After a Foozle, Remember…

There are lots of things to remember when playing a round of golf. Maybe the most important is that golf is a game in which you must only pretend seriousness. It is not an easy lesson to learn. And yet we all want to play as well as we can. So we are forever trying to bring to mind the right tip or the right thought at the right time.

I wrote a Twine (a two line golf poem for Twitter) a while ago that dealt with some of this,

Ubiquitous Golf Instruction Twine: A thousand tips from Jan to December/ But when you need one, will you remember?

As my golf has improved over the years, I try to think less, relying more on ingrained basics. Yet there are a few maxims that I do keep in mind. One is embodied in the following four lines:


When a golf shot turns out wrong,
The foozle leaves you feeling low.
That’s the time to recall the line:
Don’t hit two bad shots in a row.



‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’

The following appears in a description of the book A DUFFER’S HANDBOOK OF GOLF by Grantland Rice and Clare Briggs, on the Classics of Golf website.

There is no doubt “duffer” is a pejorative term. While the word’s origin is unknown, it appears in the 1800s as slang for an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person. What better word to describe a neophyte attempting golf? The first “wave” of new golfers occurred when the gutta percha ball became available in the 1850s. Its lower cost and superior durability enticed many citizens to gather a few clubs and try their hand at the sport, some woefully ignorant of the rudiments of the game. “Duffer” first appears in the golf lexicon in 1875 in Clark’s Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game, in a poem by “Two Long Spoons.”

The poem was titled “Duffers Yet,” and was written by Lord Stormonth Darling (1844-1912), a judge, a Scottish Member of Parliament for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities from 1888 to 1890, and also a golfer. Lord Darling wrote other golf related songs and verses including one called “Keep Your E’e on the Ba’.” It is subtitled, “Ballad of the Beginner,” and tells the story of when on Musselboro’s “famous old green,” Lord Darling, then no doubt a duffer, first “sought for the key to the game.”

The caddie that fell to my lot
Was old, hard of hearing, and wise;
His face had a hue that was not
Entirely the work of the skies:
He knew how the young player tries
To remember each tip all at once,
And, forgetting the vital one, sighs,
And despairs of himself as a dunce.

So, deep in his mind he had set
A rule that pervades all the rest;
‘Tis the maxim you ne’er can forget,
If you w’sh in you game to be blest:
‘Tis the greatest, the first, and the best,
The beginning and end of golf-law;
And ‘twas thus by my caddie expressed ─
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Darling, not satisfied that he had a complete answer, asked other questions. Was he standing properly? What about his grip? Should he worry about the bunker ahead?

To each query the answer I got
Was that rigid, inflexible saw
(Of deafness and wisdom begot),
‘Now, mind, keep your e’e on the ba’.’

Lord Darling concludes,

Whate’er be the mark to be hit,
This truth from the caddie I draw ─
In life, as in golf, you’ll be fit
If you aye keep your e’e on the ba’

Although written more than a hundred years ago, Lord Darling’s words of advice are hard to improve upon!


The Prime Minister (to be) is on the First Tee

Arthur J. Balfour (1848 – 1930) was a lifetime professional politician and a long time avid amateur golfer, which left him little time for anything else. He was Captain of the North Berwick club, 1891-92 and Captain of the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews a few years later. He was called by some “the father of English golf,” most likely for his strenuous efforts to promote the game. The high point of his 50 year political career was his time as Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1902 – 1905. Earlier as the cartoon indicates, he was Irish Secretary. He was first known as a renowned philosopher, publishing A Defence of Philosophic DoubtThe Foundations of Belief , and Theism and Humanism .

Balfour the golfer (and philosopher) once wrote:

A tolerable day, a tolerable green, a tolerable opponent, supply, or ought to supply, all that any reasonably constituted human being should require in the way of entertainment. With a fine sea-view, and a clear course in front of him, the golfer should find no difficulty in dismissing all worries from his mind, and regarding golf, even , it may be, very indifferent golf, as the true and adequate end of man’s existence.

