The Magazine

Watch the Birdie

Golf as sport and theater of human nature.

Nov 21, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 10 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
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The Match seems to me structurally perfect, its companion book somewhat more discursive and, at times, a bit self-consciously literary. And as usual, the subtitles needlessly exaggerate the already remarkable. Frost is a master of golf history and lore and relates in lavish pointillist detail how the great golf courses evolved and who designed them; how clubs with strange names with whippy wooden shafts became today’s high-tech weapons; how the ball evolved; how pars and birdies and bogeys and such became the game’s scoring measures—an education in the history and lore of the game. Who knew, for instance, that the “Colonel Bogey March” derived its name from golf?

As for the misplaced blindness to the charms of golf, there is this to be said: It is the lone competitive sport in America whose courtesies remain intact, along with a self-regulating honor system of scoring. It is a game which, given equal skills, depends uniquely upon mood and chance, a mental test in which play can veer from elation to catastrophe in minutes or seconds. As is frequently observed, golf matches are often “won and lost between the ears.” And as for its bucolic settings, that attraction has rarely been better summed up than in Bernard Darwin’s farewell to golf after long years as a player, organizer, and writer for the Times of London. Wrote Charles Darwin’s grandson:

To have done the only kind of work that one could have liked, in green and pleasant places and amid pleasant, friendly people—that is something to be grateful for, and the wind is still blowing on the heath.

Every word is true.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr., former editor and columnist, describes himself as a recovering golf addict.

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