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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 1)

April is Poetry Month, so why not a Post focusing of some of what I’ve learned about golf poetry.

In doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, I found that the earliest poem known to include a reference to golf was called “The Muses Threnodie” by Henry Adamson, published in Edinburgh in 1638. Some have argued that Shakespeare preceded Adamson. For example, here is King Lear on pressing: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” But, I think we’ll stick with Adamson.

Possibly the first poem devoted entirely to golf was found in a 1687 diary entry of an Edinburgh medical student, Thomas Kincaid. In 12 lines, Kincaid establishes himself as golf’s first swing instructor. The poem begins,

Grip fast stand with your left leg first not farr
Incline your back and shoulders but beware
You raise them not when back the club you bring

The complete poem is included in my book. I found it in a wonderful reference book on early golf history called A Swing Through Time by Olive M. Geddes, a Senior Curator in the National Library of Scotland. The “triumvirate” of early golf poems is completed with The Goff,” a 358-line mock-heroic poem written by an Thomas Mathison and published in book form first in Edinburgh in 1743. The Goff is thought to be the first book entirely devoted to golf.

As golf developed in Scotland and then in England, golf poetry developed as well. One of great golf poets of the first half of the 19th century was George Fullerton Carnegie, a member of St. Andrews. His poetry is included in a book edited by Robert Clark called Golf: A Royal & Ancient Game. One of Carnegie’s poems, “Address to St. Andrews” begins,

St. Andrews! They say that thy glories are gone,
That thy streets are deserted, thy castles o’erthrown;
 If they glories be gone, they are only, methinks,
As it were, by enchantment, transferr’d to thy Links.

In 1886, David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Scotland, published a 32 page pamphlet/book called Golf – Songs & Recitations. You can search this Blog for three Posts that include poems that Jackson wrote. A few years earlier in 1873, Thomas Marsh, described as the poet-laureate of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, privately published a small book called Blackheath Golfing Lays. A rare 1st edition copy recently sold for $8400.

In my opinion, one of the best golf poets of the 19th-early 20th century, was the Scottish writer, poet and drama critic, Robert K. Risk. In 1919 he published a book of 36 golf poems called Songs of the Links with illustrations by H.M. Bateman, a famous British cartoonist. I was fortunate to win a copy of Risk’s book at auction three years ago. Risk was a golfer, as were virtually all of the golf poets of this time  Only a golfer, Risk in this case, could write lines such as these,

Here, with an open course from Tee To Tee,
 A Partner not too dexterous – like Thee—
Beside me swiping o’er Elysian Fields,
And Life is wholly good enough for Me.

Other British golfer-poets of Risk’s time included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling (born in India), Andrew Lang, better known for his children’s fairy tale books, Robert H. K. Browning (not that Browning) and John Thomson who wrote a wonderful short book called A Golfing Idyll under the pseudonym “Violet Flint.” The book, subtitled The Skipper’s Round with the Deil (Devil) On the Links of St. Andrews, was first published privately in 1892.

In my research I discovered one golf poet of the time, Harry Vardon, who may have borrowed the verse he offered to an auction during World War One. This story can be found in an earlier Post and also in my book.

Golf poetry was also being written in the United State and Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the best American golf poets was Grantland Rice, the first dean of American sports writing. Rice wrote hundreds of poems about many sports, wrote prose and poetry for a number of New York City papers and was editor an early golf magazine, American Golfer, in the 1920’s. Among the many golf poems Rice wrote, here is one of his shortest:

The bloke who lifts his well known dome
Will let it hang when he starts home.
And he who finds missed puts are rife
Is no companion for a wife.

Other American golfer-poets, contemporaries of Rice, include Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr., the great amateur player, Tom Bendelow, an important early American golf architect, who wrote a parody of “Casey at the Bat” called “Hoo Andra Foozled Oot,” Ring Lardner, one of American’s best short story writers, the Chicago Tribune columnist Bert Leston Taylor, and a New York lawyer, Norman Levy.

I also discovered three Canadian poets: Edward Atherton, who wrote a song called “Far and Sure” in 1901; W. Hastings Webling; and a Montreal judge, writer and poet, Robert Stanley Weir, who was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem.

Outside of Scotland, England, the United States and Canada, I have found only one golf poet. His name was Barton “Banjo” Paterson from Australia. The poem he wrote is called “The Wreak of the Golfer” but he was much more famous for writing “Waltzing Matilda.”

If you know of any golf poetry by poets from other countries, for example, Ireland, India or France, please leave a comment with the reference or poem. And to read poems by most of the poets mentioned above, please consult my book.

Note: Part 2, focuses on the question: who reads golf poetry?