In 1894 when Captain of the R & A and following its traditions, Balfour drove off the opening ball at the Autumn Golf Meeting with his friend Tom Morris nearby. Balfour commemorated this event with a poem that will appeal to all golfers who harbor first tee trepidations.


The crisis came, at that wave-beaten place
Men called Saint Andrews in the golfing years;
Tom Morris watched me with an anxious face,
I, full of nervous fears.

Addressed the ball: the crowd had swelled in size:
Behind the ropes I saw; though scarce alive,
The stern tweed-coated men, with golfish eyes,
Waiting to see me drive.

The feat is far less easy than it seems,
Despite the rival politician’s scoff;
Indeed I marvelled what ambitious dreams
Had tempted me to golf.

For I remembered tee-shots toed and topped,
Sad moments, when the driver firmly clutched
Had done its utmost, yet the ball had stopped
Upon the tee, untouched.

This, after all, is merit’s actual test,
I thought, and other laurels matter not,
For no distinguished man can look his best
After a foozled shot.

Still, let me strike, I said, and gathered heart;
Then, with my eye fixed firmly on the ball—
That earliest canon of the Royal Art—
Drove off—and that was all.


Ted Ray’s Golf Swing


The question “What’s wrong with his/her golf swing?”  is often answered today by looking at slow motion video. But the question goes back long before video analysis. It was raised with regard to Ted Ray’s swing shortly after he had participated in the famous 1913 U.S. Open won by Francis Ouimet.

The November 1913 issue of The American Golfer included the following short item titled “Ray’s ‘Sway'”:

Ray comes to us with the reputation of swaying on his up-stroke. Ray does not sway—and we have observed him very closely. What he does is this: Just after the backswing starts the weight is transferred to the right leg; then, about half way up the swing the left shoulder is dropped more or less—a movement in contradistinction to, and offsetting, the first, but to the uninitiated eye, giving every appearance of a sway. The first puts the body weight where it properly belongs—back of the ball—the second enables the arms to complete the upswing. The bending of the knees, more especially the right one, outwardly, creates the false impression of a body sway. It is a sort of leaning in to the ball. Not “according to Hoyle” perhaps, but mighty effective—in Ray’s case.

If you didn’t know, you would have thought that Johnny Miller wrote this! But this was a note in a 1913 golf magazine. And so, not unexpectedly, a short poem was also included:


Oh! tell us Teddy—Teddy Ray,
Tell us truly, we do pray—
If as some are wont to say,
You do really, really sway.

We ourselves incline that way;
But that is not the proper way,
Our friends inform us day by day
When at the 19th hole we pay.


Does Ray sway?
Ray does not sway.
He leans; which means
Ray does not sway.

Ray was known for his portly build and prodigious length off the tee, though his ball often landed in awful lies. His recovery powers were said to be phenomenal and cartoonists usually caricatured him with a niblick in hand, festooned with clumps of heather and saplings, with an inseparable pipe clamped between his teeth. During his career he won the 1912 British Open and the 1920 U.S. Open.


Six Tweets to Better Putting

J. H. Taylor putting

There seems to be general agreement that the first printed book of golf instruction was The Golfer’s Manual, By a Keen Hand, written by H. B. Farnie and published in 1857. Since then instruction has grown to be one of the major products of the golf industry. These days it is still packaged in books, but also in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, blogs, videos, YouTube clips and tips. In addition, instruction is sold to individuals and groups by thousands of teaching pros.

But in today’s busy world, there is a need for the “short and sweet” in golf instruction. With that in mind I offer a 12 line verse that packages the essence of what you need to know to become a better putter. And if you are put off by poetry, just think of this guide as six putting tweets.

Six Tweets to Better Putting

Line up and trust when putting
Head still a must when putting

A rhythmic swing
Is just the thing when putting

Get rid of fear
At least be near when putting

All are agreed
The first rule is speed when putting

The foremost key when putting

The best advice
Don’t think twice when putting.

Leon S. White, March 2010


The “Rubaiyat’s” Contribution to Golf Poetry

To write a parody of a poem, you would take the basic characteristics of the verse (for example, its rhyming scheme and basic idea) and then rework them for comic or ironic effect.

