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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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Verses for Bubba, The Master’s Champion

A lot has been written about the new Master’s champion, Bubba Watson, since he put on his first green jacket. But unlike, a hundred years ago, it’s all prose and no poetry. So I’ve turned back the clock with a few verses to celebrate his well deserved and colorful victory.

Bubba’s Way 

Bubba doesn’t mind confessin’
He’s got this far without a lesson
But what’s the lesson in the tale
To the top, more than one trail.

Bubba’s Swing

Bubba’s swing is nice an’ breezy
Makes his monster shots look easy
But with that driver you’re tempted to think
They’ve got to go longer because it’s pink.

Bubba’s Shot 

About BW 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.

Bubba’s Game

Hit it and find it, that’s his game
To walk that far you’d have to train
And with his flat stick he might sink
Every putt…were it too pink!

Leon S White (golfpoet)

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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 1)

April is Poetry Month, so why not a Post focusing of some of what I’ve learned about golf poetry.

In doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, I found that the earliest poem known to include a reference to golf was called “The Muses Threnodie” by Henry Adamson, published in Edinburgh in 1638. Some have argued that Shakespeare preceded Adamson. For example, here is King Lear on pressing: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” But, I think we’ll stick with Adamson.

Possibly the first poem devoted entirely to golf was found in a 1687 diary entry of an Edinburgh medical student, Thomas Kincaid. In 12 lines, Kincaid establishes himself as golf’s first swing instructor. The poem begins,

Grip fast stand with your left leg first not farr
Incline your back and shoulders but beware
You raise them not when back the club you bring

The complete poem is included in my book. I found it in a wonderful reference book on early golf history called A Swing Through Time by Olive M. Geddes, a Senior Curator in the National Library of Scotland. The “triumvirate” of early golf poems is completed with The Goff,” a 358-line mock-heroic poem written by an Thomas Mathison and published in book form first in Edinburgh in 1743. The Goff is thought to be the first book entirely devoted to golf.

As golf developed in Scotland and then in England, golf poetry developed as well. One of great golf poets of the first half of the 19th century was George Fullerton Carnegie, a member of St. Andrews. His poetry is included in a book edited by Robert Clark called Golf: A Royal & Ancient Game. One of Carnegie’s poems, “Address to St. Andrews” begins,

St. Andrews! They say that thy glories are gone,
That thy streets are deserted, thy castles o’erthrown;
 If they glories be gone, they are only, methinks,
As it were, by enchantment, transferr’d to thy Links.

In 1886, David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Scotland, published a 32 page pamphlet/book called Golf – Songs & Recitations. You can search this Blog for three Posts that include poems that Jackson wrote. A few years earlier in 1873, Thomas Marsh, described as the poet-laureate of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, privately published a small book called Blackheath Golfing Lays. A rare 1st edition copy recently sold for $8400.

In my opinion, one of the best golf poets of the 19th-early 20th century, was the Scottish writer, poet and drama critic, Robert K. Risk. In 1919 he published a book of 36 golf poems called Songs of the Links with illustrations by H.M. Bateman, a famous British cartoonist. I was fortunate to win a copy of Risk’s book at auction three years ago. Risk was a golfer, as were virtually all of the golf poets of this time  Only a golfer, Risk in this case, could write lines such as these,

Here, with an open course from Tee To Tee,
 A Partner not too dexterous – like Thee—
Beside me swiping o’er Elysian Fields,
And Life is wholly good enough for Me.

Other British golfer-poets of Risk’s time included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling (born in India), Andrew Lang, better known for his children’s fairy tale books, Robert H. K. Browning (not that Browning) and John Thomson who wrote a wonderful short book called A Golfing Idyll under the pseudonym “Violet Flint.” The book, subtitled The Skipper’s Round with the Deil (Devil) On the Links of St. Andrews, was first published privately in 1892.

In my research I discovered one golf poet of the time, Harry Vardon, who may have borrowed the verse he offered to an auction during World War One. This story can be found in an earlier Post and also in my book.

Golf poetry was also being written in the United State and Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the best American golf poets was Grantland Rice, the first dean of American sports writing. Rice wrote hundreds of poems about many sports, wrote prose and poetry for a number of New York City papers and was editor an early golf magazine, American Golfer, in the 1920’s. Among the many golf poems Rice wrote, here is one of his shortest:

The bloke who lifts his well known dome
Will let it hang when he starts home.
And he who finds missed puts are rife
Is no companion for a wife.

Other American golfer-poets, contemporaries of Rice, include Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr., the great amateur player, Tom Bendelow, an important early American golf architect, who wrote a parody of “Casey at the Bat” called “Hoo Andra Foozled Oot,” Ring Lardner, one of American’s best short story writers, the Chicago Tribune columnist Bert Leston Taylor, and a New York lawyer, Norman Levy.

I also discovered three Canadian poets: Edward Atherton, who wrote a song called “Far and Sure” in 1901; W. Hastings Webling; and a Montreal judge, writer and poet, Robert Stanley Weir, who was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem.

Outside of Scotland, England, the United States and Canada, I have found only one golf poet. His name was Barton “Banjo” Paterson from Australia. The poem he wrote is called “The Wreak of the Golfer” but he was much more famous for writing “Waltzing Matilda.”

If you know of any golf poetry by poets from other countries, for example, Ireland, India or France, please leave a comment with the reference or poem. And to read poems by most of the poets mentioned above, please consult my book.

Note: Part 2, focuses on the question: who reads golf poetry?

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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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A Not So Happy New Year from Golf Illustrated 1900

New Years 1900 for the English was not all happiness. The second Boar War was under way between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the  Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. The war did not end until 1902 when the Boer republics became British colonies. These colonies later became part of the Union of South Africa.

Golf Illustrated, a new English golf weekly, greeted 1900 by beginning its January 5th edition with a poem and a few hopeful and sober remarks.

A gude (good) New Year an’ health an’ cheer,
Tae ilka (To every) gowfin’ loon,
An’ may we steer o’ hazards clear,
In life and gowf each roun’.

*             *             *

Another round in the great game of life has now commenced. Let us hope that 1900 will have fewer bunkers in store for us than 1899.

*             *             *

“Ring out the Old, Ring in the New!” seems to be a singularly appropriate sentiment this particular New Year time. We have a long and heavy score to wipe off in South Africa before we can settle down in peace and comfort of mind to our ordinary avocations.

*             *             *

We have made the mistake, as common in Golf as in life, of under-estimating our adversary, who, instead of being a third-rate performer, has turned out to be a veritable Colonel Bogey.

*             *             *

The game, however is yet young. We have now fairly got the measure of our man, and a few more holes will put a very different complexion on affairs.

*             *             *

“Ring out the Old, Ring in the New!”

*             *             *

By the time the Championships are here, there ought to be some golfers in Pretoria.

A golf related footnote to the war: Freddie Tait, a highly regarded amateur, winner of the Amateur Championship in 1896 and 1898, fighting as a member of the second battalion of the Black Watch, died in battle on February 7, 1900. To honor his memory, The Freddie Tait Cup is awarded annually to the leading amateur in the South African Open.

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