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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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The Essence of Golf in an Old Poem

Today (3/30) I drove by the local driving range and it was open! Always a good sign. And the afternoon temperature was above 50 degrees — another good sign. But the weather report warns of wet snow tomorrow night and Friday. And there you have it – early spring for the golfers of New England.

In the past at this time of year, I have offered spring celebration golf poetry, see “Another Golf Season Begins” and “A Springtime Exchange . . .” To start this golf season I would like you to read (out-loud and slowly if possible and more than once if you have the time) a poem “Ode to Golf” that gets at the essence of the game. The poem was written by Andrew Lang (1844 -1912), a prolific Scots poet, novelist, literary critic and appeared in a book titled, Ban and Arriere — A Rally of Fugitive Rhymes, published in 1894. [The poem makes several references to St. Andrews.]

Ode to Golf

‘Delusive Nymph, farewell!’
How oft we’ve said or sung,
When balls evasive fell,
Or in the jaws of ‘Hell,’
Or salt sea-weeds among,
‘Mid shingle and sea-shell!

How oft beside the Burn (stream),
We play the sad ‘two more';
How often at the turn,
The heather must we spurn;
How oft we’ve ‘topped and swore,’
In bent and whin and fern!

Yes, when the broken head
Bounds further than the ball,
The heart has inly bled.
Ah! and the lips have said
Words we would fain recall -
Wild words, of passion bred!

In bunkers all unknown,
Far beyond ‘Walkinshaw,
Where never ball had flown -
Reached by ourselves alone -
Caddies have heard with awe
The music of our moan!

Yet, Nymph, if once alone,
The ball hath featly fled -
Not smitten from the bone -
That drive doth still atone;
And one long shot laid dead
Our grief to the winds hath blown!

So, still beside the tee,
We meet in storm or calm,
Lady, and worship thee;
While the loud lark sings free,
Piping his matin psalm
Above the grey sad sea

The old golf poetry, well represented in this Blog, time and again makes clear how timeless the game is. One drive “featly fled” will bring us back for another round, yesterday, today or tomorrow.

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“He’ll yet a gowfer be.”


If you search my blog using the word “duffer” you will find 10 Posts out of a little over a hundred that include the term. Duffers are common on the golf course and in golf poetry as well. But what is the opposite of “duffer?” It might be the perfect golfer, except there are none. But that hasn’t stopped golf poets from musing about the possibility of playing perfect golf or what it might feel like to be a perfect golfer. In my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry, I include several poems on golf perfection. I found another, this one on a duffer’s view of perfect golf, in a book called Divots for Dubs, privately published by J. Ellsworth Schrite in 1934.

The Par Buster

I pray that some day I might be,
Allowed to step up to the tee,
And there with all my friends to see,
I’d swing–so smooth and evenly
That they, who’ve seen me in disgrace,
Would marvel at my new-found grace.
And as the ball sailed straight and true,
I’d hear them murmur: “What hit you?”

With practiced calm I’d stand and stare,
And watch the ball sail thru the air.
And when it settled to the land,
My friends would grasp me by the hand
And mutter: “Gosh! I’ve never seen,
A drive hit so near the green.”
I wouldn’t strut–I’d trudge along,
Stilling my heart from its victory song.

My second, with an iron I’d hit,
With plenty of spin to make it “sit.”
Of course, I’d be allowed to grin,
When it rolled almost to the “pin.”
I wouldn’t have to use my putter,
For, “Pick it up”, I’d hear them mutter.
From every tee I’d drive them far,
On every green I’d laugh at par.

The rough, the traps, and all that stuff,
Would see that I was good enough
To guide my ball beyond their clutch,
I’d pass them by with hooks and such.
And when the course I’d travel o’er,
I’d let my caddy add the score.”
I wouldn’t faint nor shout with glee,
If he should look with awe at me.
But how we all would celebrate,
When he shouted–sixty-eight.

I wonder, would I lose the thrill,
Playing that well–perhaps I will.
Oh well, a day dream now and then,
Gives us hope–we try again.

So in the end it is not unreachable perfection, but the hope of getting better that drives us all. John Thomson, an Scottish lawyer, golfer and poet, put this idea to verse in 1893:

See yonder lads upon the links.
Go, find a duffer there but thinks,
For a’[all] the jeers and wylie winks,
He’ll yet a gowfer be.

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“St Andrew’s Law” by Robert Browning

Much of the golf poetry in this Blog is straight-forward. You read it once, understand what the poet is trying to convey and respond with some kind of thought or emotion . . . or not. For the most part, the best of the golf-poets of the past were entertaining verse-writers who on occasion reflected their feelings for the game poetically.