Now suppose that you are a young golfer and poet around the turn of the 20th century. Being literate, you are aware that Omar Khayyam’s poem, Rubaiyat, is being parodied left and right. So one day, after being around the golf course until early evening, you pick up a copy of the poem (it was easy to do then). Reading through the verses, you are struck by the stanza 27,

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
.     About it and about;  but evermore
Came out by the same Door where in I went.

If your name was Henry Boynton, a graduate of Amherst with a Masters of Arts, then, looking at the stanza you might have thought about all the controversies regarding the fundamental of golf being discussed by golfers such as Jamie Anderson and Jamie Braid and all the other Jamies of the time. And this might have led you to write (as part of a book, The Golfer’s Rubaiyat),

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Jamie and His, and heard great argument
.     Of Grip and Stance and Swing; but evermore
Found at the Exit but a Dollar spent.

Little did Boynton know, but he himself would be parodied by later golfing poets.

In the July 1910 issue of  The American Golfer, a poet named Jack Warbasse wrote,

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Travis and Braid, and read great argument
.     About the Grip and Stance; but evermore
Play’d out by the same Stump where in I went.

And then in 1919, a Scottish writer, poet and drama critic Robert K. Risk published a book of collected poems, Songs of the Links, that included the poem “The Golfaiyat of Dufar Hy-Yam.” In that poem we have,

Myself when you did eagerly frequent,
Club-makers’ Shops, and heard great Argument
.     Of Grip and Stance and Swing; but evermore
Learned and Bought little I did not repent.

Finally, in 1946, J. A. Hammerton, a Scottish statesman and author, published a book, The Rubiayat of a Golfer, in which he wrote,

Myself when young would hopefully frequent
Where Pros and Plus Men had great argument
.     On Grips that overlapped, on Swing and Stance
But came away less hopeful than I went.

So what have we learned? First, that there are limits to the golfing parodies of stanza 27 of the Rubaiyat. And second, Instruction about grip, stance and swing has been confusing for a long time!


A Rare Golf Poetry Book


Those of you who have been following this blog know that most of the poetry is from old golf books and magazines. Part of the fun of writing the blog is finding new (old) books which provide me with new material.  Brian Siplo (co-author of a wonderful book about Harry Vardon’s first trip to the U. S., called The Vardon Invasion) recently told me about some old golf poetry books. With a bit of luck, I was able to buy one of them called Divots for Dubs through Abebooks. The 96 page book was written by J. Ellsworth Schrite who self-published it in 1934.

The book  explains in verse, how to play golf. The author makes this very clear in his charming introduction,

Divots for Dubs

“DIVOTS FOR DUBS” explains in verse,
How to play golf, better or worse;

The history, the course, the clubs to choose,
The stance to take, the swings to use;

What to wear, and where to look,
How to slice, and how to hook;

Things that on each course are seen,
Things you need to play “Nineteen”;

A bit of humor, a bit of sense,
Some alibis for self defence:

Get your “Divots”, take a look,
You miss a “par” if you miss the book.

If you want to read on, however, you will be challenged. According to WorldCat only four libraries in the world have it! But that’s also part of the fun I have: bringing inaccessible golf poetry back to life in this blog.


Golf Poems on Twitter: Golf Twines


Golf Course of Rhymes, through  golf stories linked to golf poetry, is intended to give golfers a different kind of golfing experience.  And since most of the poetry was written by previous generations of golfers, the verses also serve as a bridge to link today’s golfers closer to golfing’s past.

I have been using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about new Posts .  But reading Twitter Power by Joel Comm I have learned that announcements aren’t enough.

So I have a new idea. Beginning today I am adding occasional Golf Twines to my Twitter time line.  Golf Twines are two line poems that meet Twitter’s 140 character limitation. The two lines can rhyme or not. For example,

To hit a ball both straight and long/Just try to hum a little song. (LSW)

A Wie win/Would be big. (LSW)
(You have to say this one out-loud in a Scottish accent to make it work.)

