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Robert H. K. Browning’s “The Pilgrims’ Progress” Revisited

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Robert Browning (1812-1889) was a famous English poet. Robert H. K. Browning (1884-1957) was a scholarly golf historian from Scotland who became prominent as the editor of Golfing, the premier British golfing 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.”

Like his namesake, Browning was also wrote poetry, though he always weaved golf themes into his subject matter (as far as I know). However, has poetry did have standing. In an earlier Post (January 10,2011), I quoted what Samuel L. McKinlay, another noted Scottish golf writer, wrote in the Afterword to the Classics of Golf’s edition of Browning’s golf history book:

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

McKinlay singled out “The Pilgrims’ Progress” as one of Brownings longest and best poems. McKinlay writes that the poem “describes in rhymed couplets the exploits of four London golfers who set out ‘to golf all August around the North.’” He then provides what he describes 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’
The 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 — Only and ‘classy’
Bogside, Dundonald, Gailes, Barassie.

Since publishing these lines, I have searched the Internet from time to time in the vane hope of finding the intact poem. No luck. However, recently, totally by chance, I happened on a website called pasturegolf.com and there I found the following,

Troon and Prestwick — Old and “classy”
Bogside, Dundonald, Gailes, Barassie.
Prestwick St. Nicholas, Western Gailes,
St. Cuthbert, Portland — memory fails —
Troon Municipal (three links there)
Prestwick Municipal, Irvine, Ayr.
They faced the list with delighted smiles—
Sixteen courses within ten miles.

The eight line were described in the Blog as a “Local Scottish rhyme” with no mention of Browning. 

So in almost six years, I have now been able to add six lines. And though they clearly complete one section of the poem, we are still left with the task of searching for the remaining missing lines. If any one who reads this can help, please leave a comment. I will, of course, continue my search as well. 

I tell people that I do research in golf poetry and they laugh. My fun lasts longer.

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A Poet’s Version of How Golf Began

Title page of %22Art of Golf%22

To celebrate the seventh anniversary of this Blog, I have reprinted below the first Post which was published December 19, 2008. Since then more than 180 Posts have been added.

In addition to the Blog, I have written two books, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages” and “If Only I Could Play that Hole Again.” Both are available on Amazon.com.

But what pleases me most is that this Blog has attracted readers like you from more than 130 countries! Poetry and golf go together. To get the most out of both takes a little more time and effort, but the rewards are there for the taking.

Thanks for visiting my Blog. I hope you will return from time to time to search through all the poetry that it now includes.

Now, here is Post number one:

“Golf’s long and colorful history is well documented. It origins, however have always been uncertain. Sir Walter Simpson, an early golf historian, writes in The Art of Golf, published in 1887, that golf at St. Andrews probably began when a shepherd idly hit a stone into a hole with his crook.

An anonymous nineteenth century poet gives us a charming poetic version of this apocryphal story.

When Caledonia, stern and wild
Was still a poor unkilted child,
Two simple shepherds clad in skins,
With leathern thongs about their shins,
Finding that dullness day by day
Grew irksome, felt a wish to play.
But where the game?  In those dark ages
They couldn’t toss—they had no wages.
Till one, the brighter of the two,
Hit on a something he could do.

He hit a pebble with his crook
And sent the stone across a brook;
The other, tempted then to strike,
With equal ardour ‘played the like,’
And this they went with heart and soul
Towards a distant quarry-hole,
With new success contented
‘Twas thus the prehistoric Scot
Did wonders by an idle shot,
And golf was first invented.

Welcome to Golf Course of Rhymes. The above is an example of the kind of post I intend to offer. The emphasis will be on golf stories, humor, history and even a little instruction. My primary purpose is to entertain, but I hope to contribute to your golf education in new and different ways as well.”

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Duffers Yet

Lord Darling

From Wikipedia:

“Moir Tod Stormonth Darling (Lord Stormonth Darling, 3 November 1844 – 2 June 1912) was a Scottish politician and judge. He was Member of Parliament for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities from 1888 to 1890 and served as Solicitor General for Scotland during the same period.
From 1890 to 1908 he was a Lord of Session. In 1897 he was President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club and gave the Toast to Sir Walter at the club’s annual dinner.
In 1900 he featured in a set of Copes cigarette cards of well known golfers. The card, numbered 49, depicts him standing in a bunker and is entitled “Duffers Yet”.”

If you are a collector of golf poetry, you soon discover that the title of the Lord’s cigarette card is, in fact, the title of a poem he wrote:

              Duffers Yet

By Lord Stormonth Darling|
(With apologies to the Author of Strangers Yet.)

