A Springtime Exchange Between a Golf Poet and his Editor

Robert K. Risk's book, Songs of the Links (1919), includes the following timely exchange between Risk, the golf poet, and and Garden G. Smith (1860-1913) the editor of Golf Illustrated, the British weekly, for many years and an important contributor to the literature of the game. (Risk's poem has been slightly shortened.)


Bid me write and I will write
Of club and ball and tee,
Trusting the matter I indite
Will be approved by thee.

Bid me to stay my pen and I
Will muzzle it with grace,
Regarding not impatiently
Regretted "lack of space."

But when you hint that I should do
Some verse concerning Spring,
That, I must frankly caution you,
Is quite another thing.

Although not disinclined to sing,
No poet can ignore
That all that can be sung of Spring
Has been well sung before.

Therefore, should I to platitude
And outworn phrase incline,
The brickbats thrown by readers rude
Are yours, dear sir, not mine.

In Spring we walk the daisied links
Where lively lambkins leap—
Too few of them, one sadly thinks,
Will ever grow to sheep.

In Spring a brighter glitter shines
On the well-burnished cleek,
But still we do 5-holes in 9's
Though playing thrice a week.

In Spring the chronic topper dreams
Of getting down to scratch,
Of being picked in all Club teams,
And winning every match.

In Spring we cease to argufy
About the "best-length hole,"
Which simply means the one that I
Enjoy—and you can't hole.


'Tis Spring that whets our appetite
For Three weeks' solid golf,
Though ere the third week is in sight
We shall be direly "off."

In Spring the poet is supposed
Keenly his lyre to tune;
But here these verses are foreclosed,
For I am off to Troon.

And here is the editor Garden G. Smith's response:



'Tis bitter sad the poets should
There work neglect for sport,
Wile Mr. Risk plays golf at Troon,
I am two verses short.

May bunkers trap his longest shots,
May rabbit holes annoy him;
And if this here occurs again
I'm blowed if I'll employ him.


Six Tweets to Better Putting

J. H. Taylor putting

There seems to be general agreement that the first printed book of golf instruction was The Golfer’s Manual, By a Keen Hand, written by H. B. Farnie and published in 1857. Since then instruction has grown to be one of the major products of the golf industry. These days it is still packaged in books, but also in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, blogs, videos, YouTube clips and tips. In addition, instruction is sold to individuals and groups by thousands of teaching pros.

But in today’s busy world, there is a need for the “short and sweet” in golf instruction. With that in mind I offer a 12 line verse that packages the essence of what you need to know to become a better putter. And if you are put off by poetry, just think of this guide as six putting tweets.

Six Tweets to Better Putting

Line up and trust when putting
Head still a must when putting

A rhythmic swing
Is just the thing when putting

Get rid of fear
At least be near when putting

All are agreed
The first rule is speed when putting

The foremost key when putting

The best advice
Don’t think twice when putting.

Leon S. White, March 2010


Golf’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

This week’s poem is by an English golfing poet though his name is unknown. It appeared in a book called Mr. Punch on the Links which consists of golf stories, cartoons, and poems from the British magazine “Punch.” The book was published around 1930.  “Punch,” a magazine of humour and satire, ran from 1841 until its closure in 2002.

The poem provides a gentle warning to two kinds of golfers; the first who is only too willing to tell it all after a match and the second who give the first the opportunity.

The Retort Imaginary

SIR, for the information you’ve imparted,
The prompt outspokenness of your reply,
Ranging from that fine drive with which you started
To the long putt by which you won the bye,
With details of the bunkers, whins and banks
Which you surmounted, pray accept my thanks.

I’ve no excuse now, with the facts before me,
For ignorance, no reasonable ground
For doubt as to the hole that saw you dormy,
Or where your victim finally was drowned.
‘Twas kind to give a confidence so free
To a mere casual listener like me.

You’ve told me of the pair in front that beckoned
For you to pass, then found the ball and played
(At the fourth hole) which made you miss your second;
You’ve told me of the stymies you were laid,
And indicated just exactly where
You lifted from the ground under repair.

That chip that got a bad kick at the seventh;
The ninth (the short hole), where you hit the pin;
That run-up shot that won you the eleventh;
The thirteenth where the ball just trickled in—
You’ve made it all quite clear, and it was nice
To know you’ve cured that tendency to slice.

I’m quite convinced you’ve done the best you can, Sir;
Ungrudgingly you’ve given me, I know,
A comprehensive categoric answer
To my brief question of an hour ago;
But it was mere politeness, all the same,
That made me say, “Well, Jones, how goes the game?”


