Vanity Fair, July 1919
The Pleasures of Saturday Golf
Especially When the Proletariat Indulges in Its Weekly Foursomes
By P. G. WODEHOUSE
SOMEBODY was telling me the other day about the rich man of humble origin and vulgar manners who settled down in a very exclusive Thames-side locality in England and was black-balled for the local golf-club.
Did he despair? Not a bit of it.
He bought the golf-club, turned it into a private links, and played by himself.
This man not only had the right spirit, but did the only sensible thing for a millionaire who was able to afford it. He put himself in a position where Saturday was to him just the same as any other day in the week. No doubt, of a Saturday afternoon, as he wandered peacefully round his private course, taking his time over his shots and sitting down to rest when he felt like it, his pleasure was enhanced by the thought that at about that moment every other course in the United Kingdom, and in America as well, was a seething nightmare of flustered incompetents, all getting in one another’s way and hanging up everybody else’s game. Such a reflection may well have soothed him even in the instant following the topping of a tee-shot.
THE late Andrew Lang, in an essay on Golf, classed players of the game in various grades. At the top of the list came Professional Golf, closely followed by the best Amateur Golf. Then, in the order named, came Enthusiasts’ Golf, Golf, Beginners’ Golf, Ladies’ Golf, Infant Golf, Parlor Golf, the Golf of Scotch Professors, and—finally—Duffers’ Golf. Beyond the last-named his imagination could not pierce.
Otherwise he would have placed, in a separate Hell of its own, Saturday Golfers’ Golf. This is the lowest species at present known to Science. Doubtless, so to speak, God could have made a worse golfer than the man who turns out on Saturdays only, but doubtless, also, God never did.
The question that springs irresistibly to the mind of every thinking man, as he stands before the clubhouse on a fine Saturday afternoon—I specify “fine,” for, as with other noxious creatures, it is the warm weather that brings them out—the question, I say (in case you have forgotten how this sentence began), that springs irresistibly to the mind of every thinking man is “Where do they get those guys?” It cannot be mere chance that brings together such a collection of golfing freaks.
The second question that springs irresistibly to the what I said before is “Why the deuce do they always play foursomes?” For, if there is one trait more firmly rooted than another in the Saturday golfer’s nature, it is his tendency to imitate birds of a feather and flock together.
I am not an arrogant man. I am not one of those golfers who despise all humanity whose handicap is in double figures. If I ever find a worse player than myself—I have not done so yet—I shall pity him, not despise him. But, whatever you may say against my style of play, however much you may animadvert against my stance, my grip, and the buoyant manner in which I toss my head in the air—like a lion of the desert scenting his prey—just before my club descends on the ball, at least you must admit this in my favor, that there are not four of me.
I may be a rotten exponent of the Royal and Ancient; I will even concede a point by admitting that I am a bally rotten exponent; but at any rate I play alone as a rule, and, playing alone, have no standing. If I overtake people, I wait; if they overtake me, I withdraw into the undergrowth until they have whizzed by. In other words, my bad play is my own affair and does nobody any harm.
BUT the Saturday foursome! Oh, Boy! Oh, Lady, Lady! Watch them on the first tee, as you are standing by waiting for them to start. Already the shadow of what is to come broods like a pall on the neighborhood. (If shadows do not brood like palls, I can only apologize. One somehow feels that they ought to.)
The man in the green sweater speaks:
“How are we going to play? You know I haven’t had a club in my hands since last year. You ought to give me a stroke a hole.”
“I haven’t touched a club for two years,” says the man in the brown golfing-vest. “You ought to give me a stroke on the third, seventh, and ninth, two bisques on the eleventh, and a couple of practise-drives on the eighth and ninth.”
The man with the Irvin Cobb contour, and the small man with spectacles, start to life at the mention of the word bisque, and begin to wrangle hotly. Eventually, after a pleasant ten minutes’ argument, they decide to play level and chance it. And then they all drive off into the jungle. And then they all troop off to begin the search, accompanied by a sea of caddies, and looking like a mob of Bolsheviki advancing on the palace. And, till they are well under way again, you cannot go through.
I am not wholly opposed to foursomes. A foursome is the pleasantest form of golf. When I have been taking part in one, I have been annoyed by the ill-bred impatience of people behind me who cannot see that golf is a game which must be played with a certain leisurely care if the best results are to be obtained. But I insist that on Saturdays the foursome is a curse and an outrage. I could just tolerate one consisting of Braid, Taylor, Vardon, and Ouimet, but one that consists of Smith (who has taken up golf at the age of sixty by doctor’s orders), Brown (who can only see the ball with the aid of two pairs of spectacles), Jones (who hasn’t played since the day of the feather ball), and Robinson (who has read up the hints in the golf-books and is now taking his first outing on the links)—such a foursome on a Saturday afternoon should be firmly suppressed by the Greens Committee, or, if necessary, by the regular army of the United States.
It is an appalling thought, when you are trailing behind a Saturday foursome, to realize that not only is the ordinary foozler’s chance of a bad shot multiplied by four, but that there are four people at each hole, each with a separate ball to lose. The other day, rounding the corner of our dog-leg hole, I came on a foursome, each member of which had lost his ball; and, like the Daughters of Israel,—was it the Daughters of Israel?—I lay me down and wept. There they were, that gallant band of explorers, grovelling in the grass, beating the bushes, ransacking the ravines. And the whole world stopped still to watch them.
HAVE you ever watched a foursome putting, when you were standing on the tee waiting to drive? Reason tells me that they cannot really each be taking twenty-seven putts to hole out; but there are moments when Reason is a broken reed to lean on.
At its best, putting is a doddering business. The only man who really putts in a dashing and satisfactory way is the non-golfing friend who accompanies you round the course and airily holes out fifteen-foot putts with the handle of his umbrella, the while he chats about the League of Nations or the Baseball Prospects. Even an Open Champion looks like an octogenarian whose knee-joints have gone back on him when he is on the green. The spectacle of the Saturday foursome, therefore, is so poignant that many a strong man, watching them, has picked up his clubs and gone home.
One frequently hears complaints that So-and-So, while a whale on destructive criticism, never has anything of a constructive nature to suggest. That shall never be said of me. I have my cure for Saturday foursomes all mapped out, and all that is needed to put it into practical operation is a little capital. Briefly, I would advocate that we clubbed together and bought these lads private links of their own. They are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and golf-balls, so by all means let them have it. But let them have it where they won’t be in anybody’s way.
But where, I hear you say, could you buy land for these creatures near New York? Well, what’s wrong with the Mojave Desert?