A few of these poets went beyond verse writing and wrote at what might be described as a higher level. Their poetry requires more careful reading (not necessarily what Blog readers are looking for), but such reading can also be rewarding. One such golf poet is Robert H. K. Browning, a writer, golf magazine editor and golf historian who was active in the first half of the 20th century. His poetry has been included in my last two Posts.

I found Browning’s poem, “St. Andrew’s Law,” sub-titled “(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)”, in a book called On the Green edited by Samuel .J. Looker, published in 1922. The reason for “apologies” is that the poem is a parody of Kipling’s poem, “Poseidon’s Law.” Both poems include warnings about lying while recognizing the inherent inevitability of stretching the truth, whether in a sailor’s tavern or clubhouse bar. I hope you will take the time to read “St. Andrew’s Law” out-loud . . . to fully enjoy Browning’s humor, his keen understanding of golfers’ foibles and his poetic skills.

St Andrew’s Law

(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

When prehistoric swipers sliced, and blamed the sloping tee,
They got so riled, Saint Andrew smiled, and “Blasphemers,” said he,
“Henceforth the lightly made excuse shall give you no resource;
Ye may not win to act or use of falsehood on the course.

“Let Peter judge his fisher folk, whose unexamined scales
Their easy consciences provoke to all-unswallowed tales;
But ye the prickly whin shall test, the bunker shall condemn:
The gods of golfing love to jest–but do not jest with them.

“Ye may not hope with putts untrue to reach the narrow tin,
Nor cozen [bamboozle] of their lawful due the bunker and the whin,
Nor tempt with drives that are not straight the slice-avenging rough,
Nor keep your ‘good’ strokes from the fate of stokes not good enough.

“But since the twisting ball that’s bent before the rising wind
Must always meet its punishment to tell you ye have sinned,
Be yours the frank unwavering eye, the open soul that shrinks
From any though of rotten lie–while ye are on the links.”

About the rugged moorland track on which his course was laid
The cave-man kept the law intact–until his game was played;
But once the last short putt was holed to crown his heart’s desire,
Audaciously mendacious [duplicitous] strolled the cave-man to his fire.

The prehistoric head of flint adorns our clubs no more,
But still the new clubs drive a-squint, exactly as of yore;
The prehistoric stone is now the radium-centred ball,
But ah ! the prehistoric man has never changed at all.

And driven in by rain or sleet, or by the Evening Star,
He moistly occupies his seat beside the clubhouse bar
And as or yore around Stonehenge, when golf was in its youth,
The swiper takes his great revenge upon the gods of truth.

If you have the time, you might find it interesting to look at Kipling’s poem and see just how Browning went about transforming a poem about sailors to one about swipers. And here is a website for help in understanding Kipling’s lines. But don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.

 

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“Golf Dings A'”

This year  may not have been the greatest for golf, professional and otherwise, but it was a great year for golf poetry.  This Blog got more than 20,000 page views and the subject of golf poetry was featured in a May Wall St. Journal article.

Hopefully, 2011 will be an even bigger year with the publication of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, by Golfiana Press.

Some of the golf poetry of old was written by Scottish golfers who read or sung their poetry at club meetings. One of those golfers was David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, in Levin. He published his “songs and recitations” in a short book of 32 pages in 1886. Last August I wrote a Post that featured one of his poems. Jackson and the other club house poets wrote about golf with an enthusiasm, love and respect and a kind of innocence that was unique to that time. Jackson’s “Gouff Dings A'” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All” is a good example. Subtitled, “Sung at a Convivial Meeting,” here, to begin with, is the Chorus:

For Gouff dings a’, my boys, Gouff will aye ding a’
With joy we’ll swing our Clubs and Cleek, and drive the bounding Ba';
Then over bunkers, braes (hills), and bent, we’ll gang (go) out twa (two) by twa,
With hearts elate and mind content–oh, Gouff dings a’.

And here are a few of the stanzas. Remember this was sung in the 1880’s:

Oh, hoo (how) are ye a’ the nicht (night), my friends? I hope I see ye weel (well),
Yer Clubs a’ in guid (good) order; yer Cleeks and Irons like steel.
I’ve just looked in for half-an-hour to ha’e a joke or twa
About our jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

…..Chorus

The Gouff belongs to Scotland, but its spreading sure and far;
You’ll find a Golfing-Course, my boys, wherever Scotsmen are;
In Africa,in India, in America, ’tis the same,
Australia and our Colonies pay homage to the game.

…..Chorus

King James the Fourth, he loved the game; but had to put it down,
In case his men forgot the way to fight for King and Crown.
No wonder that he banned it, boys–if a’ that’s said be true,
They played the game through a’ the week, and on the Sunday, too.

