A Wife’s Place in the Golf World of 1886

Last November I wrote a Post that included a poem from the Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, David Jackson. The poem came from a 32 page book called Golf Songs & Recitations published in 1886. In my November Post I said that the book was not available in any library. I have since learned that one copy exists in the library of the University of British Columbia. I managed to find a 1988 reproduction of the book.

I picked up Jackson’s book again recently and found a relatively short epic poem called “The Breaking O’ the Clubs.” The poem describes the tensions that golf created between a man and his wife in the 1880’s when golf was becoming more popular among the rank and file. In writing the poem, Jackson used some Scottish dialect which I have tried to translate using Internet sources. The poem is interesting both for its lively content and its “happy” ending.


Ae nicht (One night) I had a round at Gouff wi’ my cronies, Bob and Tam,
When we were through, to weet our mou’, some ane (one) proposed a dram;
Sae down we sat, and had a chat about our Drives and Putting—
Wi’ (with) joke and sang, it wisna lang till it was time for shutting.
Then hame I goes on my tiptoes, but ah! the wife was waken.
“The morn,” she cries, “afore ye rise, I’ll ha’e yer Clubs a’ (all) broken;
Ye gang tae (go to) Gouff, it’s a’ your houff, and then ye maun (must) be drinking,
Some morning when ye canna rise, ye’ll get the sack, I’m thinking;
Whaur wull you be, the bairns (children) and me—oh, man, ye should think shame,
If I should rise and break yer Clubs, I woudna be to blame.”
To bed I sprung, and held my tongue, thinks I before the morrie,
For a’ this lung and words high-strung she surely will be sorry.

When morning dawned, I wakened, yawned, was pulling on a stockin’,
When horrors, a’! what was I saw – my Clubs and Cleeks a’ broken.
As guid (good) a Club as e’er was swung, I won at last Spring Meetin’,
My driving Cleek, my lofting Iron, a’ tools that ne’er were beaten,
How aft I’ve praised their style o’ mak’, and rubbed wi’ oil their handle,
It’s quite enough to drive me mad, and raise a perfit scandal.
I fumed and swore, and loud did roar, and kicked up such a shindy
The neebors gathered round the door, and some glowered through the window.

“Shall I give up the Gouff for this, and frae (from) my Clubmates sever,
I tell ye plainly to yer face ye needna think it—never;
Fareweel to a’, for I’m awa, my peace wi’ you is ended,
Unless ye gang (go) this very day, and get thae Clubs a’ mended.”
I left the house in awful scorn, their cries to come back spurning,
My heart wi’ grief and anger torn, my brain wi’ rage near turning.
That was a dull and dreary day, to breathe seemed quite a labour,
I coudna sing a lilt, or say a word to my next neebor.
When I came hame frae wark that night, my heart a’ wives reviling
Wha’s (Whose) was the first that met my sicht—my ain (own) and she was smiling.
“Oh, come awa, I’m awfu’ glad that this long day is ended,
For I ha’e been at Patrick’s, lad, and got yer Clubs a’ mended;
And there’s a Club I bought for you – he said ’twas special made, man,
The wale (choice) o’ wud, a powerfu’ shaft, and bonnie driving head, man.
Forgi’e me noo.” “I will, my doo.” And bright her face did shine;
And ever since ye coudna ha’e a better wife than mine.

Though somewhat over the top, this story is probably representative of male golfers’ attitudes in the 1880’s.


Remembering Tom Watson at the 2009 Open

Just after last year’s British Open I wrote a poem to commemorate Tom Watson’s memorable performance. Since then I have revised the poem slightly. You might also enjoy the poem I wrote about Doug Sanders at the 1970 Open.

Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning or losing –
But how he had played the Game.

And did he ever!


The Poet Laureate of St Andrews

George Fullerton Carnegie was born near St. Andrews, Scotland in 1800.  In 1833 he privately published a small book of poetry called Golfiana. The first edition included three poems, the first, “Address to St. Andrews” and third, “The First Hole at St. Andrews on a Crowded Day.”