If Johnny Cash Had Been a Golfer

I saw Johnny Cash and the original Tennessee Two live in the late ’50’s. I was a fan then and still am.

Michael Streissguth, in Johnny Cash: the biography, tells us that Cash had a vacation home in Jamaica on a golf course. He didn’t play but he did ride around on in his golf cart from time to time and “swipe golf balls from the rich golfers.” He’d give “buckets full” of balls to poor Jamaican kids so they could sell them back to the golfers!

A number of singers were or are  golfers. Bing Crosby heads a list that includes Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Don Cherry, Glen Campbell, Vince Gill, Kenny G, Justin Timberlake, Anne Murray, Celine Dion and many others.

But what if Johnny Cash had been a golfer. My thoughts below.

If Johnny Cash Had Been a Golfer

If Johnny Cash had been a golfer
He might have sung about
Seein’ the line instead of walkin’ it.

If Cash had played the game
He might have wrote about
Shootin’ par instead of guns.

If Johnny Cash had been a golfer
There would have been
Two men in black instead of one.

Had Cash played golf with the Tennessee Two
They’d have worried about
Puttin’ as well as pickin’.

Walkin’ the fairways Cash would have hummed:
“Get Rhythm” ─ his swing thought,
“I guess Things Happen That Way” ─ his excuse,
A “Great Speckled Bird” ─ always his hope.

And can you imagine Johnny Cash
With his voice
Yellin’ “Fore?”

Cash would have worried about the caddies,
And how they were treated.
About the poor kids,
And their chances of every playin’.
He might even have pleaded for a few holes
At Folsom Prison.

It’s too bad Johnny Cash never golfed.
Think of the great musical golf stories
He’d have left us
To lift us,
Good round or bad.

Leon S White, March , 2010


More Match Play Poetry

A few weeks ago I wrote a Post about the switch from match to stroke play that occurred about 100 years ago. More recently I came across the following statement by a CBS Sports writer (originally from England) named Ross Devonport.

Match play. Ahhh…the purest form of golf. There’s nothing better than watching to guys going head-to-head over 18 or 36 holes, taking risks instead of being worried about not making the cut and playing conservatively.

I actually think Devonport got it wrong. Watching the Accenture on TV last week was, by the last round, reduced to watching a few shots squeezed in between advertisements. What’s better would be to engage in a friendly game of match play from time to time and leave the score cards with the starter. But when was the last time someone came up to you at your local course and asked “do you want a match?”  Maybe in Scotland, but not in the U.S. Or am I wrong?

Matches of all kinds were certainly played at the Old Course in St. Andrews in the 1920’s. And for some undetermined reason, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club recommended at that time with regard to such matches that “all sympathetic handicapping should be discontinued.” This advisory inspired a wily golf poet to respond with the following tale:

Out of Sympathy

Neuritis was Jones’s trouble, plus a cold and a hacking cough,
When he found his way to the links one day and fancied a round of golf;
I was practising on the putting-green, failing to get them down,
When he hoarsely crooked, “Do you want a match?”—and the stakes were half-a-crown.

“Of course,,” said Jones, “as I’m far from fit I shan’t give you a game;
Unless I receive some extra strokes I’m afraid you’ll find it tame;
I don’t suppose I shall hit a ball (he choked); you’re sure to win”
So I gave him a half instead of a third, with a couple of bisques thrown in.

Taking the honor I promptly sliced into a clump of gorse,
While poor old Jones with terrible groans drove a peach straight down the course;
I got well out and snatched a five (which might have been much more);
He topped his second and fluffed his third, then holed his approach for a four.

I reached the green from the second tee and murmured, “Good Enough!”
Jones pushed his off (he had to cough!) to the right and was lucked in the rough;
His approach pulled up on the edge of the green, but his putt, though a trifle brisk,
Dropped in, and he said, when my second lay dead, “My hole! I shall take a bisque.”

From there to the turn, whatever I did, the bunkers took their tolls,
While Jones, though suffering awful pain, continued to take the holes;
He was “dormie nine,” and he won the tenth by laying a chip-shot dead;
“The match!” he moaned with a sickly smile and “Double or quits,” I said.

The rest of the tale is steeped in gloom too deep to describe in rhyme;
He won the bye and the bye-bye too—we’d double or quits each time;
With a look resigned and a permanent where he took the well-known road
To the “nineteenth hole,” four half-crowns “up” and—SYMPATHY BE BLOWED!

The poem originally came from the magazine Punch, and appeared in The American Golfer on May 7, 1921. The term “bisque” is a handicap stroke in match play that can be taken at any hole nominated by the player who receives it. And “the bye” refers to a hole or holes remaining if the match is won before the 18th hole.

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