The Language of Match Play in 1504

The poem below, from a book called Lyrics of the Links compiled by Henry Litchfield West and published in 1921, ends with a clever play on words. However, to appreciate the poet’s skill requires an understanding of the language of match play scoring. By way of reference, according to Robert Browning, a noted golf historian, stroke play began in 1759. The first match play of record was between King James IV and the “Erle” of Bothuile on Feburary 3, 1504, about 605 years ago!

Browning introduces the language by example, using the match between the King and the earl:

“At the first hole the earl, let us suppose, had the longer drive, and the king would therefore be the first to play the next shot. In so doing, he would play the odd—one shot more than his opponent. The earl, let us imagine, had put his drive into a bunker a few yards further on. When he in his turn came to play his second shot he would be playing the like—the same number of strokes as his opponent. If he failed to get out, it would still be his turn to play, and this time it would be he who was playing the odd. If he still failed to get clear he would have to make yet another attempt, and this time he would be playing the two more. Say that with this shot he got clear of the bunker but still short of the [the king’s ball], and then put his ball safely on the green in the three more, the king, on coming up to play his approach, would be playing one off three, and so on. At every point at which the opponents had played an equal number of strokes for any hole, they would describe the position as being like as we lie.”

And that is the name of the poem.


Two golfers once set forth to play,
Their names are not here stated;
And one exhibited a trait
Not to be imitated.

It happened A got on the green,
Rejoicing, with his second;
But bunkered badly B was seen;
Himself unseen, he reckoned.

The useful niblick A espies,
And jets of sand in plenty;
At last upon the green B lies,
(He’d reached it just in twenty.)

With triumph B approaches A,
Whom he thinks none the wiser,
and with a voice resounding gay,
Calls out, “Like as we lie, sir.”

The face of A was good to see;
With eye to terror strike, sir,
He fixes that unblushing B,
And says, “Lie as you like, sir.”

The poem was written by an English poet, W. Maling-Wynch, Jr.

Henry LItchfield West was born in Washington D. C. in 1858 and died in 1940. At one time he was a political writer for the Washington Post.

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