Carnegie, who could be described as the poet laureate of St. Andrews in his time, had a passion for golf which continued to his death in 1851. In his later years he was a friend of Tom Morris. This is how Carnegie, a short man, described himself:

That little man that’s seated on the ground
In red, must be Carnegie. I’ll be bound.
A most conceited dog, not slow to go it
At golf, or anything a sort of poet.

In 1842, a third edition of Golfiana was published that included another poem about St. Andrews called “Another Peep at the Links.” The last stanza of this poem might be described as Carnegie’s final tribute to the course he loved.

And now farewell! I am the worse for wear—
Grey is my jacket, growing grey my hair!
And, though my play is pretty much the same,
Mine is, at best, a despicable game.
But still I like it—still delight to sing
Club, players, caddies, balls, everything.
But all that’s bright must fade! and we who play,
Like those before us, soon must pass away;
Yet it requires no prophet’s skill to trace
The royal game thro’ each succeeding race;
While on the tide of generations flows,
It still shall bloom, a never-fading rose:
And still St. Andrews Links, with flags unfurl’d,
Shall peerless reign, and challenge all the world!

Though written long ago, this is the St. Andrew Links that will yet again soon host another Open Championship.


Golf Controversies

In two Posts earlier this year, “A Poetic Response to the Rise of Medal Play in 1912” and “More Match Play Poetry,” I wrote about the controversy regarding the switch to medal play that occurred around the turn of the 20th century. In the beginning players who competed on the basis of score were scorned. Apparently, the poetic upset with the “score-keeping man” goes back even earlier. Here are eight lines of derision written by Patrick O. Macdonald (he certainly had the right name). The verses appeared in the magazine Golf in 1898.

The Real Golfer plays his man,
And not a computation;
He licks his partner if he can,
And not the whole creation.

That wretched new score-keeping man,
Whose Golf’s a calculation:
Kick him, ye golfers, if you can,
He’s an abomination.

You may be aware that Jim Hyler, the new USGA president, is promoting more environmentally sustainable golf course maintenance practices. Maybe he should advocate a return to match play as well. Think of all the trees that would be saved from becoming score cards!


‘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 Language of Golf

The Foreword to Peter Davies’ impressive book The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms  − From 1500 to the Present begins:

No game has a richer array of terms than golf. Five hundred years of golfing have built up an extraordinary vocabulary.

Mr. Davies goes on to say,

…before 1850 when the Scots had the game to themselves: bunker, caddie, divot, links, putt, stance, stymie and tee [were] purely Scottish words…

Robert K. Risk, a Scottish writer, poet and golfer in his book Songs of the Links, first published in 1919, identifies a presumably non-Scottish writer who,

…in a magazine alleges that the terminology of golf is peculiarly repulsive, and instances “top,” “foozle,” “tee,” “stymie,” “divot,” and “bunker,” as the cacophonous offspring of a degraded invention.

Risk responded with “A Protest,”


Imprimis, I would here protest
That any who mislikes our phrases,
Our stymies, foozles, and the rest
May, go, for all I care, to blazes,
Or any more select location
Where golf terms cannot cause vexation;

Secundo, when he sets his hand
Upon so sweet a bloom as stymie,
I’d have him clearly understand
Few words so keenly gratify me;
Stymie—it pleases me to say it
Almost as much as when I lay it.

Stymie—dear word most musical:
And what man will deny that putter,
Pronounced without a “t” at all,
Is smoother far than melted butter;
And when its “t’s” are forced to duty
Putter has still a poignant beauty.

And as for foozle—what could be
More deftly onomatopoeic?
Hearing the word, assuredly
Even one who knew not Golf, would see quick
Anger, futility, despair
As of a man who beats the air.

And divot—any duffer knows—
Is the by-product of a foozle:
When to a sounder game he grows,
And pitching-clubs cease to bamboozle,
Divot, when it is cut or said
Means a half-iron shot laid dead.