…..Chorus

I met a chap the other nicht, he was looking unco (strangely) blue;
Said I, “My boy, what can annoy a lively lad like you?”
“‘Tis a’ about the Golf,” he said, while tears ran ower his cheeks,
“The wife and I have had a row, and she’s burnt my Clubs and Cleeks.”

…..Chorus

Then, let us swell the mighty throng of Princes, Lords, and Kings
Who have enjoyed the game of Golf above all other things
And wish success to every one, let him be great or sma’,
Who loves the jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

So next Friday night when you “take a cup of kindness yet,/ for auld lang syne,” take one as well for  David Jackson and the game he describes so lovingly.

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Another Poem for a Winter’s Day

Last December I published a post titled “Golf Poetry for a Winter’s Day.” It included a poem called “Retrospection.” If you want a succinct description of the essence of golf, I encourage you to click here and read (better recite) the last two stanzas.

This December’s poem for a winter’s day is called “A Dirge for Summer.” It was written by Robert Risk, a Scottish poet and golfer, and appeared in his book, Songs of the Links, published in 1919.

A DIRGE FOR SUMMER

Gone are the days when by the swinging sea
We lounged and smoked between two sunny rounds,
Gone are the times of loitering by the tee;
The summer has been driven out of bounds–
No penalty is writ in white and black,
Whereby we are allowed to call it back.

Gone are the jocund evenings when we start,
High-tea’d and confident of light and weather,
Forgetful of the office and the mart,
Of debts and duns and the Golf-maniac’s blether;
Those perfect evenings, clear, and dry, and bright,
Have vanished wholly in the Ewigkeit. [eternity]

Gone is the crowd about the starter’s box,
And no one waits to-day at those short holes,
Where the procrastinating putter mocks
The men behind and harrows up their souls;
Void the grey town o’scarlet down and cleek
(I’ve half a mind to go there for a week).

For now, we must from Saturday to Saturday
Neglect our game–a week’s a weary time–
And each one brings a coorser and a watter day
(Kindly excuse a Caledonian rhyme),
For we are entered on the Golfer’s Lent,
The season of his deepest discontent.

Yet on the dim horizon looms afar,
No larger than the neatest niblick head,
A little scintillating, faithful star,
Though over all the heavens is darkness spread;
Through all the winter waste it sends a greeting,
The constellation of Next Year’s Spring Meeting.

When I read this poem it makes me think that over the last 100 years the game has changed much more than its players.

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Announcing Golfiana Press and its First Book

George Fullerton Carnegie, “The Poet Laureate of St. Andrews” in an earlier Post, collected several of his poems in a book he called “Golfiana – or Niceties Connected with the Game of Golf.” The book was first published privately in 1833. Carnegie dedicated his poetic effort to “Members of all Golfing Clubs, and to those of St. Andrews and North Berwick in particular.”

I am happy to announce the start of a new publishing venture,  Golfiana Press, which has been established to once again make gift books featuring historical golf poetry available to golfers everywhere. The first book to be published by Golfiana Press will be Golf Course of Rhymes – Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages (Foreword by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.). Golf Course of Rhymes will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles mid-April, 2011. I will keep you up to date through this Blog and my Tweets.

Golf Course of Rhymes is laid out like a golf course. It begins with a Practice Tee (the Introduction); continues with 18 Holes (Chapters), each with a name that describes its content or theme; and ends at the19th Hole where the reader can relax after “playing” the course. Distinct from an anthology, a typical hole, in addition to humorous and poignant verses, includes stories and comments that put the poems in context.

The Course includes Holes with names such as “St. Andrews,” “Agonies and Frustrations,” “Great and Not So Great Moments,” “Golf Dreams” and “The Women’s Game.” The fanciful fairways and greens contain the works of more than 45 poets including Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, “the late Sheriff Logan,” Charles “Chick” Evans, Sarah Cleghorn, Grantland Rice and Ring Lardner. A majority of the 100 plus poems come from little known books and magazines published in America, England and Scotland before 1930.

Please stay tuned!

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A Wife’s Place in the Golf World of 1886

Last November I wrote a Post that included a poem from the Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, David Jackson. The poem came from a 32 page book called Golf Songs & Recitations published in 1886. In my November Post I said that the book was not available in any library. I have since learned that one copy exists in the library of the University of British Columbia. I managed to find a 1988 reproduction of the book.

I picked up Jackson’s book again recently and found a relatively short epic poem called “The Breaking O’ the Clubs.” The poem describes the tensions that golf created between a man and his wife in the 1880’s when golf was becoming more popular among the rank and file. In writing the poem, Jackson used some Scottish dialect which I have tried to translate using Internet sources. The poem is interesting both for its lively content and its “happy” ending.

