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?


A Not So Happy New Year from Golf Illustrated 1900

New Years 1900 for the English was not all happiness. The second Boar War was under way between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the  Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. The war did not end until 1902 when the Boer republics became British colonies. These colonies later became part of the Union of South Africa.

Golf Illustrated, a new English golf weekly, greeted 1900 by beginning its January 5th edition with a poem and a few hopeful and sober remarks.

A gude (good) New Year an’ health an’ cheer,
Tae ilka (To every) gowfin’ loon,
An’ may we steer o’ hazards clear,
In life and gowf each roun’.

*             *             *

Another round in the great game of life has now commenced. Let us hope that 1900 will have fewer bunkers in store for us than 1899.

*             *             *

“Ring out the Old, Ring in the New!” seems to be a singularly appropriate sentiment this particular New Year time. We have a long and heavy score to wipe off in South Africa before we can settle down in peace and comfort of mind to our ordinary avocations.

*             *             *

We have made the mistake, as common in Golf as in life, of under-estimating our adversary, who, instead of being a third-rate performer, has turned out to be a veritable Colonel Bogey.

*             *             *

The game, however is yet young. We have now fairly got the measure of our man, and a few more holes will put a very different complexion on affairs.

*             *             *

“Ring out the Old, Ring in the New!”

*             *             *

By the time the Championships are here, there ought to be some golfers in Pretoria.

A golf related footnote to the war: Freddie Tait, a highly regarded amateur, winner of the Amateur Championship in 1896 and 1898, fighting as a member of the second battalion of the Black Watch, died in battle on February 7, 1900. To honor his memory, The Freddie Tait Cup is awarded annually to the leading amateur in the South African Open.


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.”


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.


The Essence of Golf in an Old Poem

Today (3/30) I drove by the local driving range and it was open! Always a good sign. And the afternoon temperature was above 50 degrees — another good sign. But the weather report warns of wet snow tomorrow night and Friday. And there you have it – early spring for the golfers of New England.

In the past at this time of year, I have offered spring celebration golf poetry, see “Another Golf Season Begins” and “A Springtime Exchange . . .” To start this golf season I would like you to read (out-loud and slowly if possible and more than once if you have the time) a poem “Ode to Golf” that gets at the essence of the game. The poem was written by Andrew Lang (1844 -1912), a prolific Scots poet, novelist, literary critic and appeared in a book titled, Ban and Arriere — A Rally of Fugitive Rhymes, published in 1894. [The poem makes several references to St. Andrews.]

Ode to Golf

‘Delusive Nymph, farewell!’
How oft we’ve said or sung,
When balls evasive fell,
Or in the jaws of ‘Hell,’
Or salt sea-weeds among,
‘Mid shingle and sea-shell!

How oft beside the Burn (stream),
We play the sad ‘two more’;
How often at the turn,
The heather must we spurn;
How oft we’ve ‘topped and swore,’
In bent and whin and fern!

Yes, when the broken head
Bounds further than the ball,
The heart has inly bled.
Ah! and the lips have said
Words we would fain recall –
Wild words, of passion bred!

In bunkers all unknown,
Far beyond ‘Walkinshaw,
Where never ball had flown –
Reached by ourselves alone –
Caddies have heard with awe
The music of our moan!

Yet, Nymph, if once alone,
The ball hath featly fled –
Not smitten from the bone –
That drive doth still atone;
And one long shot laid dead
Our grief to the winds hath blown!

So, still beside the tee,
We meet in storm or calm,
Lady, and worship thee;
While the loud lark sings free,
Piping his matin psalm
Above the grey sad sea

The old golf poetry, well represented in this Blog, time and again makes clear how timeless the game is. One drive “featly fled” will bring us back for another round, yesterday, today or tomorrow.


“He’ll yet a gowfer be.”

If you search my blog using the word “duffer” you will find 10 Posts out of a little over a hundred that include the term. Duffers are common on the golf course and in golf poetry as well. But what is the opposite of “duffer?” It might be the perfect golfer, except there are none. But that hasn’t stopped golf poets from musing about the possibility of playing perfect golf or what it might feel like to be a perfect golfer. In my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry, I include several poems on golf perfection. I found another, this one on a duffer’s view of perfect golf, in a book called Divots for Dubs, privately published by J. Ellsworth Schrite in 1934.

The Par Buster

I pray that some day I might be,
Allowed to step up to the tee,
And there with all my friends to see,
I’d swing–so smooth and evenly
That they, who’ve seen me in disgrace,
Would marvel at my new-found grace.
And as the ball sailed straight and true,
I’d hear them murmur: “What hit you?”

With practiced calm I’d stand and stare,
And watch the ball sail thru the air.
And when it settled to the land,
My friends would grasp me by the hand
And mutter: “Gosh! I’ve never seen,
A drive hit so near the green.”
I wouldn’t strut–I’d trudge along,
Stilling my heart from its victory song.