And what about those minor games—
Billiards and tennis, football, cricket—
Could one invent much uglier names
Than pot and screw and lob and wicket,
Off-side and deuce and maul and sett?
More loathly words I’ve never met.

Therefore, when in a magazine,
A writer airs such views as these,
I diagnose a touch of spleen
Or failure absolute to please
The Goddess who demands our duty—
Great are Golfina’s works and ways,
And passing sweet her every phrase,
And all her words are words of beauty.


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.


Golf History, Golf Poetry and the Making of the Featherie

A Featherie Ball

For many American golfers, the history of golf begins with the 1913 U.S. Open won in a playoff by Francis Ouimet over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. The author Mark Frost marks this event as “the birth of Modern Golf” in his bookThe Greatest Game Ever Played. But what about the birth of the game? To get a better idea as to the origins of golf and its early history I would suggest a book called A Swing Through Time — Golf in Scotland 1457-1744 by Olive M Geddes (revised edition published in 2007).  Quoting from the book’s introduction,

This book takes a close look at the earliest written records of golf in Scotland, from the 1457 Act of Parliament banning the game to the first ‘Rules’ of golf — the ‘Articles and Law’ of 1744 drawn up by the Company of Gentlemen Golfers for the competition for the Silver Cup played over Leith Links.

Interestingly, some of these “written records” were recorded in verse. For example, Ms. Geddes devotes a chapter to a discussion of the first book entirely devoted to golf, called The Goff, first published in 1743. It was a mock-heroic epic poem, 358 lines long, written by an Edinburgh lawyer (who later became a Minister) named Thomas Mathison.  A second edition was published in 1763 and a third 30 years later. In 1981 the United States Golf Association published facsimiles of all three editions under one cover in a limited edition of 1400 copies. One of few surviving third edition copes was sold for $80,500 in 1998.

The Goff tells the story of a golf match on the Leith Links played between Castalio and Pygmalion, the heroic combatants of the tale. But the poem also makes reference to some golf related activities of the time. In one interesting section of eight lines, Mathison describes in some detail how featherie golf balls were made:

The work of Bobson; who with matchless art
Shapes the firm hide, connecting ev’ry part,”
Then in a socket sets the well-stitch’d void,
And thro’ the eyelet drives the downy tide;
Crowds urging crowds the forceful brogue impels,
The feathers harden and the Leather swells;
He crams and sweats, yet crams and urges more,
Till scarce the turgid globe contains its store.

Ms. Geddes remarks that “Bobson” probably referred to a St. Andrews ball-maker named Robertson (likely an ancestor of Davie and Allen Robertson). The implication is that although balls were made in Leith at the time, the best balls came from St. Andrews. (Featherie balls dated back to 1618 and were only replaced by Gutta-Percha balls in 1848!) I hope that those of you who might be interested in golf’s early history will have the opportunity to consult A Swing Through Time.


A Springtime Exchange Between a Golf Poet and his Editor

Robert K. Risk's book, Songs of the Links (1919), includes the following timely exchange between Risk, the golf poet, and and Garden G. Smith (1860-1913) the editor of Golf Illustrated, the British weekly, for many years and an important contributor to the literature of the game. (Risk's poem has been slightly shortened.)


Bid me write and I will write
Of club and ball and tee,
Trusting the matter I indite
Will be approved by thee.

Bid me to stay my pen and I
Will muzzle it with grace,
Regarding not impatiently
Regretted "lack of space."

But when you hint that I should do
Some verse concerning Spring,
That, I must frankly caution you,
Is quite another thing.

Although not disinclined to sing,
No poet can ignore
That all that can be sung of Spring
Has been well sung before.

Therefore, should I to platitude
And outworn phrase incline,
The brickbats thrown by readers rude
Are yours, dear sir, not mine.

