Vanity Fair, May 1919

A Plea for Indoor Golf

And a Plaintive Dirge—By a Golfing Neophyte—for the Passing of Winter


IT might be supposed, by the vapid and unreflective, that in winter, when the first snows have begun to fall and the last pro.’s have started flying South, the enthusiastic golfer would be to some extent up against it. The fact is, however, that of the four seasons of the golfing year,—Spring, when you lose your ball in the unmown hay; Summer, when you lose it in the glare of the sun; Autumn, when you lose it under dead leaves; and Winter, when you have a sporting chance of not losing it at all,—the last-named is, to the thoughtful golfer, quite the pleasantest.

It is glorious, no doubt, on a lovely afternoon in Summer, with the sun shining down and a gentle breeze tempering the heat, to slice your ball into the adjacent jungle and to feel that you are thereby doing a bit of good to a small boy who needs the money which he will get when—directly your back is turned—he finds and sells the missing globule.

It is thrilling, on one of those still, crisp days in the Fall, to drive off the tee at eleven-fifteen and potter about the course till twelve-forty-five, turning over leaves with a niblick in the hope that each leaf be the one under which your ball has elected to nestle. But both these pleasures are eclipsed by the delight of playing on a frosty morning in the winter.

In Winter You Get Good Visibility

THERE you stand,—before you a prairie denuded of all vegetation. The trees, into which you used to send your second shot, have now no leaves, and it is quite possible to penetrate them with a well-judged stroke of the light iron. Your caddie broods dejectedly beside you. He knows that, even if you slice into the wood at the elbow-hole, you can find the ball for yourself.

And then you drive off.

It is one of your medium drives. You have violated, possibly, only eleven out of the twenty-three rules for correct driving. The ball soars in a lofty arc, edging off to the right. Sixty yards from the tee it touches earth, and bounds another fifty, when it hits the frozen surface of a puddle and skids against a tree-trunk, a further ninety yards ahead. The angle at which it hits the tree just corrects your slice to perfection, and there you are, in a dead straight line with the pin, with a two hundred and thirty yard drive to your credit.

This is Golf, in the true sense of the word.

Even now, however, your happiness is not complete. You have omitted to take into consideration the fact that you are playing what are called Winter Rules, which entitle you to tee your ball up in the fairway. So you remove the pill from the cuppy lie into which it has settled and look round you for a convenient hillock. You can usually find a worm-cast or a mole-hill of a convenient height, and from this you propel the ball onto the green.

The green is a trifle rough, perhaps, but, after all, what does that matter? Experts will try to tell you otherwise, but every beginner knows that putting is a pure game of chance, and that you are just as likely to hole out over rough ground as over smooth. I, personally, prefer a worm-cast or two on the green.

They seem to lend zip to my putting.

OF course, there are weeks in the Winter when golf on the links is impossible, unless you happen to be in such an advanced stage of mental decay that you can contemplate with equanimity a round in the snow with a red ball. The ordinary golfer, unequal to such excesses, will take, during these weeks, to indoor golf. There are two varieties of the indoor game, both almost equally enjoyable.

The Glories of Indoor Golf

THE first, and more customary, kind of Indoor Golf is that played in department stores, where professionals live in little dens on the Toys and Sporting Goods floor and give instruction, at a dollar the half hour. You stand on a rubber mat: the ball is placed on an ordinary door-mat: and you swat it against a target painted on a mattress.

The merits of this plan are obvious.

It is almost impossible not to hit the mattress somewhere, and it makes just as satisfactory a thud whether you hit it in the middle or in one of the outlying suburbs. And in indoor golf, as played in department stores, the thud is everything. This indoor instruction is invaluable. I may say that I, myself, am what I am as a golfer almost entirely through indoor instruction.

In the fall of 1917 I was a steady hundred-and-twenty man. Sometimes I would get into difficulties at one or other of the holes, as the best players will do, and then my score would be a hundred and thirty. Sometimes, again, I would find my form early in the round and shoot a hundred and eighteen. But, take me for all in all, I averaged a hundred and twenty. After a steady winter of indoor instruction, I was going round, this Spring, in a hundred and twelve.

These figures speak for themselves.

Of course, the drawback to department-store golf is that it is so difficult to reproduce the same conditions when you get out on the links. I have been in a variety of lies, good and bad, in my time, but never yet have I had the luck to drop my ball on a doormat. Why this should be so, it is hard to say. I suppose the fact is that, unless you actually pull the ball, off the first tee, at right angles between your legs, it is not easy to land on a door-mat. And, even then, it would probably be a rubber doormat, which is not at all the same thing.

Indoor Sport for the Housewreckers’ Union

THE other form of indoor golf is that which is played in the home. Whether you live in a palace or a hovel, an indoor golf-course, be it only of nine holes, is well within your reach. A house offers greater facilities than an apartment, and I have found my game greatly improved since I went to live in the country. I can, perhaps, scarcely do better than give a brief description of the sporting nine-hole course which I have recently laid out in my present residence.

All authorities agree that the first hole on every links should be moderately easy, in order to give the nervous player a temporary and fictitious confidence.

At Wodehouse Manor, therefore, we drive off from the front door—in order to get the benefit of the door-mat—down an entry fairway, carpeted with rugs, and without traps. The hole—a loving-cup from the Inebriates’ Daughters of Communipaw for my services in combating the drink evil—is just under the stairs; and a good player ought to have no difficulty in doing it in two.

The second hole, a short one, takes you into the telephone booth. This also is simple. Trouble begins with the third, a long dog-leg hole through the kitchen into the dining-room. This hole is well trapped with table-legs, kitchen utensils, and a moving hazard in the person of Clarence the cat, who is generally wandering about the fairway. The hole is under the glass-and-china cupboard, where you are liable to be bunkered if you loft your approach-shot excessively. It is better to take your light iron and try a running-up approach, instead of becoming ambitious with the mashie-niblick.

The fourth and fifth holes call for no comment. They are straightforward holes without traps, the only danger being that you may lose a stroke through hitting the maid if she happens to be coming down the back stairs while you are taking a mashie-shot. This is a penalty under the local rule.

A Word as to the Water Hazard

THE sixth is the indispensable water-hole. It is short, but tricky. Teeing off from just outside the bathroom door, you have to loft the ball over the side of the bath, holing out in the little vent pipe, at the end where the water runs out. It is apparently a simple shot, but I have known many fine players, notably Ouimet, and Chick Evans, who have taken threes and fours over it. It is a niblick shot, and to use a full swing with the brassey is courting disaster. (In the Open Championship of 1914 Ouimet broke all precedents by taking a shovel for his tee-shot, and the subsequent controversy and the final ruling of the Golf Association will be fresh in the memory of all.)

The seventh is the longest hole on the course. Starting at the entrance of the best bedroom, a full drive takes you to the head of the stairs, whence you will need at least two more strokes to put you dead on the pin in the drawing-room. In the drawing-room the fairway is trapped with photograph frames—with glass, complete—these serving as casual water; and anyone who can hole out on the piano in five or under is a player of class. Bogey is six, and I have known even such a capable exponent of the game as my Uncle Reginald, who is plus two on his home links on Park Avenue, to take twenty-seven at the hole. But on that occasion he had the misfortune to be bunkered in a photograph of my Aunt Clara and took no fewer than eleven strokes with his niblick to extricate himself from it.

The eighth and ninth holes are straightforward, and can be done in two and three respectively, provided you swing easily and avoid the canary’s cage. Once trapped there, it is better to give up the hole without further effort. It is almost impossible to get out in less than fifty-six, and after you have taken about thirty the bird gets visibly annoyed.