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Golf Poetry at its Best

for Golfer's Discontent post

 

Robert K. Risk and Grantland Rice are two of my favorite golf poets. This Blog (and my book) contain poems by both. I think I remember reading that Rice wrote more than 6000 poems throughout his lifetime. He wrote on may subjects besides golf. His most famous lines come from a 1908 poem called “Alumnus Football” (http://bit.ly/1l7QLGe):

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.”

 

Risk, on the other hand, seems to have limited his poetry to golf. He was a Scottish writer, poet and drama critic. As far as I know he published a single collection of golf poems in 1919 under the title, “Songs of the Links.” The book contains 36 poems and this may be all that Risk ever published. Nevertheless, almost all are worth reading. I am particularly fond of the one that I want to share with you in this post. It describes beautifully. with humor and clarity, how golfers always seem to long for some level of play that they cannot achieve. And then ends by pointing out the disappointment that would result from playing too well.

THE GOLFER’S DISCONTENT

By Robert K. Risk

The evils of the Golfer’s state
Are shadows, not substantial things –
That envious bunkers lie in wait
For all our cleanest, longest swings;
The pitch that should have won the round
Is caught and killed in heavy ground.

And even if at last we do
That 80, coveted so long,
A melancholy strain breaks through
The cadence of our even-song –
A  7  (which was “an easy 4″)
Has “spoilt our 77 score.”

And thus, with self-deception bland,
We mourn the fours that should have been,
Forgetting, on the other hand,
The luck that helped us through the green;
Calmly accepting as our due
The four-hole which we fluked in two.

The drive that barely cleared the sand,
The brassy-shot which skimmed the wall,
The useful “kick,” the lucky “land” –
We never mention these at all;
The only luck that we admit
Is when misfortune comes of it.

And therefore, in a future state,
When we shall all putt out in two,
When drives are all hole-high and straight,
And every yarn we tell is true,
Golf will be wearisome and flat,
When there is naught to grumble at.

 

 

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A Golfer’s Lament: “If only I could …”

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“If only I could play that hole again” is the title of an e-book of my golf poetry. It is a refrain that has either been uttered out loud or at least thought about by almost every golfer after playing a golf hole badly. It is certainly a worthy subject for a poem.

 If only I could play that hole again

If only I could play that hole again
I know that I could shoot a better score
That drive I hit was rather short and right
A second chance would let me make a four.

Instead my second shot is from the trees
It traveled only fifty yards at best
And left me feeling sick and ill at ease

I’m sure if asked my teacher would agree
With all the skill I have but have not shown
I should be lining up a putt for three.

Instead I have a tricky wood to play
A side-hill up-hill lie around a bend
A perfect shot would show that I’m okay.

My swing is perfect but the ball went wide
It disappeared from sight and was not found
Nothing I can do will turn the tide.

Instead of two I’m on the green in six
My second putt lips out my score is nine
Bad luck it is that put me in this fix.

I’d really like to play that hole again
To show off all my talent and my skill
My partners think my attitude is great
But check my chance to make a par as nil.

The e-book that includes this poem and many others is available on Amazon. The link is http://amzn.to/WyVnIz. I hope you will give it a look.

 

 

 

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The Playing Partner From Hell

From the USGA Digital Library

 

In 1923, The American Golfer, the golf magazine of its day, asked its readers to submit entries to answer the question “What Puts Me off My Game Most?” The April 7th issue included the responses of the three prize winners. The winner of the second prize wrote, in part,

“…I can play with the hare type and with the human tortoise…Sun nor wind nor clouds affect me, I enjoy them all. Nor does a bad hole depress me, for there are many such in my life and I should worry.

But delivery me, oh, delivery me from the fiend who coaches my each and every shot! He usually has about a twenty-four handicap. He has made every hole on the course in par, but never by any chance has he gotten two of them in the same round.

As I step up to drive it starts. My stance is wrong. I should waggle more; my backswing is too short. If I take my midiron for one hundred and twenty-five yards, I am patiently told that I should pitch up with a mashie….”

The second prize winner goes on a while longer, but you get the point.

The first prize winner complains about a similar critic that he calls “NEVER-WILLIE.” In his entry he includes these quotes:

“You never will get rid of that slice with your left toe turned out.”
“You never will hit them clean until you learn to keep your head down.”
“You never will be able to use a mashie as long as you keep dropping that right shoulder.”

At least it’s nice to know that the guy you played with last week that wouldn’t stop talking has a long history.

To immortalize this playing partner from hell, I wrote the following:

He Talks a Good Game

He talks a good game
You know the guy
He judges each swing
With a critical eye.
 

He talks a good game
Awash with advice
He’s off to the races
When he sees you slice.
 

He talks a good game
He studies the pros
He is eager to tell you
All that he knows.
 

He talks a good game
Can he turn a phrase
He talks a good game
But it’s not how he plays.
 

He talks and he talks
With eyeballs that glisten
But even the duffers
No longer listen.
 

Leon S White, PhD

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A Masters Chip for the Ages: Tiger on 16 in 2005

 Tiger's ball at the penultimate moment

 

With Tiger absent from this years Masters, it is a good time to remember one of his most famous Masters shots which he made on the 16th hole in 2005. If you saw it live I would bet that you still remember it. But even for those of you that do and also for those that missed it, I offer my recollection as follows:

♦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.

Leon S White, PhD

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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 Fair-Weather Golfer

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Living in a four-seasons climate such as New England, I have always thought that knowing you can only play golf from say April to November is an incentive the play when you have the chance. On the contrary, I imagine that in places where the weather is always “playable” golfers might more easily postpone a round knowing that there’s always tomorrow.

 I wrote the following verses to raise this question. I would welcome any comments you might have.

The Fair-Weather Golfer

Play golf in New England
And you have to prepare
To get to the course
When the weather is fair.

But  play in a place
Where the weather’s not rotten
It’s easy to be sidetracked
And your golf game forgotten.

So is -

The fair-weather golfer
More likely to play
Where there’s snow half the year
Or sun every day?

Leon S White

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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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