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A hundred years ago, golf magazines of those days such as Golf, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated all included golf instruction articles and tips. They also regularly included golf poems. Today’s golf magazines include golf instruction articles and tips, but no poetry. Reading through the February 2013 issue of Golf Digest I was impressed with the large number of tips. I thought that some might be better remembered if they were presented in the form of a poem. Here’s what I came up with. (I have also noted the tipper.)

Some Tips from the February Issue of Golf Digest Magazine

Magazine tips
from Jan to December
But when you need one
will you remember?

When your driving’s erratic,
and you’re feeling uptight
Will you infer
that you’re timing’s not right?  (From Louis Oosthuizen)

When you need to recover,
Remember what’s true:
“It’s not just the recovery,
but where it leaves you?”      (Tom Watson)

When all putts go left
Will you recall
That you must set your eyes
Inside the ball?

And a tip to remember
Right out of the gate,
Putt aggressively
When the line’s straight.  (The last two from Sean Foley)

With your fairway woods
As you reverse your pivot
Extend your arms,
And take a small divot.  (Todd Anderson)

When the flag is back
And you align
“Bag your wedge”
And run a little 9. (Jim McLean)

Poetry might help you
Remember these tips
And not in this Issue,
Check for worn grips.

And a last tip from me
When you’re playing the game
Fun and enjoyment
Is where you should aim.

Leon S White, PhD

In a number of previous Posts I have suggested that you will have more fun with these poems by reciting them. With that in mind I am starting something new with this Post. If you click below, you can hear me recite this poem! If you have a moment let me know what you think.

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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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The End of Golf Season Once More

The following is an excerpt from my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (The book is available on Amazon,  Barnes and Nobles and Amazon in Europe including Amazon UK.)

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from HarvardUniversity in 1880, a contemporary of Kipling, 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 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.

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Golf, War and Freddie Tate

In my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I devoted part of a chapter to golf related poems connected with World War I.  Since writing the book, I discovered a poem about Frederick Tate, a Scottish amateur golfer who lost his life in the Second Boer War. Tate was killed in action on February 7, 1900 at the age of 30.

During his brief amateur career, Freddie Tate, as he was called, won two Amateur Championships (1896, 1898) and twice placed third in the Open Championship (1896, 1897). And during that career he won the hearts of Scotland’s golfing public. Bernard Darwin wrote in his Sketchbook,

“In his day and in his own Scotland he was a national hero. I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd─no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes. It was a tremendous and, to his adversaries, an almost terrifying popularity.”

So  the tremendous outpouring of grief  was not surprising when news of his death reached Great Britain. Little more than two weeks after his death, the February 23, 1900 issue of Golf Illustrated included a long “Appreciation” by the magazine’s Editor and the following  poem. Many more tributes followed.

    LIEUTENANT F.G. TAIT

(Killed at Koodoosberg, February, 1900)

Another hero from the fair-haired North
Add to the roll of those the boding strains
Of War ‘twixt Boer and Briton summoned forth
To shed their life blood on dark Afric’s plains.

There’s Golf where’er on earth sounds English tongue,
And where’er golfers meet, at rest or play,
Where champion feats at Golf are told or sung,
The name of Freddy Tait will live for aye.

We read his death, with eye perforce grown dim
For comrade snatched before us from the strife;
We mourn our loss, but should we mourn for him?
Could death more glorious crown a fairer life?

He died “with sword in hand for England’s right;”
Aye, this he did, and dying left behind,
‘Mong those who to the end will see this fight,
No better golfer, and no nobler mind.

As we salute our Veterans today, and much a Europe remembers World War I, golfers around the world might also want to remember the most famous and heroic Scottish amateur golfer, Freddie Tate.

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president mckinley

When President Obama first took office, I wrote a Post, “When Travis Played the President,” about a golf match at the Chevy Chase Club course in Maryland between Walter J. Travis and President Taft. (See http://golfpoet.com/2009/02/09/when-travis-played-the-president/)

In his first term, President Obama has played his share of golf. During the re-election campaign he has been criticized for this practice. Here, for example, is a recent headline from CBSNews.com, “President Obama plays 100th round of golf, draws fire from critics.” But golfing Presidents are nothing new.  Nor is the criticism.

The exploits of golfing Presidents have been ably documented by ESPN Senior Writer Don Van Natta in his book  “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.” But what about Presidents who may have tried golf before Taft? As Van Natta points out, in 1897 during his summer vacation President McKinley was persuaded  by his Vice President Garrett Hobart to play a few rounds. But McKinley  had no success.  Van Natta goes on with the story, writing,

“Two years later . . . McKinley surprised his aides when he announced that he would like to take up golf again.  . . . But his senior advisers were very concerned, telling McKinley that golf was “undignified for a President . . .”

In today’s world, if a reporter caught wind of such a story, s/he might have had some fun with it in a few paragraphs. But in McKinley’s time when poetry was popular, here is what I found in the July 7, 1899 issue of Golf Illustrated, an English weekly publication:

“President McKinley is only deterred from taking to Golf by fears that by so doing he might compromise the dignity of the Presidential Office. The Evening News’ poet soliloquises as follows:

‘What degradation may there be,
What loss of manly dignity,
In boldly driving off the tee?
Or is it that, perhaps, you know
Your limbs, I mean the ones below
In heather stocking clad, would show
But thinly,
McKinley?’”