My second, with an iron I’d hit,
With plenty of spin to make it “sit.”
Of course, I’d be allowed to grin,
When it rolled almost to the “pin.”
I wouldn’t have to use my putter,
For, “Pick it up”, I’d hear them mutter.
From every tee I’d drive them far,
On every green I’d laugh at par.

The rough, the traps, and all that stuff,
Would see that I was good enough
To guide my ball beyond their clutch,
I’d pass them by with hooks and such.
And when the course I’d travel o’er,
I’d let my caddy add the score.”
I wouldn’t faint nor shout with glee,
If he should look with awe at me.
But how we all would celebrate,
When he shouted–sixty-eight.

I wonder, would I lose the thrill,
Playing that well–perhaps I will.
Oh well, a day dream now and then,
Gives us hope–we try again.

So in the end it is not unreachable perfection, but the hope of getting better that drives us all. John Thomson, an Scottish lawyer, golfer and poet, put this idea to verse in 1893:

See yonder lads upon the links.
Go, find a duffer there but thinks,
For a'[all] the jeers and wylie winks,
He’ll yet a gowfer be.


“St Andrew’s Law” by Robert Browning

Much of the golf poetry in this Blog is straight-forward. You read it once, understand what the poet is trying to convey and respond with some kind of thought or emotion . . . or not. For the most part, the best of the golf-poets of the past were entertaining verse-writers who on occasion reflected their feelings for the game poetically.

A few of these poets went beyond verse writing and wrote at what might be described as a higher level. Their poetry requires more careful reading (not necessarily what Blog readers are looking for), but such reading can also be rewarding. One such golf poet is Robert H. K. Browning, a writer, golf magazine editor and golf historian who was active in the first half of the 20th century. His poetry has been included in my last two Posts.

I found Browning’s poem, “St. Andrew’s Law,” sub-titled “(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)”, in a book called On the Green edited by Samuel .J. Looker, published in 1922. The reason for “apologies” is that the poem is a parody of Kipling’s poem, “Poseidon’s Law.” Both poems include warnings about lying while recognizing the inherent inevitability of stretching the truth, whether in a sailor’s tavern or clubhouse bar. I hope you will take the time to read “St. Andrew’s Law” out-loud . . . to fully enjoy Browning’s humor, his keen understanding of golfers’ foibles and his poetic skills.

St Andrew’s Law

(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

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.

“Ye may not hope with putts untrue to reach the narrow tin,
Nor cozen [bamboozle] of their lawful due the bunker and the whin,
Nor tempt with drives that are not straight the slice-avenging rough,
Nor keep your ‘good’ strokes from the fate of stokes not good enough.

“But since the twisting ball that’s bent before the rising wind
Must always meet its punishment to tell you ye have sinned,
Be yours the frank unwavering eye, the open soul that shrinks
From any though of rotten lie–while ye are on the links.”

About the rugged moorland track on which his course was laid
The cave-man kept the law intact–until his game was played;
But once the last short putt was holed to crown his heart’s desire,
Audaciously mendacious [duplicitous] strolled the cave-man to his fire.

The prehistoric head of flint adorns our clubs no more,
But still the new clubs drive a-squint, exactly as of yore;
The prehistoric stone is now the radium-centred ball,
But ah ! the prehistoric man has never changed at all.

And driven in by rain or sleet, or by the Evening Star,
He moistly occupies his seat beside the clubhouse bar
And as or yore around Stonehenge, when golf was in its youth,
The swiper takes his great revenge upon the gods of truth.

If you have the time, you might find it interesting to look at Kipling’s poem and see just how Browning went about transforming a poem about sailors to one about swipers. And here is a website for help in understanding Kipling’s lines. But don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.



“Golf Dings A'”

This year  may not have been the greatest for golf, professional and otherwise, but it was a great year for golf poetry.  This Blog got more than 20,000 page views and the subject of golf poetry was featured in a May Wall St. Journal article.

Hopefully, 2011 will be an even bigger year with the publication of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, by Golfiana Press.

Some of the golf poetry of old was written by Scottish golfers who read or sung their poetry at club meetings. One of those golfers was David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, in Levin. He published his “songs and recitations” in a short book of 32 pages in 1886. Last August I wrote a Post that featured one of his poems. Jackson and the other club house poets wrote about golf with an enthusiasm, love and respect and a kind of innocence that was unique to that time. Jackson’s “Gouff Dings A'” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All” is a good example. Subtitled, “Sung at a Convivial Meeting,” here, to begin with, is the Chorus:

For Gouff dings a’, my boys, Gouff will aye ding a’
With joy we’ll swing our Clubs and Cleek, and drive the bounding Ba’;
Then over bunkers, braes (hills), and bent, we’ll gang (go) out twa (two) by twa,
With hearts elate and mind content–oh, Gouff dings a’.

