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A Weighty Golf Observation

 

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As a avid golfer, I enjoy watching the pros on TV. Also as a retired healthcare professional with a long-time interest in lifestyle change, I observe the fans as well as the professionals. I was at the Deutsche Bank Championship last Saturday and felt compelled to put my thoughts to verse.

A Weighty Golf Observation

Does golfing make a golfer fat?
Bet no one’s ever thought of that.

But at each tourney ‘round every tee,
Heavy fans the majority.

We all know that golf breeds tension;
Could that alone cause waist extension?

Or is it just too much ball beating
That leads to all that carb overeating?

Could be the booze at 19th holes
That tallies untidy belly rolls.

But picking on duffers is really unfair;
Too many heavies everywhere.

Obesity’s become too big to ignore.
Solution as allusive as a lower golf score.

Still nothing done, no answers found,
Soon there’ll be less golfers around.

            Leon S White, PhD

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Oakmont, W.C. Townes and a Missing Poem “Found”

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W.C. Fownes

The Oakmont Country Club, site of this year’s United States Open, has a long and colorful history. It was designed and built in 1903 by a Pittsburgh industrialist, Henry Clay Fownes. But Fownes, apparently anticipating longer balls and better clubs, laid out an extremely difficult, bunker-laden course. Henry, known as “H.C.” and his son William Clark Fownes, Jr., named for his uncle and known as “W.C.”, who together managed the course,were determined to make even the best golfers work hard to make pars, let alone birdies.

Two tales, one apocryphal and the other true, illustrate the role the W.C. played in keeping Oakmont on the edge. The two stories also mark two different time periods, the first in 1915 when poetry was often used to poke fun at something or somebody; the second in 1945, when a poetic opportunity was missed for lack of a verse writer.

The first story was told in verse at first banquet hosted by members of the Midiron Club on February 2, 1915 at the Hotel Schenley in Pittsburgh. The club itself consisted of 25 members, officials from local clubs including both H.C. and W.C. The banquet brought together “four hundred of the country’s most noted golfers and sportsmen, many of who had journeyed from far distant points to be present at the festal board.” The quote is from an article in the February 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America.  The article goes on to describe a raucous evening of entertainment by the members, including the following song to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which included these final seven line,

We may be short on science
  As we stand upon the tee,
And dig a thousand divots
  As we wander o’er the lea,’’
But when it comes to singing
  We’ve got bogey up a tree,
As the Midiron marches on.

After the song, some members of the club put on a skit. (Not ever being a member of a private club, I cannot comment on current practice.) The setting was “The Tom Morris Golf School.” The skit took the form of a question and answer session in which one of the members, W. H. Duff, a prominent Pittsburgh lawyer, played the role of the teacher. The script begins with the first of the two stories I referenced above, the one told in verse,

“Teacher: Willie Costin (another member), have you any criticism to make of the Oakmont Country Club?

Pupil: You bet I have and it is in poetry. Here it is:

Bill Fownes stood by a green one day,
When someone holed in four;
“I’ll put a stop to that,” said he,
“I’ll build two bunkers more.”
And sure enough he build them both,
Where they could sure be seen;
The first one right before the tee,
The other on the green.”

So W.C.’s reputation as a bunker builder was well established in the Club’s early years.

Fast forward to 1945 when Oakmont hosted a World War II Bond exhibition match. In a practice round, Sam Snead, one of the star attractions, discovered an alternate route to No. 7 and hit his tee shot to the right. He ended up making a birdie. The next day, satisfied with his ploy, he hit the same drive again and much to his surprise found his ball in a brand-new bunker. He made a bogey. It turned out that the superintendent had called W.C. and W.C. had ordered a new bunker to be built before daybreak. A great story, just waiting for a poet’s touch.

It’s now 71 years later, but I can’t resist a try at filling in that blank.

W.C.’s Revenge

In ‘45
At an Oakmont match,
The Slammer saw the light;
At the 7th a bird,
Routine shots deferred,
Instead a drive to the right.

The next day Snead
Again aimed right
And hit his drive but then;
The exact same shot
In a sand trap caught,
W.C. had struck again.

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The Joys of Life and Golf

I have now been writing this Blog for five years. I began with a discovery –  an unknown literature of golf poetry – and a thought that it would be nice to share some of the best of these poems with other avid golfers. Along the way I decided to include some of my poetry as well.

I am pleased to say that over the five years this tiny space on the Internet has attained more than 100,000 page views from more than 120 countries. I am very grateful for all of you who have come and have encouraged others to try the site as well.

In this year-end Post I would first like to share with you a short poem by Robert Frost that I enjoyed and have re-read several times. I include it as an example of how poetry like music can immediately make you feel better.

Dust of Snow
Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

After reading Frost’s poem I thought of a poem that I wrote called “On Course” where I tried to create a feeling of joy about playing the game of golf. I hope you will enjoy it.