Some of the Golf Twines will come from the golf poetry I have collected. Often a poem, as a whole, may not work, yet it could have a couple of great lines – a publishable Twine. Other Golf Twines will hopefully come from my “pen.” In keeping with Twitter brevity, attribution , if any, will be by initials, as in the examples.  Needless to say, the Twitter site are open for your Golf Twines as well. And if the idea catches on, we might start a community of Golf Twiners.

So let the Golf Twining begin.


The Epic of a Chronic Slicer (Continued)


The previous Post (October 26th) introduced the epic of  “Frenzied John.” The poem, a painful description of a chronic slicer, was left unfinished by Bert Leston Taylor, maybe for good reason. It was included in an article in the June 1926 issue of The American Golfer. The article also included a proposed ending. In addition, readers were asked to write their own endings and submit them to possibly win a prize. The ending that was included is as follows:

FRENZIED JOHN (proposed ending)

And Then

He tried the left side pivot,
Although he found it pained;
He turned his knee in from the tee
But still the kink remained.

He thought of weight and balance,
By toe and then by heel;
With shifting stance he did his dance,
But still they heard him squeal.

He sought a new instructor,
And seemed to be O. K.
But left alone, they heard him moan—
“I’m off again today.”

He bought a spoon and mashie
To help correct the ills;
They both felt great, but sad to state
They would not whang the pill.

His neighbors fled in panic
When he came off the course;
His wife in tears was game for years
And then grabbed a divorce.

He tried a slight pronation,
And said—”I’ve got it now”—
But by next day it went away
And furrows creased his brow.

“Perhaps,” he said, “I’m dipping
My shoulder down too far”:
He held it up, but missed the cup
And never got a par.

“I’m through,” he yelled in fury;
“I’m through for good—You’ll see”;
He quit a week, then grabbed his cleek
And hustled to the tee.

He tried the upright system.
Until I heard him curse;
And yet his game was not the same,
For it grew worse and worse.

In my view, Taylor’s unfinished poem is long enough and just needs maybe two more stanzas to bring it to a close. With that in mind I composed the following. (Note that the first stanza is Taylor’s last and then my two follow.)

My Proposed Ending

He laid the club-face forward,
He laid the club-face back.
His face grew thin, his chest fell in,
His mind began to crack.

He slumped but then remembered.
There was one other book.
He read it quick, and grabbed his stick
Ye gads no slice, a hook.

The moral of the story,
Grasp it ‘fore it’s too late.
Off the tee, ‘tween you and me,
It’s hard to hit it straight!


Some Four Line Observations on Golf

Short poems have their place as well. This week I offer a few four liners in hopes that one or two may linger with you for a while.

From a 1901 issue of Golf Illustrated, an observation made more specific many years later by Bob Toski’s question: Where would you rather be on your drive, in the rough, or 15 yards shorter but in the fairway?

Good people of every sort
Come listen to my song,
‘Tis better to be straight and short
Than to be crooked and long.

From an 1891 issue of Golf, a timeless truth,

Golf without cessation
Brings naught but vexation;
Golf in moderation
Is pleasant recreation.

From a poem, “The Wicked Fairy” by Reginald Arkell,

I hit the ball as clean and true
As any decent pro would do;
I mark the line, I watch it fall —
And then it isn’t there at all.

Two four-liners written by Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921), an American columnist, humorist, poet, and author. who wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune from 1901 to 1903 and then again from 1909 until he died.


The rain is raining all around,
It falls on turf and tee;
But I don’t care how wet I get—
I made that hole in three.


A golfer, when he plays with you,
Should speak when he is spoken to,
And keep his score card free from fable;
At least so far as he is able.

And four lines offered anonymously, in the form of a stanza from the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, that take up where Taylor’s four lines left off,


Some take a Brassey when they play the Game
Or with a Cleek carve out the way to Fame;
And some there be who but a Pencil Stub
Have used, and yet have Got There just the Same.

(From Lyrics of the Links by Henry Litchfield West, p. 58)

Finally, four lines that I wrote in answer to all those Titelist ball ads,


The Pro V-1 from Titleist
The pros who play it do insist
With length and spin it beats them all—

Except for someone’s Nike ball.

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