And here are a few of the stanzas. Remember this was sung in the 1880’s:

Oh, hoo (how) are ye a’ the nicht (night), my friends? I hope I see ye weel (well),
Yer Clubs a’ in guid (good) order; yer Cleeks and Irons like steel.
I’ve just looked in for half-an-hour to ha’e a joke or twa
About our jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.


The Gouff belongs to Scotland, but its spreading sure and far;
You’ll find a Golfing-Course, my boys, wherever Scotsmen are;
In Africa,in India, in America, ’tis the same,
Australia and our Colonies pay homage to the game.


King James the Fourth, he loved the game; but had to put it down,
In case his men forgot the way to fight for King and Crown.
No wonder that he banned it, boys–if a’ that’s said be true,
They played the game through a’ the week, and on the Sunday, too.


I met a chap the other nicht, he was looking unco (strangely) blue;
Said I, “My boy, what can annoy a lively lad like you?”
“‘Tis a’ about the Golf,” he said, while tears ran ower his cheeks,
“The wife and I have had a row, and she’s burnt my Clubs and Cleeks.”


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’.

So next Friday night when you “take a cup of kindness yet,/ for auld lang syne,” take one as well for  David Jackson and the game he describes so lovingly.


Another Poem for a Winter’s Day

Last December I published a post titled “Golf Poetry for a Winter’s Day.” It included a poem called “Retrospection.” If you want a succinct description of the essence of golf, I encourage you to click here and read (better recite) the last two stanzas.

This December’s poem for a winter’s day is called “A Dirge for Summer.” It was written by Robert Risk, a Scottish poet and golfer, and appeared in his book, Songs of the Links, published in 1919.


Gone are the days when by the swinging sea
We lounged and smoked between two sunny rounds,
Gone are the times of loitering by the tee;
The summer has been driven out of bounds–
No penalty is writ in white and black,
Whereby we are allowed to call it back.

Gone are the jocund evenings when we start,
High-tea’d and confident of light and weather,
Forgetful of the office and the mart,
Of debts and duns and the Golf-maniac’s blether;
Those perfect evenings, clear, and dry, and bright,
Have vanished wholly in the Ewigkeit. [eternity]

Gone is the crowd about the starter’s box,
And no one waits to-day at those short holes,
Where the procrastinating putter mocks
The men behind and harrows up their souls;
Void the grey town o’scarlet down and cleek
(I’ve half a mind to go there for a week).

For now, we must from Saturday to Saturday
Neglect our game–a week’s a weary time–
And each one brings a coorser and a watter day
(Kindly excuse a Caledonian rhyme),
For we are entered on the Golfer’s Lent,
The season of his deepest discontent.

Yet on the dim horizon looms afar,
No larger than the neatest niblick head,
A little scintillating, faithful star,
Though over all the heavens is darkness spread;
Through all the winter waste it sends a greeting,
The constellation of Next Year’s Spring Meeting.

When I read this poem it makes me think that over the last 100 years the game has changed much more than its players.


Announcing Golfiana Press and its First Book

George Fullerton Carnegie, “The Poet Laureate of St. Andrews” in an earlier Post, collected several of his poems in a book he called “Golfiana – or Niceties Connected with the Game of Golf.” The book was first published privately in 1833. Carnegie dedicated his poetic effort to “Members of all Golfing Clubs, and to those of St. Andrews and North Berwick in particular.”

I am happy to announce the start of a new publishing venture,  Golfiana Press, which has been established to once again make gift books featuring historical golf poetry available to golfers everywhere. The first book to be published by Golfiana Press will be Golf Course of Rhymes – Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages (Foreword by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.). Golf Course of Rhymes will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles mid-April, 2011. I will keep you up to date through this Blog and my Tweets.

Golf Course of Rhymes is laid out like a golf course. It begins with a Practice Tee (the Introduction); continues with 18 Holes (Chapters), each with a name that describes its content or theme; and ends at the19th Hole where the reader can relax after “playing” the course. Distinct from an anthology, a typical hole, in addition to humorous and poignant verses, includes stories and comments that put the poems in context.

The Course includes Holes with names such as “St. Andrews,” “Agonies and Frustrations,” “Great and Not So Great Moments,” “Golf Dreams” and “The Women’s Game.” The fanciful fairways and greens contain the works of more than 45 poets including Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, “the late Sheriff Logan,” Charles “Chick” Evans, Sarah Cleghorn, Grantland Rice and Ring Lardner. A majority of the 100 plus poems come from little known books and magazines published in America, England and Scotland before 1930.

Please stay tuned!

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