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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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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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The Mental Game in Prose and Poetry

Product Details

I’ve been reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s new book, The Unstoppable Golfer, (written with Bob Cullen)His basic thesis is that to play your best golf you need to develop repeatable sensible pre-shot routines, establish targets for all your shots and then go as “unconscious” as you can while hitting the shot or putting. While this approach is important for all shots, Rotella believes it is especially important for the short game. Rotella assumes that the reader can play, but is being stopped from improvement by a weak mental game that shows up more frequently from 100 yards in. By following Rotella’s mental prescriptions readers will become “unstoppable”  on the golf course. The book is easy to read and his mental game approach is well accepted among professionals. If you are looking for help with your short game and know the basics of chipping, pitching and putting, this book will help.

In the book Rotella rightly points out that sports psychology is a relatively new profession. However, he may not have come across what is likely the first reference to the mental game which appeared in a poem written by an Edinburgh medical student in 1687! The 12 line poem appears in Thomas Kincaid’s diary and is the first poem entirely about golf.

Gripe 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
Make all the motion with your bodies swinge
And shoulders, holding still the muscles bent                   (5)
Play slowly first till you the way have learnt
At such lenth hold the club as fitts your strength
The lighter head requires the longer lenth
That circle wherein moves your club and hands
At forty five degrees from Th[e] horizon stands             (10)
What at on[e] stroak to effectuat you dispaire
Seek only ’gainst the nixt it to prepare.

The mental game reference is in lines 11 and 12. These last two lines suggest that if you hit a bad shot, put it out of your mind when preparing to hit the next. Still good advice.

In my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I include a poem that I wrote which sums up the challenge of following the prescriptions in Dr. Rotella’s tome.

The Futility of Thinking

With golf and sleeping
The more that you think
The odds of succeeding
Are likely to shrink.

Be it sheep in a line
Or the ball at address
Your thoughts only lead to
An increase in stress.

But,

To swing without thinking
Requires that you
Fill your mind up with blanks
It’s darn hard to do!

But in spite of the challenge, Dr. Rotella’s book may help. Check it out on Amazon. Oh, and you can check out mine as well. Thanks.

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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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“Golf Course of Rhymes” – Great Gift for the Ardent Golfer

The Post below appeared December 2nd on the Golfgal’s Blog, http://www.Golfgal-blog.com. I reprinted it because it is absolutely the best review of my book that I could imagine. I hope that you find it compelling.

 Great Gift for the Ardent Golfer

Legs like Buttah!
I’ve always thought that Ernie Els’ swing was poetry in motion.It looks completely effortless and rhythmic; some might even go so far as to say it is as smooth as Barbra Streisand’s legs… “Like buttah!” (Ooops, I think I’m dating myself 🙂 ).Anyway, back to golf…Except for my comments on The Big Easy, I don’t ever remember using the words poetry and golf in the same sentence.  But since I discovered Leon White’s book, Golf Course of Rhymes (Links between Golf and Poetry Thought the Ages), I can see how poetic golf really is.

Dr. White’s book is a wonderful collection of poems and songs about golf dating back centuries. But it’s not just a book of poetry; it if full of historical gems from the famous and infamous men and women who share our addiction to this sport.  Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a golf poet?  Or that women’s golf started with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots?  Did you know there are at least 11 different ways to spell golf?

I am not someone who reads a lot of poetry, but I really love this book.  It’s organized so that each chapter is a hole on an 18-hole course, including a practice tee chapter and, of course, the 19th “watering” hole.

There are funny poems, sad ones and ones you have to read a few times to figure them out.  But as the author encourages more than once, you should read them out loud to truly appreciate them.  It’s a bit tricky with the ones riddled with Scottish dialect (he does offer translation), but reading them out loud, you can’t help but put on an accent, which leaves you smiling your way through the stanzas.

One of my favorites in the book speaks to me of heartache and happiness (which is what golf is all about); it  was published in The American Golfer back in 1915:

My drive is erratic, my brassie’s the same,
My irons atrocious, and awful my aim,
My mashie is fearful, my putting worse still,
My scores have the look of a dressmaker’s bill;
My legs are a-weary, my wrists are quite lame,
But I am most happy, — I’m playing the game.

So if you are looking for a gift for someone who loves the links, I would highly recommend Golf Course of Rhymes.  It’s a fun and entertaining read that will also teach you things you probably never knew about the history of golf and those who loved to hate it…and hated to live without it.

But it’s not just oldies but goodies…there are poems about Tiger’s chip from behind the 16th green on the final day of the 2005 Masters and even one about Michelle Wie’s quest to beat the pros in pants.

As Robert Trent Jones Jr. said in his forward in the book, Golf Course of Rhymes is the best round of golf you will ever play without swinging a club.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Golfgal

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Joys of Golf

Dear Blog reader: I hope that you won’t mind if, from time to time, I post a short excerpt from my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. The book provides a lyrical view of golf and its history through the words of golfing poets from publications dated 1638 to the present. It will make a great present for any golfer who loves the game. The book is available on Amazon.com.

The book is organized like a golf course – it has an Introduction, the Practice Tee, and then 18 Holes (chapters); it ends on the 19th Hole. The 3rd Hole, titled “Joys of Golf” included the following poem which I wrote.

On Course

Golf is a singular way
to take temporary leave
following a zigzag path
in search of a small white ball;

to abandon reality,
but stay the course,
hole after hole;

to create a new story,
always different
to be told to someone
before it’s forgotten.

An extraordinary chance
to pretend for a brief time
no matter how unskilled
that each stroke will be flawless;

to endure the pain of failure
without really failing,
and even if only once a round,

to truly enjoy
the pure pleasure
of hitting the ball rock-solid
or sinking a long tricky putt.

Among the other poems in the chapter, one was written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes and another by Sir John Betjman, a British poet laureate. Both Doyle and Betjman were avid golfers. I’m among good company!

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