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

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.”

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

The holiday on November 11th, originally called Armistice Day,commemorated the end of World War I. Now in the U.S., the holiday is called Veteran’s Day and more broadly honors all war veterans. In other Posts I have included First World War related golf poetry. In this entry I include one by Rudyard Kipling from my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

Rudyard Kipling, the famous English author and poet born in Bombay, India in 1865, was also a golfer. He wrote many famous poems including “Mandalay” and “If . . .” In the following dramatic First World War poem, “Mine Sweepers,” he includes a reference to golf. The “Foreland” in the poem probably refers to headlands between Dover and Margate on the southeastern coast of England, overlooking the English Channel.

The Mine-Sweepers

Dawn off the Foreland—the young flood making
Jumbled and short and steep—
Black in the hollows and bright where it’s breaking—
Awkward water to sweep.
“Mines reported in the fairway,
“Warn all traffic and detain.
“Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain.”

Noon off the Foreland—the first ebb making
Lumpy and strong in the bight.
Boom after boom, and the golf-hut shaking
And the jackdaws wild with fright.
“Mines located in the fairway,
“Boats now working up the chain,
“SweepersUnity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain.”

Dusk off the Foreland—the last light going
And the traffic crowding through,
And five damned trawlers with their syreens blowing
Heading the whole review!
“Sweep completed in the fairway,
“No more mines remain.
“Sent back Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain.”

(According to Alastair Wilson, a Kipling expert, the “golf-hut” in the second stanza might have been the club-house at Royal St. George’s Club at Sandwich, in East Kent.)

If you would like to listen to a dramatic reading of this poem, click on the following link:


A Golf Poem to Save for the Winter

This blog began in 2008. Since then I have published more than 170 Posts. In addition, I have published two books of golf poetry. The blog has been visited by golfers from more than 125 countries! Needless to say, I am appreciative of this response to my efforts to reintroduce poetry as part of today’s golf readings. But at the same time I understand that those of you who visit this blog have limited time to spend here. Thus my assumption that many of the poems, particularly the early ones, deserve a second chance to be read.

The one below was originally published on this blog in 2009. It was first published about 100 years ago. “Retrospection” was written by W. Hastings Webling (1866 – 1946?), a Canadian writer and poet, and appeared in the magazine Golf in January 1915. Though he was only looking back to the last golf season, the sentiments he expresses still ring true. Also remember that he was writing at a time when match play was preeminent.

I hope you will enjoy reading the poem even though it’s long. But if you fear a long poem as much as a short putt, at least read the first, second to last and last stanzas.


by Hastings Webling

The days are short, the winds are chill,
The turf has lost its verdant hue,
And those who played the good old game
Have slowly disappeared from view.
No longer may we watch the flight
Of golf balls as they gaily soar,
Or hear the chaff of merry wit,
Or echo of some lusty “Fore!”

Ah, well! we cannot all expect
To play the game from year to year;
To hike, like some, to southern climes
And play in balmy atmosphere.
‘Tis better so; for we can rest
And reminisce, while fancy free,
Recall the games of yesterday,
Defeats, and proud-won victory.

And we can sit around the fire
And dream of things we might have done;
Of matches that we thought a cinch
And cups that well might we have won;
And then those scores of “seventy eight,”
Only missed by some short putt,
It all will tend to stimulate
Our fond desire for future luck.

And as to “birdies”—well might I
Write of these in doleful tone;
For they have caused such deep distress
More than I would like to own.
Ah! oft I held them in my grasp
With joy to think how well they’d pay
When someone “holes a ten-foot putt”
And swift my “birdie” flies away.

But such is life, and so is golf,
The things we think so really sure;
The holes we count before they’re won
Are apt to give us one guess more.
But, after all, it is for this
We seek the prizes that may be,
And find the charm both in the game
And in its great uncertainty.

My boy! if skies were ever fair,
If winds should always favor you,
And all your “lies” were perfect “lies,”
And all your putts were straight and true—
If all your drives were far and sure,
Approaches on the green were “dead,”
The joy of combat would be lost
And vict’rys charm forever shed.

After reading this poem, ask yourself how it compares to reading any article in any recent golf magazine. In my view, today’s golf magazine articles don’t relate golfers to the essence of the game nearly as well as poetry like this does. Let me know what your think if you care to.


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!


The Paradox of Golf

The following poem appeared at the beginning of a column on New England golf in the May 1915 issue of The American Golfer. A golfer using the pseudonym “Bunker Hill” wrote the column. The poem was not given a title but “ The Paradox of Golf” might fit.

My drive is erratic, my brassie’s the same,
My irons are atrocious, and awful my aim,
My mashie is tearful, 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.

