Surprising as it may seem, “golf poetry” is not a contradiction in terms. In earlier times, poetry was part an integral of the game’s literature. In fact, the first separately printed book devoted entirely to golf, called The Goff, was a 358 line mock epic poem initially published in 1743. The golf magazines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Golf, The Golfer, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated & Outdoor America contained golf poems in almost every issue. Even advertisements contained poetry. Here is an example from a Spaulding golf ball ad titled “Driving Off on Parnassus” that appeared on the back cover of the August 1914 issue of Golf Magazine,
When the greens were fast and freakish,
Once my putts were either weakish
Or absurdly strong.
Now I calmly snap my digits
For I play with Spaulding “Midgets,”
Not a putt goes wrong.
When a green’s too hard for others,
Have recourse to Spaulding Brothers!
Buy the perfect ball.
Architects may slope and ridge it,
But you’ll always hole a “Midget,”
And defeat them all.
Robert Frost was not threatened, and probably neither were Spaulding’s competitors. But the fact that ad writers thought that rhymes could sell golf balls shows the degree to which poetry was part of the language of golf at this time.
Also in these earlier times, books entirely or partially devoted to golf poetry were published in Great Britain and the United States. Joseph S. F. Murdoch, a renowned golf book collector and bibliographer, wrote that “poetry made up most of the original writing on the game.” He attributed this fact to the general popularity of poetry as a means for storytelling in the nineteenth century. Describing Scotland as a “nation of poets,” Murdoch surmised,
“…it is not difficult to believe that most of the early golf literature sprang from the lips of early after-dinner speakers who, lauding the merits of their national sport and finding some of their efforts enthusiastically received, printed the poems for distribution to their club-mates.”