THE BREAKING O’ THE CLUBS

Ae nicht (One night) I had a round at Gouff wi’ my cronies, Bob and Tam,
When we were through, to weet our mou’, some ane (one) proposed a dram;
Sae down we sat, and had a chat about our Drives and Putting—
Wi’ (with) joke and sang, it wisna lang till it was time for shutting.
Then hame I goes on my tiptoes, but ah! the wife was waken.
“The morn,” she cries, “afore ye rise, I’ll ha’e yer Clubs a’ (all) broken;
Ye gang tae (go to) Gouff, it’s a’ your houff, and then ye maun (must) be drinking,
Some morning when ye canna rise, ye’ll get the sack, I’m thinking;
Whaur wull you be, the bairns (children) and me—oh, man, ye should think shame,
If I should rise and break yer Clubs, I woudna be to blame.”
To bed I sprung, and held my tongue, thinks I before the morrie,
For a’ this lung and words high-strung she surely will be sorry.

When morning dawned, I wakened, yawned, was pulling on a stockin’,
When horrors, a’! what was I saw – my Clubs and Cleeks a’ broken.
As guid (good) a Club as e’er was swung, I won at last Spring Meetin’,
My driving Cleek, my lofting Iron, a’ tools that ne’er were beaten,
How aft I’ve praised their style o’ mak’, and rubbed wi’ oil their handle,
It’s quite enough to drive me mad, and raise a perfit scandal.
I fumed and swore, and loud did roar, and kicked up such a shindy
The neebors gathered round the door, and some glowered through the window.

“Shall I give up the Gouff for this, and frae (from) my Clubmates sever,
I tell ye plainly to yer face ye needna think it—never;
Fareweel to a’, for I’m awa, my peace wi’ you is ended,
Unless ye gang (go) this very day, and get thae Clubs a’ mended.”
I left the house in awful scorn, their cries to come back spurning,
My heart wi’ grief and anger torn, my brain wi’ rage near turning.
That was a dull and dreary day, to breathe seemed quite a labour,
I coudna sing a lilt, or say a word to my next neebor.
When I came hame frae wark that night, my heart a’ wives reviling
Wha’s (Whose) was the first that met my sicht—my ain (own) and she was smiling.
“Oh, come awa, I’m awfu’ glad that this long day is ended,
For I ha’e been at Patrick’s, lad, and got yer Clubs a’ mended;
And there’s a Club I bought for you – he said ’twas special made, man,
The wale (choice) o’ wud, a powerfu’ shaft, and bonnie driving head, man.
Forgi’e me noo.” “I will, my doo.” And bright her face did shine;
And ever since ye coudna ha’e a better wife than mine.

Though somewhat over the top, this story is probably representative of male golfers’ attitudes in the 1880’s.

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Remembering Tom Watson at the 2009 Open

Just after last year’s British Open I wrote a poem to commemorate Tom Watson’s memorable performance. Since then I have revised the poem slightly. You might also enjoy the poem I wrote about Doug Sanders at the 1970 Open.

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.

And did he ever!

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The Poet Laureate of St Andrews

George Fullerton Carnegie was born near St. Andrews, Scotland in 1800.  In 1833 he privately published a small book of poetry called Golfiana. The first edition included three poems, the first, “Address to St. Andrews” and third, “The First Hole at St. Andrews on a Crowded Day.”

Carnegie, who could be described as the poet laureate of St. Andrews in his time, had a passion for golf which continued to his death in 1851. In his later years he was a friend of Tom Morris. This is how Carnegie, a short man, described himself:

That little man that’s seated on the ground
In red, must be Carnegie. I’ll be bound.
A most conceited dog, not slow to go it
At golf, or anything a sort of poet.

In 1842, a third edition of Golfiana was published that included another poem about St. Andrews called “Another Peep at the Links.” The last stanza of this poem might be described as Carnegie’s final tribute to the course he loved.

And now farewell! I am the worse for wear—
Grey is my jacket, growing grey my hair!
And, though my play is pretty much the same,
Mine is, at best, a despicable game.
But still I like it—still delight to sing
Club, players, caddies, balls, everything.
But all that’s bright must fade! and we who play,
Like those before us, soon must pass away;
Yet it requires no prophet’s skill to trace
The royal game thro’ each succeeding race;
While on the tide of generations flows,
It still shall bloom, a never-fading rose:
And still St. Andrews Links, with flags unfurl’d,
Shall peerless reign, and challenge all the world!

Though written long ago, this is the St. Andrew Links that will yet again soon host another Open Championship.

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