After years of play together,
After fair and stormy weather,
After rounds of every Green,
From Westward Ho! To Aberdeen:
Why did e’er we buy a Set—
If we must be Duffers yet?
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!

After singles, foursomes, all
Fractured club and cloven ball,
After grief in sand and whin,
Foozled drives and putts not in,
Even our caddies scarce regret
When we part as Duffers yet.
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!

After days of frugal fare,
Still we spend our force in air:
After nips to give us nerve,
Not the less our drivers swerve:
Friends may back, and foes may bet,
And ourselves be Duffers yet.
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!

Must it ever then be thus?
Failure most mysterious!
Shall we never fairly stand
Eye on ball or club in hand?
Are the Fates eternal set
To retain us Duffers yet?
Duffers yet! Duffers yet! *

*This first appeared, without the third verse, in Edinburgh Courant in 1869, and was respectfully dedicated to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

(The poem is taken from a book, Stories of Golf by William Knight and T.T. Oliphant published in 1894.)

As the note says, the poem was published in 1869. Yet the sentiments expressed, particularly in the last stanza, are ours as well – at least on occasion. The game has surely changed since 1869, but the emotions remain the same. Amazing!

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Golf Poetry at its Best

for Golfer's Discontent post

 

Robert K. Risk and Grantland Rice are two of my favorite golf poets. This Blog (and my book) contain poems by both. I think I remember reading that Rice wrote more than 6000 poems throughout his lifetime. He wrote on may subjects besides golf. His most famous lines come from a 1908 poem called “Alumnus Football” (http://bit.ly/1l7QLGe):

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.”

 

Risk, on the other hand, seems to have limited his poetry to golf. He was a Scottish writer, poet and drama critic. As far as I know he published a single collection of golf poems in 1919 under the title, “Songs of the Links.” The book contains 36 poems and this may be all that Risk ever published. Nevertheless, almost all are worth reading. I am particularly fond of the one that I want to share with you in this post. It describes beautifully. with humor and clarity, how golfers always seem to long for some level of play that they cannot achieve. And then ends by pointing out the disappointment that would result from playing too well.

THE GOLFER’S DISCONTENT

By Robert K. Risk

The evils of the Golfer’s state
Are shadows, not substantial things —
That envious bunkers lie in wait
For all our cleanest, longest swings;
The pitch that should have won the round
Is caught and killed in heavy ground.

And even if at last we do
That 80, coveted so long,
A melancholy strain breaks through
The cadence of our even-song —
A  7  (which was “an easy 4”)
Has “spoilt our 77 score.”

And thus, with self-deception bland,
We mourn the fours that should have been,
Forgetting, on the other hand,
The luck that helped us through the green;
Calmly accepting as our due
The four-hole which we fluked in two.

The drive that barely cleared the sand,
The brassy-shot which skimmed the wall,
The useful “kick,” the lucky “land” —
We never mention these at all;
The only luck that we admit
Is when misfortune comes of it.

And therefore, in a future state,
When we shall all putt out in two,
When drives are all hole-high and straight,
And every yarn we tell is true,
Golf will be wearisome and flat,
When there is naught to grumble at.

 

 

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A Weary Winter and Thoughts of Golf

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I’m sitting in my home-office looking out the window as the snow comes down hard again. This has not been an easy winter in New England. When not look out the window I’ve been looking for a poem for this Post. In that search I came across a song titled “The Weary Winter Weather of 1886” by David Jackson (Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Leven) in his slight volume Golf – Songs &Recitations. Jackson’s song is to be sung to the tune of “Johnnie Cope.” (see http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Johnny_Cope)

The poem/song was composed after Winter had passed and reminds those of us who are snowed-in that we will yet cheer the coming of warmer days and a new golf season. Here is the song’s Chorus,

But hurrah! Hurrah! The Spring has come at last,
And loosened the burns, that were a’ frozen fast,
And we a’ rejoice that the Winter is past,
For we’ll get a round at Golf in the morning.

Jackson wrote in Scots which makes the song a  bit more challenging. The song has seven verses.

Here is the first verse which describes our Winter as well,

Oh, lang and dreich (long and tiresome) the Winter has been,
And mony (many) a stormy day we’ve seen,
When the frost was sharp and the wind was keen,
And nippit a’ oor noses in the morning.

The third verse brings to mind this Winter’s Olympics,

When the ice was strong, the Curlers with glee
Were busy at their game  sae merry and free;
While the Golfers would wish, wi’ the tear in their e’e,
That the ice would be thawed in the morning.

And the last two verses are what gives us hope,

But the Spring has come wi’ sunshine and rain,
And the wast (west) wind has blawn the snaw off the plain,
And the trees and the flowers are budding again,
And the lark sing early in the morning.