That a 100-year-old poem can still speak for all of us duffers today, reflects the enduring and endearing appeal of the game. And from my (clearly biased) point of view, poetry says it best.


Opposites at St. Andrews

St. Andrews

Continuing on the theme of opposites in golf (see the previous Post and others in the Blog), this poem considers some opposites at the Old Course.


Beware when playing the Old Course
It’s not like a home course round
The differences are many
Opposites abound.

For example, at St. Andrews
You’ll have to walk all parts
No riding at the Old Course
It doesn’t offer carts.

On a typical day at St. Andrews
You are sure to feel the breeze
But look in all directions
You won’t see any trees.

Humps and bumps all over
It’s not like a walk in a park
More than a hundred bunkers
Take heed if you’re out after dark.

They started with eleven fairways
But twenty-two holes to play
The walk was out to eleven
Then in the opposite way.

But twenty-two were too many
So they came up with a plan
To reduce the number to eighteen
And modern golf began.

Leon S White, PhD


Opposites in Golf: Neither Fat or Thin

At the golf course today, after I hit a drive straight down the middle, one of my playing partners ask, “Do you have a poem about hitting a perfect drive.” Here is my response:


The opposite of “hit it fat”
Is “hit it thin” and that is that.
But I would rather hit it right
And watch the ball in perfect flight.

Leon S White, PhD

I have posted other opposites poems. To see them click on the category “opposites in golf” in the right hand column.


A Poetic Response to the Question: What is Golf?


Everyone has their own answer to the question “What is golf?” Here is mine, taken from my Ebook “If Only I Could Play that Hole Again.”


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.

Leon S White, PhD





Since Tiger Woods has retreated from PGA Tour events, golf “scholars,” have offered Tiger a wide array of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” to bring him back to championship form. Some have suggested that Tiger is finished as a front runner. As I have remarked in other Posts, maybe 100 years ago, situations like Tiger’s would be commented on not only in prose, but also in poetry. Since I am currently the (self-appointed) resident golf poet, here is my contribution regarding Tiger’s troubles:

Tiger Should or Shouldn’t

The ailing failing Tiger Woods
Is being hounded by the “shoulds”

 Should do this, should do that
To get away from where he’s at.

He should Harmon-ize again,
But this is now and that was then.

He should get his head on straight,
It’s not his swing, let’s not conflate.

Tiger Woods should come alive,
Else golfing revenues take a dive.

The “shouldn’t” folks are out there too
Telling Woods what not to do.

He shouldn’t bulk up quite so much,
It’s causing him to lose his touch.

He shouldn’t listen to any coach
Trusting instead in his own approach.

Or maybe Tiger shouldn’t care
And just move his glutes to a rocking chair.

But I’m bettin’ when Tiger comes back
He won’t look like any hack.

Leon S White, PhD

And for those who would like to practice their oral poetry reading skills,


In my last Post (just below) I offered readers like you the chance to experience the fun of reading a poem (in this case a golf poem) out loud. To begin, I suggested reading the first stanza of a classic golf poem called “The Lay for the Troubled Golfer” by Edgar A. Guest. I included a recording of my reading of the stanza, which offered the opportunity to read the stanza along with me.

Now we move on to the whole poem. It is included below and is followed by my recording. If you are inclined, try reading the poem along with me. If you would like to comment on the experience I would appreciate the feedback. But the main thing is to enjoy the experience.

The Lay for the Troubled Golfer

By Edgar A. Guest

 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!

“I’ve dreamed my dreams of the ‘seventy men,’ and I’ve worked year after year,
I have vowed I would stand with the chosen few ere the end of my golf career;
I’ve cherished the thought of a seventy score, and the days have come and gone
And I’ve never been close to the golden goal my heart was set upon.
But today I stood on the eighteenth tee and counted that score of mine,
And my pulses raced with the thrill of joy—I’d a five for a seventy-nine!

“I can kick the ball from the eighteenth tee and get this hole in five,
But I took the wood and I tried to cross that ditch with a mighty drive—”
Let us end the quotes, it is best for all to imagine his language rich,
But he topped that ball, as we often do, and the pill stopped in the ditch.
His third was short and his fourth was bad and his fifth was off the line,
And he took an eight on the eighteenth hole with a five for a seventy-nine.

 I gathered his clubs and I took his arm and alone in the locker room
I left him sitting upon the bench, a picture of grief and gloom;
And the last man came and took his shower and hurried upon his way,
But still he sat with his head bowed down like one with a mind astray,
And he counted his score card o’er and o’er and muttered this doleful whine:
“I took an eight on the eighteenth hole, with a five for a seventy-nine!”


Here is my recording of the poem. Just click on the sideways diamond. And don’t worry about perfection, just recite and have fun. It’s a great poem to read out loud.


If you have time, please leave a comment. Thanks.

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