On Course
Leon S White, PhD

Golf is a singular way
to take temporary leave
following a zigzag path
in search of a small white ball;

to abandon reality,
but stay the course,
hole after hole;

to create a new story,
always different
to be told to someone
before it’s forgotten.

An extraordinary chance
to pretend for a brief time
no matter how unskilled
that each stroke will be flawless;

to endure the pain of failure
without really failing,
and even if only once a round,

to truly enjoy
the pure pleasure
of hitting the ball rock-solid
or sinking a long tricky putt.

“On Course” is included in both of my books, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages and If Only I Could Play That Hole Again.

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The Fair-Weather Golfer

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Living in a four-seasons climate such as New England, I have always thought that knowing you can only play golf from say April to November is an incentive the play when you have the chance. On the contrary, I imagine that in places where the weather is always “playable” golfers might more easily postpone a round knowing that there’s always tomorrow.

 I wrote the following verses to raise this question. I would welcome any comments you might have.

The Fair-Weather Golfer

Play golf in New England
And you have to prepare
To get to the course
When the weather is fair.

But  play in a place
Where the weather’s not rotten
It’s easy to be sidetracked
And your golf game forgotten.

So is –

The fair-weather golfer
More likely to play
Where there’s snow half the year
Or sun every day?

Leon S White

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Magnets of the Fairway

I play golf on a town-owned 9-hole course called Pine Meadows in Lexington, MA. Over the past 27 years I’ve gotten to know the course well. The layout includes  several attractions or should I say “attractors,” that generally reek havoc with players’ drives: the tree on the 8th fairway, the pond that cuts across the 5th and 9th holes and the sand trap in the middle of the first fairway (until it was removed).

The other day on the 8th tee, I watched golfers hit their balls where they always seem to hit them —  towards the imposing tree.  And on the 9th, the pond was collecting balls as usual. As we all know, this doesn’t just happen at my course.  So I concluded that such a ubiquitous phenomenon is worthy of poetic reflection. My effort is called “Magnets of the Fairway.

 MAGNETS OF THE FAIRWAY

Magnet are mostly made of steel
In golf: sand, water or wood.
When looking at these fairway lures,
The pre-shoot does no good.

On tees with trees control is lost
No matter how you bat it.
The only way to miss a tree
May be to aim right at it.

Sand traps also play a role
Attracting errant shots.
The magnet-makers in this case—
The golf-inventing Scots.

I wish I had a dollar bill
For every tree branch hit.
I’d use the sum to bribe the Keep
To grass each sandy pit.

A third attraction, stream or pond,
On fairways, far from rare.
The only way to circumvent—
Stay totally unaware.

For a holiday trip, sand and trees,
Even a water-fall.
But when you find them on a course,
They’re just magnets to draw your ball.

Leon S White
July 7, 2011

 

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Golf Poetry by Robert H. K. Browning

Robert Browning (1812-1889) was a famous English poet. Robert H. K. Browning (1884-?) was a scholarly golf historian from Scotland who was the editor of  “Golfing,” the premier British golf periodical, from 1910 to 1955. H.K Browning’s major claim to fame is his book, “A History of Golf,” which the late Herbert Warren Wind described as “…far and away the finest one-volume history of golf.”

But like the earlier Browning, Robert H. K. Browning was also a poet, thought he limited his subject matter to golf. Samuel L. McKinlay, another noted Scottish golf writer, wrote in the Afterword to the Classics of Golf’s edition of Browning’s book:

One good critic thought Browning’s light verse among the best of his generation, but it was so widely scattered among different periodicals as to defy any attempt at collection.

McKinlay singled out “The Pilgrims’ Progress” as one of Browning’s longest and best poems. The poem “describes in rhymed couplets the exploits of four London golfers who set out ‘to golf all August around the North.'” McKinlay then provides what he described as “some lovely lines” from the poem:

Then off through Dirleton, cool and shady,
To Muirfield, Archerfield, Aberlady.
They golfed at Gullane, on ‘One’ and ‘Two’
They played Longniddry and Luffness New.

And at St. Andrews, they

Laughed in the ‘Beardies’, despaired in ‘Hell’,
But played the first and the last quite well.

McKinlay, being a West of Scotland man, cites his favorite lines,

Troon and Prestwick–Old and ‘classy’–
Bogside, Dundonald, Gailes, Barassie.

I wonder if anyone could provide me with a reference to the entire poem? But even just these few lines make me wish I could have tagged along with the London foursome.

In my next Post, in two weeks, I will return to Robert H. K. Browning’s golf poetry.

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“Golf Dings A'”

This year  may not have been the greatest for golf, professional and otherwise, but it was a great year for golf poetry.  This Blog got more than 20,000 page views and the subject of golf poetry was featured in a May Wall St. Journal article.

Hopefully, 2011 will be an even bigger year with the publication of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, by Golfiana Press.