 And the Links are looking as bonnie, fresh, and green
As if nae cauld, frosty weather had been,
And the old and the young sae merry are seen
Awa for a round in the morning.

On a cold winter’s day, this poem allows us to form a link in common with a golfer who was playing in Scotland 128 years ago. That warms me up a little. I hope it does the same for you.

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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French Golfers, Poetry and the British Open Championship

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, a French golfer, came to the 18th hole on the final day of the Open Championship with a three shot lead and (as most of you probably know) scored a triple bogey ending up tied with two other golfers. In the ensuing playoff, he and Justin Leonard lost to the Scotsman Paul Lawrie.

French golfers at the Open had seen better days. One hundred and two years earlier Arnaud Massy won the event beating the three British greats of that time, Harry Vardon, J.H.Taylor and James Braid among others. In the 1922 Open Championship, Jean Gassiat, a contemporary of Massy’s, came in seventh. A second contemporary, Baptiste Bomboudiac, was the subject of a golf poem written by Robert K Risk and first published in the English magazine Punch in April 1908.

A story in the Daily Paper, sometime in early 1908, included the following quote regarding the Open Championship to be played later that year at the Prestwick Golf Club:

“France will be well to the front at the Golf Championship. Massy is already at the top of the tree, and there are great possibilities in Gassiat and Baptiste Bomboudiac.”

Risk, maybe the best golf poet of his time, responded to this quote with the following poem.

A TIP FOR PRESTWICK

Some prate of Braid and Taylor,
And eke of Harry V.
(Admittedly a nailer
At driving from the tee):
But of all the golfing heroes
Whom common punters back,
There’s none to me so dear as
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

A Gassiat or Massy
May do distinguished things
With iron and with brassy—
But his the name that rings
Daylong through all my fancies,
Nightlong my sleep I lack,
Through sizing up your chances,
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

To drive and pitch and hole out,
With skill satanical,
Wears an opponent’s soul out,
And sends him to the wall;
The “influence” called “moral”
Will ward off such attack,
Awarding thee the laurel
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

We need not be affrighted
To meet a White or Jones,
Whose Christian names are cited
In quite familiar tones;
But diffidence comes o’er us,
When driven to attack
Polysyllab-sonorous
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

For the record, James Braid won the 1908 Open and Arnaud Massy was tenth. Neither Gassiat or Bomboudiac are listed among those with four round scores.

One more thing. If anyone knows more about Baptiste Bomboudiac please leave a comment. A Google search only produced two references. He deserves better.

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Golf, War and Freddie Tate

In my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I devoted part of a chapter to golf related poems connected with World War I.  Since writing the book, I discovered a poem about Frederick Tate, a Scottish amateur golfer who lost his life in the Second Boer War. Tate was killed in action on February 7, 1900 at the age of 30.

During his brief amateur career, Freddie Tate, as he was called, won two Amateur Championships (1896, 1898) and twice placed third in the Open Championship (1896, 1897). And during that career he won the hearts of Scotland’s golfing public. Bernard Darwin wrote in his Sketchbook,

“In his day and in his own Scotland he was a national hero. I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd─no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes. It was a tremendous and, to his adversaries, an almost terrifying popularity.”

So  the tremendous outpouring of grief  was not surprising when news of his death reached Great Britain. Little more than two weeks after his death, the February 23, 1900 issue of Golf Illustrated included a long “Appreciation” by the magazine’s Editor and the following  poem. Many more tributes followed.

    LIEUTENANT F.G. TAIT

(Killed at Koodoosberg, February, 1900)

Another hero from the fair-haired North
Add to the roll of those the boding strains
Of War ‘twixt Boer and Briton summoned forth
To shed their life blood on dark Afric’s plains.

There’s Golf where’er on earth sounds English tongue,
And where’er golfers meet, at rest or play,
Where champion feats at Golf are told or sung,
The name of Freddy Tait will live for aye.

We read his death, with eye perforce grown dim
For comrade snatched before us from the strife;
We mourn our loss, but should we mourn for him?
Could death more glorious crown a fairer life?

He died “with sword in hand for England’s right;”
Aye, this he did, and dying left behind,
‘Mong those who to the end will see this fight,
No better golfer, and no nobler mind.

As we salute our Veterans today, and much a Europe remembers World War I, golfers around the world might also want to remember the most famous and heroic Scottish amateur golfer, Freddie Tate.

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Golf History (and More) from an Old Golf Poem about Walter J. Travis

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I am always on the lookout for old golf poetry books that I can afford. Recently I bid on a book published in England in 1905 called The Golf Craze ─ Sketches and Rhymes  by “Cleeke Shotte, Esq.” It was offered by the PBA Galleries in San Francisco. And I won it. The book was actually written by John Hogben, a member of the Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh and its captain in 1921.