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Golfpoet.com’s Top Ten

First, I would like to thank all of you for supporting golf poetry by visiting golfpoet.com. We have passed the three year mark and you have registered more than 60,000 page visits. Together we have made golf poetry, mostly poems written before 1920, a little more visible to the golfers of today.

Response to the Blog also encouraged me to complete my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages with a Foreword by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

The Blog now has more than 120 Posts. Of that number, I though it might be interesting to list the Top Ten at this point. They are as follows:

1.  Golf Ball Poetry

2.  A Golf Poem You Can Relate To

3.  Doug Sanders’ British Open Miss for the Ages

4.  An Old Golf Magazine and a Poem for Old Golfers

5.  Lying in Golf Poetry

6.  Golf Ball Poetry Continued

7.  If Johnny Cash Had Been a Golfer

8.  Attitudes Toward Women Golfers in the Early Days (Part 1)

9.  The Importance of Golf – A Sentimental View from the Past

10. Twines — Two Line Golf Poems from Twitter

If any of these titles look interesting, please take a look and enjoy.

Finally, I would encourage you to send links from this Post/ Blog to any of your golfing friends who might enjoy the experience a reciting golf poetry. Thanks.

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“Golf Course of Rhymes” – Great Gift for the Ardent Golfer

The Post below appeared December 2nd on the Golfgal’s Blog, http://www.Golfgal-blog.com. I reprinted it because it is absolutely the best review of my book that I could imagine. I hope that you find it compelling.

 Great Gift for the Ardent Golfer

Legs like Buttah!
I’ve always thought that Ernie Els’ swing was poetry in motion.It looks completely effortless and rhythmic; some might even go so far as to say it is as smooth as Barbra Streisand’s legs… “Like buttah!” (Ooops, I think I’m dating myself 🙂 ).Anyway, back to golf…Except for my comments on The Big Easy, I don’t ever remember using the words poetry and golf in the same sentence.  But since I discovered Leon White’s book, Golf Course of Rhymes (Links between Golf and Poetry Thought the Ages), I can see how poetic golf really is.

Dr. White’s book is a wonderful collection of poems and songs about golf dating back centuries. But it’s not just a book of poetry; it if full of historical gems from the famous and infamous men and women who share our addiction to this sport.  Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a golf poet?  Or that women’s golf started with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots?  Did you know there are at least 11 different ways to spell golf?

I am not someone who reads a lot of poetry, but I really love this book.  It’s organized so that each chapter is a hole on an 18-hole course, including a practice tee chapter and, of course, the 19th “watering” hole.

There are funny poems, sad ones and ones you have to read a few times to figure them out.  But as the author encourages more than once, you should read them out loud to truly appreciate them.  It’s a bit tricky with the ones riddled with Scottish dialect (he does offer translation), but reading them out loud, you can’t help but put on an accent, which leaves you smiling your way through the stanzas.

One of my favorites in the book speaks to me of heartache and happiness (which is what golf is all about); it  was published in The American Golfer back in 1915:

My drive is erratic, my brassie’s the same,
My irons atrocious, and awful my aim,
My mashie is fearful, my putting worse still,
My scores have the look of a dressmaker’s bill;
My legs are a-weary, my wrists are quite lame,
But I am most happy, — I’m playing the game.

So if you are looking for a gift for someone who loves the links, I would highly recommend Golf Course of Rhymes.  It’s a fun and entertaining read that will also teach you things you probably never knew about the history of golf and those who loved to hate it…and hated to live without it.

But it’s not just oldies but goodies…there are poems about Tiger’s chip from behind the 16th green on the final day of the 2005 Masters and even one about Michelle Wie’s quest to beat the pros in pants.

As Robert Trent Jones Jr. said in his forward in the book, Golf Course of Rhymes is the best round of golf you will ever play without swinging a club.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Golfgal

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Joys of Golf

Dear Blog reader: I hope that you won’t mind if, from time to time, I post a short excerpt from my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. The book provides a lyrical view of golf and its history through the words of golfing poets from publications dated 1638 to the present. It will make a great present for any golfer who loves the game. The book is available on Amazon.com.

The book is organized like a golf course – it has an Introduction, the Practice Tee, and then 18 Holes (chapters); it ends on the 19th Hole. The 3rd Hole, titled “Joys of Golf” included the following poem which I wrote.

On Course

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.

Among the other poems in the chapter, one was written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes and another by Sir John Betjman, a British poet laureate. Both Doyle and Betjman were avid golfers. I’m among good company!

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Marketing Golf Poetry

Marketing golf poetry—talk about a tough assignment. That’s what I have been doing with this Blog for almost three years. And now with my book as well. I have had some success with about 54,000 Blog page views and a spot on some of the top 50 golf blog lists.

