Who Wrote Harry Vardon’s Poetry?

Taylor, Braid and Vardon

Taylor, Braid and Vardon

The “Foreign Notes” section of the March 1917 issue of The American Golfer includes an unexpected connection between several famous English golfers, the First World War and golf poetry. The British correspondent to the magazine, Henry Leach, wrote that four of England’s greatest golfers, Harry Vardon, J. H. (John Henry) Taylor, James Braid, and Alexander Herd (who beat Vardon and Braid to win the 1902 British Open championship), were asked to write four line poems that as a group would be “disposed of in the way of a lottery for the benefit of one of the war funds.” The poems were written, framed and delivered to the Mid-Surrey Golf Club where the lottery took place.

During a 21 year period, from 1894 to 1914, one or another of these four golfers won the Open a total of 17 times, Vardon six, Taylor and Braid each five, and Herd once. However, as golfer-poets, none of the four would have made the cut.

But Vardon’s poem proves interesting in a different way.

His poem read as follows,

He should wear an angel’s wings
Who paths of truth hath trod.
When left alone with just two things-
His Score Card and his God.

In response to these lines, Leach wrote,

“This is tremendous. There is hardly anything like it in the whole library and history of poetry. Only, as practical men we wonder why one is less liable to speak or think the truth about one’s own score when alone than at any other time, for that seems to be what is meant.”

Well, it turns out that Leach was right when he added “hardly” before “anything.” An American poet and short story writer named Douglas Malloch wrote a poem called “Golf” that appeared in the September 1912 issue of The American Golfer, four and a half years earlier than Vardon’s. The fourth stanza of his poem is as follows,

It is a game of honor, too,
That tries the souls of men.
It’s easy in the public view
To all be honest then;
But he deserves an angel’s wings
Who paths of truth has trod
When left alone with just two things-
His score card and his God.

So who wrote Harry Vardon’s poem? The likely answer is that Vardon passed off the poetry writing assignment to a more literate associate. Since Vardon left school at the age of 12 his acquaintance with poetry would have been minimal. And apparently, his collaborator leafing through old issues of The American Golfer found Malloch’s poem and with slight changes gave Vardon his needed four lines.

As to the lottery, Leach did not report on whether or not it was a success.


  1. […] golfers, the history of golf begins with the 1913 U.S. Open won in a playoff by Francis Ouimet over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. The author Mark Frost marks this event as “the birth of Modern Golf” in […]

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