‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’

The following appears in a description of the book A DUFFER’S HANDBOOK OF GOLF by Grantland Rice and Clare Briggs, on the Classics of Golf website.

There is no doubt “duffer” is a pejorative term. While the word’s origin is unknown, it appears in the 1800s as slang for an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person. What better word to describe a neophyte attempting golf? The first “wave” of new golfers occurred when the gutta percha ball became available in the 1850s. Its lower cost and superior durability enticed many citizens to gather a few clubs and try their hand at the sport, some woefully ignorant of the rudiments of the game. “Duffer” first appears in the golf lexicon in 1875 in Clark’s Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game, in a poem by “Two Long Spoons.”

The poem was titled “Duffers Yet,” and was written by Lord Stormonth Darling (1844-1912), a judge, a Scottish Member of Parliament for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities from 1888 to 1890, and also a golfer. Lord Darling wrote other golf related songs and verses including one called “Keep Your E’e on the Ba’.” It is subtitled, “Ballad of the Beginner,” and tells the story of when on Musselboro’s “famous old green,” Lord Darling, then no doubt a duffer, first “sought for the key to the game.”

The caddie that fell to my lot
Was old, hard of hearing, and wise;
His face had a hue that was not
Entirely the work of the skies:
He knew how the young player tries
To remember each tip all at once,
And, forgetting the vital one, sighs,
And despairs of himself as a dunce.

So, deep in his mind he had set
A rule that pervades all the rest;
‘Tis the maxim you ne’er can forget,
If you w’sh in you game to be blest:
‘Tis the greatest, the first, and the best,
The beginning and end of golf-law;
And ‘twas thus by my caddie expressed ─
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Darling, not satisfied that he had a complete answer, asked other questions. Was he standing properly? What about his grip? Should he worry about the bunker ahead?

To each query the answer I got
Was that rigid, inflexible saw
(Of deafness and wisdom begot),
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Lord Darling concludes,

Whate’er be the mark to be hit,
This truth from the caddie I draw ─
In life, as in golf, you’ll be fit
If you aye keep your e’e on the ba’

Although written more than a hundred years ago, Lord Darling’s words of advice are hard to improve upon!


The Language of Golf

The Foreword to Peter Davies’ impressive book The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms  − From 1500 to the Present begins:

No game has a richer array of terms than golf. Five hundred years of golfing have built up an extraordinary vocabulary.

Mr. Davies goes on to say,

…before 1850 when the Scots had the game to themselves: bunker, caddie, divot, links, putt, stance, stymie and tee [were] purely Scottish words…

Robert K. Risk, a Scottish writer, poet and golfer in his book Songs of the Links, first published in 1919, identifies a presumably non-Scottish writer who,

…in a magazine alleges that the terminology of golf is peculiarly repulsive, and instances “top,” “foozle,” “tee,” “stymie,” “divot,” and “bunker,” as the cacophonous offspring of a degraded invention.

Risk responded with “A Protest,”


Imprimis, I would here protest
That any who mislikes our phrases,
Our stymies, foozles, and the rest
May, go, for all I care, to blazes,
Or any more select location
Where golf terms cannot cause vexation;

Secundo, when he sets his hand
Upon so sweet a bloom as stymie,
I’d have him clearly understand
Few words so keenly gratify me;
Stymie—it pleases me to say it
Almost as much as when I lay it.

Stymie—dear word most musical:
And what man will deny that putter,
Pronounced without a “t” at all,
Is smoother far than melted butter;
And when its “t’s” are forced to duty
Putter has still a poignant beauty.

And as for foozle—what could be
More deftly onomatopoeic?
Hearing the word, assuredly
Even one who knew not Golf, would see quick
Anger, futility, despair
As of a man who beats the air.

And divot—any duffer knows—
Is the by-product of a foozle:
When to a sounder game he grows,
And pitching-clubs cease to bamboozle,
Divot, when it is cut or said
Means a half-iron shot laid dead.

And what about those minor games—
Billiards and tennis, football, cricket—
Could one invent much uglier names
Than pot and screw and lob and wicket,
Off-side and deuce and maul and sett?
More loathly words I’ve never met.

Therefore, when in a magazine,
A writer airs such views as these,
I diagnose a touch of spleen
Or failure absolute to please
The Goddess who demands our duty—
Great are Golfina’s works and ways,
And passing sweet her every phrase,
And all her words are words of beauty.


Where is Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment When Tiger Needs It?

The cartoon above filled the upper half of a full page ad that appeared in the April 1896 issue of The Golfer magazine. (Notice that “Anodyne” was misspelled. The word “anodyne” means anything that relieves distress or pain.) To sell the product the Johnson’s folks included the following eight line poem that appeared below the cartoon: (Spalding also used poetry to sell golf balls. See the Post called “Golf Ball Poetry.”)

When players versed in golfing lore,
Discuss the technique of their score,
And talk of putting, bunker, fore,
Let us suggest to them one more.

“Tis Golfer’s Elbow…and ten to nine,
We can make a cure
That is prompt and sure,—
A Liniment called Johnson’s Anodyne.

