“The Apple-faced Sage” and Two Enduring Swing Principles

In an earlier post, I included several stanzas from a poem by  Lord Darling called “Keep Your E’e on the Ba’.” While Darling limited his advice to a few lines of verse, Horace Hutchinson (1859-1932), 15 years Darling’s junior, published the first popular book of golf instruction, Hints on Golf in 1886. The book is described on the Classics of Golf website as “The first mass-produced instruction book in the history of golf, the 14 editions of this book are credited with popularizing the written word as a viable means of teaching.” In the Classic of Golf edition, Hutchinson is described as “undoubtedly the first Englishman to become an important figure in the game of golf,” by Herbert Warren Wind, American’s greatest golf writer.Besides being first, Hints on Golf may be the only instruction book ever to employ verse to emphasize important swing principles. Hutchinson writes,

HH 1903

Horace Hutchinson 1903

“The head must necessarily be steady, for it is most important that you should keep your eye fixedly on the ball from the moment that the club -head is lifted from the ground until the ball is actually struck. [Then following Darling} ‘Keep your eye on the ball,’ should be your companion text to ‘Slow Back.’ A golfing poet writes of

The apple-faced sage, with his nostrum for all,
‘Dinna hurry the swing! keep your e’e on the ball!'”

Next time you step up to the tee you might startle the members of your group by reciting the words of “The apple-faced sage”as part of your pre-shot routine!

But two questions remain: Who was this Scottish mentor? And who was the “golfing poet” who immortalized his versified advice? With the help of Google I can report the following:The December 1875 issue of “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine” includes an article titled “The Scot at Home,” written by John Blackwood, the magazine’s editor. In the article Blackwood reprints a long poem, “A Voice From the Rhine” with the subtitle, “On Board the Steamer Prinz Von Preussen, Between Mayence and Cologne, 17th September 1875” that was written to Blackwood and signed “L.W.M.L.” With a little more probing I found out that the poem was written by Colonel Laurence Lockhart, a novelist and writer of some fame and close friend of Blackwood. The poem speaks to Lockhart’s sadness and regret at having to miss the annual fall golf meeting at St. Andrews during which time he always stayed with Blackwood. So the golfing poet was Lockhart.

The clue regarding the identity of the sage comes in the two lines in Lockhart’s poem that precede the lines quoted above. These are

“And armies of caddies in quest of a job—
Except, of course, swells like “The Daw” or old Bob,”

So putting these two lines above the other two makes it clear that “old Bob” is “The apple-faced sage” and he is also a caddie. The identity of old Bob turns up in the biography John Blackwood written by his daughter Mrs. Gerald Porter and published in 1898. On page 185 is the following,

“As son as we arrived at St. Andrews station, then situated by the side of the Links, the first person we saw was his [John Blackwood’s] caddy, old Bob Kirk, waiting for him, with the gratifying intelligence, ‘They’re a’ expectin’ ye,’ and he [Blackwood] would hurry off to get a round before dinner.”

Oh that St Andrew’s were that open for play today!

Bob Kirk was not only a colorful St. Andrews caddy, but also a fine golfer. He came in second to Tom Morris, Jr. in the 1870 Open, and second again in 1878, this time to Jamie Anderson. “The Daw” refers to David Anderson, another illustrious St. Andrews caddy, who became famous for selling ginger beer from a stand located behind the green on the 4th hole. That hole is now called “Ginger Beer” in his memory.


  1. Thank you for sharing…..Giving me the golf bug!!

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