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.


  1. I love your website. You ought get hold of a wonderful book of poems, published by Black Rose in Texas, called “The Kiss that Caused my Slice.”

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