But just recently, I zeroed in on what I’m “selling.” Let me explain it this way. Products and services are now thought of by marketers as means to an end. And the end has to be a great, memorable, unique, (you put in the adjective) experience. For example, a golf course wants to create an unforgettable experience for its customers. A club maker isn’t selling you clubs; he’s selling you the experience of playing your best golf with them.

So old readers and new, I am not selling golf poetry on this Blog or in my book. I am selling a unique and exhilarating golf experience —the experience of reciting golf poems. And you know what? You won’t get that golf experience any other way on the course or off. For some, reading poetry out-loud will take as much courage as playing a fairway wood over water. For others it may come easier. But whatever your predisposition, this much I know. Unlike golfers of an earlier generation, you have had little or no opportunity to enjoy this aspect of the game. Here is your chance.

You might begin with the opening stanza from a poem called “The Lay for the Troubled Golfer” by Edgar A. Guest (born in England in 1881), a writer for the Detroit Free Press for more than sixty years. This is a poem you just have to read out loud.

 His eye was wild and his face was taut with anger and hate and rage,
And the things he muttered were much too strong for the ink of the printed page.
I found him there when the dusk came down, in his golf clothes still was he,
And his clubs were strewn around his feet as he told his grief to me:
“I’d an easy five for a seventy-nine—in sight of the golden goal—
An easy five and I took an eight—an eight on the eighteenth hole!

Not all golf poems, or poems in general, are that dramatic, so reading experiences will be different. But just as with hitting different golf shots, each experience can be rewarding.

Let’s try one more, this one the first two stanzas from a poem in an earlier Post called “St. Andrew’s Law by Robert Browning.” Robert H. K. Browning (not the famous poet) was a Scottish writer, golf magazine editor and golf historian who was active in the first half of the 20th century.

 When prehistoric swipers sliced, and blamed the sloping tee,
They got so riled, Saint Andrew smiled, and “Blasphemers,” said he,
“Henceforth the lightly made excuse shall give you no resource;
Ye may not win to act or use of falsehood on the course.

“Let Peter judge his fisher folk, whose unexamined scales
Their easy consciences provoke to all-unswallowed tales;
But ye the prickly whin shall test, the bunker shall condemn:
The gods of golfing love to jest–but do not jest with them.

If you are having fun, come back to my Blog from time to time and choose from the many poems I have posted. And if you like, look at my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, on Amazon. If you do you can recite the rest of Guest’s poem, “The Lay for the Troubled Golfer.”

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Golf and Skiing in Vermont: A Footnote to Keegan Bradley’s PGA Championship Victory

Rudyard Kipling

Bill Pennington, in today’s New York Times, notes that Keegan Bradley, a Vermont native, played golf in the summer and skied in the winter while growing up there. Rudyard Kipling, the famous English author and poet, is credited by a number of internet sources with also golfing and skiing in Vermont in the 1890’s. What appears to be certain is that in 1894 Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes, visited Kipling at his temporary home outside Brattleboro at Thanksgiving time, and gave Kipling some help with his golf game. From Doyle’s diary, “I had brought my clubs and gave him lessons in a field while the New England rustics watched us from afar, wondering what we were at, for golf was unknown in America at the time.” [Actually the first permanent golf club, The St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y., was formed in 1888. But golf may not yet have reached Vermont by 1894.]

Doyle is also said to have brought with him or sent Kipling skis. One internet source goes so far as to say that “according to legend, skiing was introduced to Vermont by Rudyard Kipling.”

The extent of Kipling’s interest in golf is not clear. Doyle, however, was an avid golfer. He was for many years a member of the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club in Sussex, England and was the club’s captain in 1910. He even wrote a golf poem, “A Lay of the Links,” that is included in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

Kipling’s poetry also includes references to golf. One of his poems called “Verses on Games” includes the stanza:

Why Golf is art and art is Golf
We have not far to seek–
So much depends upon the lie,
So much upon the cleek.

Clearly, Kipling understood golf.

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Short Golf Poems – Less Than a Foot

Two line golf poems, such as the Twines I occasionally write for Twitter, are short. But what about really short golf poems?

The widely acknowledged shortest general poem is:

FLEAS

Adam
Had ’em.

I would offer as a possible shortest golf poem:

BACKSWING

Low
Slow.

A three word entry might be:

DUFFER’S GOLF

A profane
Game!

And in the four word category, a familiar refrain uttered by many after a series of bad shots:

A GOLFER’S LAMENT

Can’t hit
For sh–.

If you would like to share your two, three or four word golf poems, please leave a reply. It shouldn’t take long.

[And if you are looking for a unique gift, please consider my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry.” Robert Trent Jones, Jr. wrote the foreword.  Thanks.]

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