Maybe President Obama is lucky that there seems to be no interest in poetry among his Republican detractors.

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Two Golf Poems About Opposites

In a previous Post (http://golfpoet.com/2010/10/04/golf-opposites/)  I included two word-play poems based on the idea of “opposites.” The famous American poet and former poet laureate Richard Wilbur is the originator of this idea. Here are two more that I recently wrote:

THE OPPOSITE OF CUP

What is the opposite of cup?
Glass an answer that pops up.
But if the cup is on a green
Though underground and so unseen
It could be paired with holes of sand
Where errant balls are want to land.
Then cup’s opposite’s a clunker
Known to golfers as a bunker
.

THE OPPOSITES IN PUTTING

Fast or slow could be the query
When on a green, mad or cheery.
But then there’s also straight or not
And uphill or down to thicken the plot.
The wind as well, still or breezy
All makes putting hard not easy.

Envoy

The opposites of driving may hold less terror
But still there’s plenty of room for error.

These poems as well as all the others I’ve written in the last few years will be include in an eBook that I will soon complete and publish called If only I could play that hole again – And Other Golf Poems.

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Golf History (and More) from an Old Golf Poem about Walter J. Travis

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I am always on the lookout for old golf poetry books that I can afford. Recently I bid on a book published in England in 1905 called The Golf Craze ─ Sketches and Rhymes  by “Cleeke Shotte, Esq.” It was offered by the PBA Galleries in San Francisco. And I won it. The book was actually written by John Hogben, a member of the Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh and its captain in 1921.

Included among the rhymes was one titled “To Mr. W. J. Travis ─ Amateur Golf Champion, 1904.” For our purposes, you need to know that Walter J. Travis was born in Australia in January 1862. He came to New York City at age 23. He began playing golf in October 1896, three months short of his 35th birthday. He soon began playing competitively. Now comes the most remarkable part: In 1900, 1901, and 1903 he won the U.S. Amateur Championship; and, in 1904 he became the first American (he was by now a naturalized citizen) to win the British Amateur Championship. He went on to do many other impressive golf-related things before he died in 1927. You can read more about Travis at http://bit.ly/Q0VKvX.

The poem, though a tribute to Travis, raises a question about the “strange putter” that he used. There is also a reference to staying “the mighty war.”

To W. J. Travis
Amateur Golf Champion, 1904

The cry is still “They come!” for we may say
The lust of conquest reigns in U.S.A.
Another Cup goes Westward; ‘tis a shock
We owe, sir, to that aluminium block

That taught your golf-ball all roads lead to Rome,
And sent it straight, and far, and surely home.
There is no name whereby to call the utter
Amazement that we owe to your strange putter.

It was not thought that in our chosen game
A foreign player could make good his claim
Against the prowess of the Britisher,
Without whom neither golf nor golfer were.

Forgive me, for you know the game is ours;
We sowed the seed; the world has reaped the flowers.
Yet, after all, no grudge we owe you, for
The mimic helps to stay the mighty war.

No Frenchman are you, German, or what not
But of our generous cousin-blood begot─
Nay, I forget, for closer still the ties,
Were you not cradled under Austral skies?

The “strange putter” was the so called Schenectady Putter invented by a General Electric engineer in 1902. Travis made the putter famous when he used it in the 1902 U. S. Amateur Championship. The aluminum Schenectady Putter was mallet-headed and center shafted. Travis used it again to win the 1903 U. S. Amateur and, of course, the British Amateur in 1904. In 1910 the R & A, the ruling body for golf in Great Britain, banned the Schenectady Putter and others of similar design. The U.S.G.A. did not follow suit. But still, in light of the current controversy regarding “anchored” putters, it is interesting to note that there is a precedent for a ruling body to ban a class of putters being played.

The reference to a possible future “mighty war” foreshadows the first world war. Ironically, the one reference to the poet John Hogben that I was able to find describes him in June of 1921 presiding over the unveiling of a memorial tablet to commemorate members of his golf club who had died fighting the great war. (See http://bit.ly/NSFski)

If you have a comment, I would be pleased if you would share it below.

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Golfing Truths

A golfing truth:

Golf is changing always changing
When you’re talking balls and clubs;
But if you’re talking golfing talent
Dubs today are still just dubs.

To validate this “golfing truth” one need only consult the golf poetry of close to 100 years ago. For example, Grantland Rice, the best American sports writer of the time and also the best sports poet, wrote the following lines which are found in his book Songs of the Stalwart (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1917), and to which we can still relate.

THE LAND OF PAR

There are days when my drives wing far,
When my iron shots clear the rut;
But then when I get on the green in two
I putt and I putt and I putt.

There are days when my chip shots roll
Like a Vardon’s to the pin,
But I’ve missed my drive and I’ve taken six
At last when the putt drops in.

There are days when my putts run true
And straight to the waiting hole;
But these are the days when my mashie shots
Have shattered my aching soul.

Oh, gods of the golfer’s realm,
Over the bunkered heather,
When is the day to come when I
Hook three fine shots together?

But fortunately,

From time to time we make those shots
Instead of just imploding;
Then brief delight is our lot  
And we make like Vesuvius exploding.

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

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Less than two weeks ago, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. Choi began the day with a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.

 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 on 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.

Leon S White
July 12, 2012

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