Included among the rhymes was one titled “To Mr. W. J. Travis ─ Amateur Golf Champion, 1904.” For our purposes, you need to know that Walter J. Travis was born in Australia in January 1862. He came to New York City at age 23. He began playing golf in October 1896, three months short of his 35th birthday. He soon began playing competitively. Now comes the most remarkable part: In 1900, 1901, and 1903 he won the U.S. Amateur Championship; and, in 1904 he became the first American (he was by now a naturalized citizen) to win the British Amateur Championship. He went on to do many other impressive golf-related things before he died in 1927. You can read more about Travis at http://bit.ly/Q0VKvX.

The poem, though a tribute to Travis, raises a question about the “strange putter” that he used. There is also a reference to staying “the mighty war.”

To W. J. Travis
Amateur Golf Champion, 1904

The cry is still “They come!” for we may say
The lust of conquest reigns in U.S.A.
Another Cup goes Westward; ‘tis a shock
We owe, sir, to that aluminium block

That taught your golf-ball all roads lead to Rome,
And sent it straight, and far, and surely home.
There is no name whereby to call the utter
Amazement that we owe to your strange putter.

It was not thought that in our chosen game
A foreign player could make good his claim
Against the prowess of the Britisher,
Without whom neither golf nor golfer were.

Forgive me, for you know the game is ours;
We sowed the seed; the world has reaped the flowers.
Yet, after all, no grudge we owe you, for
The mimic helps to stay the mighty war.

No Frenchman are you, German, or what not
But of our generous cousin-blood begot─
Nay, I forget, for closer still the ties,
Were you not cradled under Austral skies?

The “strange putter” was the so called Schenectady Putter invented by a General Electric engineer in 1902. Travis made the putter famous when he used it in the 1902 U. S. Amateur Championship. The aluminum Schenectady Putter was mallet-headed and center shafted. Travis used it again to win the 1903 U. S. Amateur and, of course, the British Amateur in 1904. In 1910 the R & A, the ruling body for golf in Great Britain, banned the Schenectady Putter and others of similar design. The U.S.G.A. did not follow suit. But still, in light of the current controversy regarding “anchored” putters, it is interesting to note that there is a precedent for a ruling body to ban a class of putters being played.

The reference to a possible future “mighty war” foreshadows the first world war. Ironically, the one reference to the poet John Hogben that I was able to find describes him in June of 1921 presiding over the unveiling of a memorial tablet to commemorate members of his golf club who had died fighting the great war. (See http://bit.ly/NSFski)

If you have a comment, I would be pleased if you would share it below.

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Golf Poem to Commemorate George Wright – A Baseball Hall-of-Famer

The Baseball All-Star game will be played this week. I can’t think of a better time to recall a baseball player who had a profound early impact on golf in America. No, it’s not A. G. Spalding although he would qualify. Rather, the player I’m thinking of is George Wright. “Who?”, you say. Here is an excerpt from my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, that will give you the answer.

“… on December 10, 1890, with almost no one watching, George Wright, later a baseball Hall-of-Famer, and three friends played the first round of golf ever in Boston. Wright, baseball player turned golfer, created the first great moment for New England golf. Earlier, in 1871, with his baseball career over, Wright, along with Henry Ditson, formed the sporting goods company, Wright and Ditson. Their company was bought out by A. G. Spalding & Co. in the early 1890’s. Up to the buyout, Wright and Ditson had imported all of its golf merchandise from Scotland. Later, Spalding & Co. began producing its own clubs under both the Spalding and the Wright and Ditson names. George Wright’s accomplishments moved me to write a poem commemorating him:

George Wright (1847–1937)

He never had an equal as a fielder
He ran the bases better than the rest
As a hitter he was feared and fearless
In his time George Wright was unsurpassed.

In ’69 he played for Cincinnati
Standing out at bat and on the field
He revolutionized the play at shortstop
And hit .633 which was unreal.

From Cincinnati he moved on to Boston
The Stockings first, the Red Caps later on
He led the mighty Sox to four straight pennants
Then with the Caps another two he won.

His ball field feats were cheered by all who saw him
He was an early hero of the game
Still it took the voters until thirty-seven
To elect him to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wright the player is today all but forgotten
But with regard to fame another claim
Retired from the ball field but still active
He brought to town the great old Scottish game.

A permit from the Boston Parks Commission
Let Wright lay out some holes at Franklin Park
Then on a cold fall day in eighteen ninety
He took along three pals to play ’til dark.

So add the name George Wright to your sports heroes
A pioneer in not one sport but two
The father of the golf game in New England
A double Hall-of-Famer through and through.”

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