Some of the golf poetry of old was written by Scottish golfers who read or sung their poetry at club meetings. One of those golfers was David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, in Levin. He published his “songs and recitations” in a short book of 32 pages in 1886. Last August I wrote a Post that featured one of his poems. Jackson and the other club house poets wrote about golf with an enthusiasm, love and respect and a kind of innocence that was unique to that time. Jackson’s “Gouff Dings A'” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All” is a good example. Subtitled, “Sung at a Convivial Meeting,” here, to begin with, is the Chorus:

For Gouff dings a’, my boys, Gouff will aye ding a’
With joy we’ll swing our Clubs and Cleek, and drive the bounding Ba’;
Then over bunkers, braes (hills), and bent, we’ll gang (go) out twa (two) by twa,
With hearts elate and mind content–oh, Gouff dings a’.

And here are a few of the stanzas. Remember this was sung in the 1880’s:

Oh, hoo (how) are ye a’ the nicht (night), my friends? I hope I see ye weel (well),
Yer Clubs a’ in guid (good) order; yer Cleeks and Irons like steel.
I’ve just looked in for half-an-hour to ha’e a joke or twa
About our jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

…..Chorus

The Gouff belongs to Scotland, but its spreading sure and far;
You’ll find a Golfing-Course, my boys, wherever Scotsmen are;
In Africa,in India, in America, ’tis the same,
Australia and our Colonies pay homage to the game.

…..Chorus

King James the Fourth, he loved the game; but had to put it down,
In case his men forgot the way to fight for King and Crown.
No wonder that he banned it, boys–if a’ that’s said be true,
They played the game through a’ the week, and on the Sunday, too.

…..Chorus

I met a chap the other nicht, he was looking unco (strangely) blue;
Said I, “My boy, what can annoy a lively lad like you?”
“‘Tis a’ about the Golf,” he said, while tears ran ower his cheeks,
“The wife and I have had a row, and she’s burnt my Clubs and Cleeks.”

…..Chorus

Then, let us swell the mighty throng of Princes, Lords, and Kings
Who have enjoyed the game of Golf above all other things
And wish success to every one, let him be great or sma’,
Who loves the jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

So next Friday night when you “take a cup of kindness yet,/ for auld lang syne,” take one as well for  David Jackson and the game he describes so lovingly.

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Poetry From The Golfer Magazine, 1897

I just found this unsigned poem in the “Notes by the Wayside” section of the October 1897 issue of The Golfer magazine (offices at 154 Pearl St., Boston). It’s a little late chronologically, but still timely.

OCTOBER’S HERE

October’s here: I hear her tread,
Upon the hilltops, glad and free;
And also in my weary head,
I have a cold that’s killing me.

October’s here: but I don’t care,
I still get in my game;
I care not for the air so rare
Nor do I look for fame.

October’s here: but what of that,
Why prate I of the weather;
My only thought is now of what
My score’ll be altogether.

October’s here: her robes are red,
And yellow, sprinkled thick with gems;
The summer days have surely fled,
The talk is now of Repubs and Dems.

A month before in the same section of The Golfer:

SONG OF THE LINKS

Newport, Lenox, Lakewood,
Saratoga, Troy,
York Harbor and Knollwood,
Long Branch, Pomeroy.

Richfield Springs, Saranac,
Stamford, Hallowell,
Seabright, Bath, Pontiac,
Greenwich, New Rochelle.

Bar Harbor, Shelter Islands,
Ardsley, Asburee,
Larchmont, Atlantic Highlands,
Manchester-by-the-Sea.

How many of these courses still exist?

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Silent Cellphones Welcome at Wyndham Championship

Not This Week!

The August 9th issue of GolfWorld Magazine includes the headline “PGA Tour to give cell phones a listen.” The story relates that this month’s Wyndham Championship (previously called the Greater Greensboro Open) will allow spectators to bring in cell phones. However, the phones must be left in silent mode and calls must be made in designated areas only. As they say on the radio from time to time, “This is a test.” What I say is “Good luck.”

This story allows me to share a poem I wrote a while ago called “Cellphone-itis.”

Cellphone-itis

Before the cell phone came to town
Calls were made with care
Phone booths now have emptied out
The cell is everywhere

Its use has borne an odd disease
Known as cellphone-itis
The symptoms are the opposite
Of simple laryngitis.

To have their voices clearly heard
When calling on a cell
Users seem to be agreed
That they must always yell.

But for their captive listeners
These polluters are no joke
What they add to the environment
Is matched only by second hand smoke.

So now that the ban on cellphones has been lifted, will the PGA Tour consider a ban on on-course smoking?

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Remembering Tom Watson at the 2009 Open

Just after last year’s British Open I wrote a poem to commemorate Tom Watson’s memorable performance. Since then I have revised the poem slightly. You might also enjoy the poem I wrote about Doug Sanders at the 1970 Open.

Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning or losing –
But how he had played the Game.

And did he ever!

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