In Spring we walk the daisied links
Where lively lambkins leap—
Too few of them, one sadly thinks,
Will ever grow to sheep.

In Spring a brighter glitter shines
On the well-burnished cleek,
But still we do 5-holes in 9's
Though playing thrice a week.

In Spring the chronic topper dreams
Of getting down to scratch,
Of being picked in all Club teams,
And winning every match.

In Spring we cease to argufy
About the "best-length hole,"
Which simply means the one that I
Enjoy—and you can't hole.


'Tis Spring that whets our appetite
For Three weeks' solid golf,
Though ere the third week is in sight
We shall be direly "off."

In Spring the poet is supposed
Keenly his lyre to tune;
But here these verses are foreclosed,
For I am off to Troon.

And here is the editor Garden G. Smith's response:



'Tis bitter sad the poets should
There work neglect for sport,
Wile Mr. Risk plays golf at Troon,
I am two verses short.

May bunkers trap his longest shots,
May rabbit holes annoy him;
And if this here occurs again
I'm blowed if I'll employ him.


More Match Play Poetry

A few weeks ago I wrote a Post about the switch from match to stroke play that occurred about 100 years ago. More recently I came across the following statement by a CBS Sports writer (originally from England) named Ross Devonport.

Match play. Ahhh…the purest form of golf. There’s nothing better than watching to guys going head-to-head over 18 or 36 holes, taking risks instead of being worried about not making the cut and playing conservatively.

I actually think Devonport got it wrong. Watching the Accenture on TV last week was, by the last round, reduced to watching a few shots squeezed in between advertisements. What’s better would be to engage in a friendly game of match play from time to time and leave the score cards with the starter. But when was the last time someone came up to you at your local course and asked “do you want a match?”  Maybe in Scotland, but not in the U.S. Or am I wrong?

Matches of all kinds were certainly played at the Old Course in St. Andrews in the 1920’s. And for some undetermined reason, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club recommended at that time with regard to such matches that “all sympathetic handicapping should be discontinued.” This advisory inspired a wily golf poet to respond with the following tale:

Out of Sympathy

Neuritis was Jones’s trouble, plus a cold and a hacking cough,
When he found his way to the links one day and fancied a round of golf;
I was practising on the putting-green, failing to get them down,
When he hoarsely crooked, “Do you want a match?”—and the stakes were half-a-crown.

“Of course,,” said Jones, “as I’m far from fit I shan’t give you a game;
Unless I receive some extra strokes I’m afraid you’ll find it tame;
I don’t suppose I shall hit a ball (he choked); you’re sure to win”
So I gave him a half instead of a third, with a couple of bisques thrown in.

Taking the honor I promptly sliced into a clump of gorse,
While poor old Jones with terrible groans drove a peach straight down the course;
I got well out and snatched a five (which might have been much more);
He topped his second and fluffed his third, then holed his approach for a four.

I reached the green from the second tee and murmured, “Good Enough!”
Jones pushed his off (he had to cough!) to the right and was lucked in the rough;
His approach pulled up on the edge of the green, but his putt, though a trifle brisk,
Dropped in, and he said, when my second lay dead, “My hole! I shall take a bisque.”

From there to the turn, whatever I did, the bunkers took their tolls,
While Jones, though suffering awful pain, continued to take the holes;
He was “dormie nine,” and he won the tenth by laying a chip-shot dead;
“The match!” he moaned with a sickly smile and “Double or quits,” I said.

The rest of the tale is steeped in gloom too deep to describe in rhyme;
He won the bye and the bye-bye too—we’d double or quits each time;
With a look resigned and a permanent where he took the well-known road
To the “nineteenth hole,” four half-crowns “up” and—SYMPATHY BE BLOWED!

The poem originally came from the magazine Punch, and appeared in The American Golfer on May 7, 1921. The term “bisque” is a handicap stroke in match play that can be taken at any hole nominated by the player who receives it. And “the bye” refers to a hole or holes remaining if the match is won before the 18th hole.

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