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.


  1. […] earlier this year, “A Poetic Response to the Rise of Medal Play in 1912” and “More Match Play Poetry,” I wrote about the controversy regarding the switch to medal play that occurred around the […]

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