Golf’s rise in popularity in the early years of the 20th century coincided with early efforts in mass marketing and advertising of brand names. One of the first products with brand names was soap. These names included Ivory, Pears, Colgate and Sapolio. An early marketing genius (not the humorist) named Artemas Ward(1848 – 1925) made Sapolio a household name by depicting the product in fanciful scenes and using parodies of well known poems to sing its praises. Time Magazine described Sapolio as “probably the world’s best advertised product” in its heyday.
Sapolio was the WD-40 of its day. One ad identified ways to use Sapolio in every room in the house. Ward or a colleague found it could be used to clean golf clubs. The above ad to spread that message appeared in the February 1901 issue of the magazine Golf. Appropriately the verse is a parody from the poem “Comin Thro’ The Rye” by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796). Ward may have been a duffer but he was no dummy.
I don’t know how often Sapolio was advertised in golf magazines, but I did find a later reference in the June 1909 issue of The American Golfer. A subscriber (could it have been Ward?) wrote,
“There are some golfers who think that clean irons are desirable; among these there are a few who have wondered whether there is not some better way of cleaning than to set a caddie or one’s self to chasing sandpaper up and down.
“I have found that a little hot water and sapolio applied with a brush right after through playing, and then the irons wiped with liquid vaseline or Glycerinum Petria, which I guess is liquid vaseline, will do the work and please the most exacting. The Glycerinum will also do on the shafts and wooden heads with more good to the varnish than harm.”
This is one of the oddest links between golf and poetry so far.