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For Golfers April is National (Golf) Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, but of course for golfers it’s National Golf Poetry Month. True, the Masters gets more attention in April, but we golfers should not lose sight of the fact that while the first Masters was played in 1934, the first poem that included a reference to golf was published in 1638!  Golf poetry was most popular in the early 20th century. The golf magazines of the time included golf poems in almost every issue. A number of golf poets such as Robert K Risk (one of the best)  also published books of their poetry.

As those of you know who follow this Blog, I have tried to revive interest in golf poetry through my Posts, of which this is number 150, and through my two books:

Golf Course Of Rhymes - Links Between Golf And Poetry Through The Ages          Final Briggs Cover for Vook ebook

Both are available on Amazon.com. If Only I Could Play That Hole Again is an eBook that is also available for Nook and the iPad. (For descriptions click in the header above)

I would like to mention two other  golf poetry books that are currently available on Amazon. The first is an eBook called Eighteen Holes and is written by Mike Ellwood. Mike describes the book as “a round of golf in poetry.” It consists of 18 poems with an additional on at the Nineteenth Hole. To quote Mike again, the poetry describes the “the drama, excitement and sheer fun of a round of golf.” The second is called Golf Sonnets and its author is James Long Hale. James describes his book as “A delightful collection of humorous sonnets and illustrations about the Game of Golf.”

With Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day not too far in the future, you might consider a golf poetry book. At least you will know that it will be their first!

I can’t write a Post without at least a few lines of poetry, so here are two four-liners.

THE YIPS PURE AND SIMPLE

You have the yips if you miss- hit your putts
Frequent attacks can drive you nuts
The yips occur when you’re not controlling
The direction or speed of the ball that you’re rolling.

CHANGING ODDS

Heard said that trees are nine-tenth air
If your ball gets over you hardly care;
But if it’s low and lost from view
It’s no more than even that your ball gets through.

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The End of Golf Season Once More

The following is an excerpt from my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (The book is available on Amazon,  Barnes and Nobles and Amazon in Europe including Amazon UK.)

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from HarvardUniversity in 1880, a contemporary of Kipling, wrote a poem that should appeal especially to golfers who live in snowy areas of the country. In his title, Keene uses the word “monody,” meaning lament, to set his tone.

A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall

No greens, no tees;
.        No fragrant breeze;

No harmony of happy-hearted birds;
.        No verdure deep;
.        No roaming sheep;

No faithful collies, watchful of their herds;
.        No sunny glade;
.        No woodland shade;

No ferny path beneath the rustling trees;
.        No springy turf;
.        No murmuring surf;

No passing hum of honey-laden bees;
.        No motors fleet;
.        No golfers’ meet;

No lazy caddies lolling day by day;
.        No warning call;
.        No flying ball;

No contest in the fine and friendly fray;
.        No clubs to wield;
.        No drive afield;

No plaudits as the ball, far-driven flies;
.        No close-trimmed lawn;
.        No bunker’s yawn;

No hidden hazards lurking with bad lies;
.        No brassy swift;
.        No niblick’s lift;

No ringing click of iron, clear and clean;
.        No cleek’s true swing;
.        No mashie’s fling;

No careful putt along the velvet green;
.        No Club-nights gay;
.        No moonlit bay;

No dinners marked by mirth and merry jest;
.        No music bright;
.        No dancers light;

No broad verandah thronged with happy guests;
.        No winding walks;
.        No golfers’ talks;

No genuine delight for every member;
.        No matches more;
.        No games galore;
.        No joyous strife;
.        No zest in life;
.                November.

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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 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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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 2)

In 1886 David Jackson, the Captain of the Thistle Golf Club in Scotland, published a 32 page tract of poems and songs at the “repeated request of many members of my own and other Clubs.” Earlier in 1833, George Fullerton Carnegie privately published a long poem called “The Golfiad” which he dedicated the “Members of all Golfing Clubs, and to those of St. Andrews and North Berwick in particular.” They were his readers.

In the first 30 years or so of the 20th century, the audience for golf poetry expanded. The poetry appeared in golf magazines in both the United Kingdom and the United States and in a few newspapers as well.  A number of (real) books of golf poetry were also published But after about 1930, golf poetry lost its place as a part of the literature of golf and all but disappeared. As Grantland Rice saw it, “…good poets suddenly disappeared and readers for some reason lost the old poetic zest.” It may also be that movies, radio and other sources of entertainment began to attract audiences away from poetry in general.

Today poets struggles to attract an audience and golf poetry has few serious adherents. But we can, with the help of the internet, libraries and the digital reprinting of out-of-print books, rediscover the golf poetry of the past, which is what I have attempted to do with this Blog and my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. And happily a number of readers have responded.

With the help of WordPress.com, my Blog host, I can tell you that golf poetry today enjoys a wider audience than ever before. Poetry on this Blog has been read (and hopefully enjoyed) by readers in more than 70 countries. Leading the list are the countries most associated with golf’s history, the United States (54% of the page views), the United Kingdom (21%), Canada (6%) and Australia (3.3%). But all of the continents have contributed viewers and the Blog has even had four page views from Iceland and two from Belarus! Page views in total for the three plus years of this Blog have passed 67,000.

Reading and even more so, reciting golf poetry is a new experience for most of today’s golfers. So, if it’s new for you, why not begin by reciting the last four lines from one of David Jackson’s poems, “Gouff Dings A’” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All,”

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’. 

 And sometimes poetry dings prose.

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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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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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Was Omar Khayyam a Golfer?

In 1965, when I was a young professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School, I wrote a paper with the title, “Markovian Decision Models for the Evaluation of a Large Class of Continuous Sampling Inspection Plans.” In June of 2009, I published a paper with the title, “Was Omar Khayyam a Golfer” in “Through the Green,” a publication of the British Golf Collectors Society. I leave it to you to characterize the arc of my writing career. Right now I’m more concerned with the arc of my drives! The golf parodies of Khayyam’s famous poem, “The Rubaiyat” are  explored more fully in the 7th Chapter of my new book, “Golf Course of Rhymes.”


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New Book: Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages

 

 

Written with the help of golfing poets such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Fullerton Carnegie, Grantland Rice and Billy Collins. Laid out as a golf course with Holes (chapters) such as “St. Andrews,” Agonies and Frustrations,” “Advice,” “Politics and War,” “Links with the Devil,” and “The Women’s Game.” The text and poems provide humorous tales, historical dramas and personal accounts that will touch the hearts and minds of golfers universally. Much of the material comes from inaccessible books and magazines published in the U.S., England and Scotland before 1930. The Foreword is by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

More than five years in the making. Written to offer today’s golfers poetic snapshots of the game as described by keen-eyed golfers of the past along with a good number of historical vignettes.  Golf Course of Rhymes is available at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble and also Amazon.UK. I hope you will take a look.

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