Below the poetry was the following statement:

It soothes every ache, every bruise, every cramp, every irritation, every lameness, every swelling everywhere, and speedily relieves and cures every ailment caused by inflammation. It is for INTERNAL as much as EXTERNAL use. It was originated in 1810, by Dr. A. Johnson, an old family physician, for his own practice. It is used and endorsed by athletes everywhere.

So Tiger, now that you have your MRI results, just get a few bottles of Johnson’s Anodyne, rub some on your neck, drink the rest and you should be hitting them long and straight in no time!

(Actually, according to an entry in the American Medical Association Journal (Vol. 101 # 4), Johnson’s Anodyne Liniment contained ” Alcohol (14.8 per cent), a fatty oil, oils of turpentine and camphor, ammonia, ether and water.” And its advertising claims were found to be fraudulent by the Food and Drug Administration in 1932.  So Tiger, maybe forget the advice and good luck with your treatment.)


The Prime Minister (to be) is on the First Tee

Arthur J. Balfour (1848 – 1930) was a lifetime professional politician and a long time avid amateur golfer, which left him little time for anything else. He was Captain of the North Berwick club, 1891-92 and Captain of the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews a few years later. He was called by some “the father of English golf,” most likely for his strenuous efforts to promote the game. The high point of his 50 year political career was his time as Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1902 – 1905. Earlier as the cartoon indicates, he was Irish Secretary. He was first known as a renowned philosopher, publishing A Defence of Philosophic DoubtThe Foundations of Belief , and Theism and Humanism .

Balfour the golfer (and philosopher) once wrote:

A tolerable day, a tolerable green, a tolerable opponent, supply, or ought to supply, all that any reasonably constituted human being should require in the way of entertainment. With a fine sea-view, and a clear course in front of him, the golfer should find no difficulty in dismissing all worries from his mind, and regarding golf, even , it may be, very indifferent golf, as the true and adequate end of man’s existence.

In 1894 when Captain of the R & A and following its traditions, Balfour drove off the opening ball at the Autumn Golf Meeting with his friend Tom Morris nearby. Balfour commemorated this event with a poem that will appeal to all golfers who harbor first tee trepidations.


The crisis came, at that wave-beaten place
Men called Saint Andrews in the golfing years;
Tom Morris watched me with an anxious face,
I, full of nervous fears.

Addressed the ball: the crowd had swelled in size:
Behind the ropes I saw; though scarce alive,
The stern tweed-coated men, with golfish eyes,
Waiting to see me drive.

The feat is far less easy than it seems,
Despite the rival politician’s scoff;
Indeed I marvelled what ambitious dreams
Had tempted me to golf.

For I remembered tee-shots toed and topped,
Sad moments, when the driver firmly clutched
Had done its utmost, yet the ball had stopped
Upon the tee, untouched.

This, after all, is merit’s actual test,
I thought, and other laurels matter not,
For no distinguished man can look his best
After a foozled shot.

Still, let me strike, I said, and gathered heart;
Then, with my eye fixed firmly on the ball—
That earliest canon of the Royal Art—
Drove off—and that was all.


Early Days of Golf – The “Good Wife’s” Point of View

In the early days, the preponderance of golfers were men. Below are two poems that took the “good wife’s” point of view.

The first poem was published in The American Golfer on April 21, 1923 and “celebrated” the start of golf season. (It had been published earlier in the Chicago Post.)

Dementia Linksensis

The good wife awoke in the night with a start,
She gave a wild shriek with her hand on her heart,
And fright caused her hair to stand on her head,
For their stood her Hub, at the foot of the bed.

He’d wrenched a brass rod from the bed in his trance
And there at the footboard had taken his stance.
The little brass ball at the corner he took
For the pill and was ready to give it a hook.

Quite wildly he swung with his improvised club
And banged his own head like the veriest dub;
But he showed he was an old hand, when he swore
And swung once again with a shrill cry of “Fore!”

Four was right — four light bulbs he’d broke”
When the chandelier stopped his magnificent stroke.
This stopped his endeavor; he crawled back in bed,
And while yet half awake to his wifey he said:

“I know it’s unpleasant and that sort of thing
But I always get this way along in the spring.”

The second poem continues our series “celebrating” the golf widow. This poem, “The G. W.” was written by Miriam Teichner, an American author and journalist, who early in her career wrote a daily column of verse and humor in the Detroit News. The poem appeared in the June 1916 issue of The American Golfer.


Who sits alone on sunny days
And fills her time in irksome ways?
Whose eyes are dull with sorrow’s glaze?
The G. W.

Who seems to have no place to go?
Whose holidays are filled with woe?
To whom are Sundays all too slow?
The G. W.

Who sighs, what time the days of spring
Their warm and pleasant sunshine bring.
And blossoms white their petals fling?
The G. W.

Who sits alone within the house,
Forlorn as any little mouse?
Who has been cheated of her spouse?
The G. W.

Who is the most neglected soul”
On earth, while husband—selfish mole—
In bogie makes the eighteenth hole?
The golf widow.

Of course, these poems represent historical artifacts of a time gone by. Or do they?

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