind blows free,
And the surges gush, and the rounding brine
Wanders and sparkles, an air like wine
Fills the senses with pride and glee.”

When I find an old golf poem or verse, I often also try to determine the poet’s connection to the game. So I Goggled Henley’s name and found a very interesting Wikipedia entry.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic and editor. He was born the son of a poor Victorian Englishman.  From age 12 he suffered from tuberculosis, and when he was in his teens his left leg below the knee was amputated.  After a long recovery, when he was in his early twenties the disease made a comeback.  His doctor proposed amputating his right foot to save Henley’s life.  Refusing to accept the doctor’s advice Henley got a second opinion.  The new doctor saved the foot, but there were two more years of recovery.  While in hospital he met his future wife, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, who became literary collaborator and friend; and also while there Henley wrote the poem Invictus.

Two things I learned from this search. First, Henley had a wonderful feeling for “the links” without playing them. (Given his physical trials it is unlikely that he ever played golf.) And second, he left us a most inspiring poem with phrases that you have often heard.

                 INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem was originally published without a title. A publisher later added it. You can go to this second Wikipedia entry to learn more about the poem and some of its more public influences.

Note: Searching through Henley’s poetry I found the golf related verse above comes from a poem called “Ballade of Aspiration.” Here is the first two stanza which precede the verse which is the first half of the third stanza. Click here for the complete text.

 O to be somewhere by the sea,
Far from the city’s dust and shine,
From Mammon’s priests and from Mammon’s shrine,
From the stony street, and the grim decree
That over an inkstand crooks my spine,
From the books that are and the books to be
And the need that makes of the sacred Nine,
A school of harridans ! – sweetheart mine,
O to be somewhere by the sea !

Under a desk I bend my knee,
Whether the morn be foul or fine.
I envy the tramp, in a ditch supine,
Or footing it over the sunlit lea.
But I struggle and write and make no sign,
For a laboring ox must earn his fee,
And even a journalist has to dine;
But O for a breath of the eglantine!
O to be somewhere by the sea.

So even this non-golfing journalist/poet saw the attractiveness of the links “by the sea.”

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Golf Poetry Books New and Less New

My Dropbox1

Just a few days ago my new eBook If Only I Could Play That Hole Again – And Other Golf Poems was uploaded by Vook Digital Publishers. The book is now available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Nobles Nook, using Apple’s iBook app and at the Vook Bookstore. The book description is as follows:

The title poem of this eBook begins with these oft spoken words, “If only I could play that hole again/ I know that I could shoot a better score . . .” Leon White a long-time player and keen observer of the game writes poetry for golfers who want to enjoy a new and exhilarating golf experience. His poetry will delight players who cherish the game for its perversities as well as its pleasures. He chronicles the joys and the heartbreaks of professionals such as Tiger Wood, Doug Sanders, Bubba Watson and Tom Watson. Other poems celebrate Michelle Wie’s college graduation and Na Yeon Choi’s U.S. Open triumph. There is even a poem about Johnny Cash as a golfer. White, who in his first book Golf Course of Rhymes reintroduced the great golf poems of the past to the golfing public, now adds his own collection of more than 50 sparkling verses. Read them yourself or give them as a gift just for the fun of it.

Some of these poems appeared as Posts on this Blog, some were in my earlier book Golf Course of Rhymes and some are new. Please take the opportunity to look inside the book at any of the websites where it is available. Also Amazon and B&N allow you to give an eBook as a gift. Thanks.

And if you have enjoyed the golf poetry from earlier times on this Blog, you might look at my (less new) book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles. It is also available on Amazon in Great Britain and in Western Europe.

In October 2010 and again in in September of this year I published poems about “opposites” based on an idea I got from the great American poet Richard Wilbur. These poems appear in my new book, but the following will have to wait until the second addition:

     HOOKS AND SLICES

What is the opposite of hook?
Eye you say with a fishy look.
Fish reminds of hook and line
Then bait’s the answer to assign.

A hook is also a cager’s shoot
A jumper might oppose or not.
But with golf, what the duffer fears
Get rid of a hook and a slice appears.

Enjoy the holiday season and may the new year be good to you.

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