Visitors to my study often pause before a shelf that displays almost the entire works of the legendary King of Humor, P.G. Wodehouse. I have read and reread these books with undiluted pleasure drawing strange looks from my family as they find me chuckling to myself in the process. I confess to have chuckled the loudest while imbibing Mr. Wodehouse’s golf stories masterpiece titled ‘The Clicking of Cuthbert’- a book that is dedicated, “To the immortal memory of John Henrie and Pat Rogie who at Edinburgh, in the year 1593 AD were imprisoned for ‘playing of the gowff on the links of leith every sabbath the time of the sermonses,’ also of Robert Robertson who got it in the neck in 1604 AD for the same reason.” It is therefore to the great pastime of ‘Gowff’ (or Golf) that I am dedicating this week’s column, with the disclaimer that the contents may include some words incomprehensible to a non-golfer, but I am willing to take that risk - for the sake of the game.
I have no hesitation in admitting that I joined the golfing community rather unwillingly – I was actually coerced into it by some of my ‘more experienced’ colleagues, who have the unblemished reputation of not taking ‘no’ for an answer. It was thus that a spring afternoon found me lugging a bag half full of golf clubs onto an elevated rectangle of earth known as the ‘practice tee’.
I found that hitting the white ball, perched gingerly on its plastic perch was more difficult than what it appeared to be. As days went by, my consistency in destroying flying bugs or scooping clods of earth from the tee, found me giving serious thought to giving up the ‘infernal’ game. It was on the seventh day of my ordeal that I took a decision to give substance to the thought and make this my last day on the links. It was in this frame of mind that I reached the club, teed up the ball and swung the club in an easy carefree manner. There was a clicking sound and I saw my ball soaring down the middle of the fairway in a graceful arc. I stood transfixed watching it bounce and roll another fifty feet or so, until I was pulled out of my reverie by the sound of clapping and loud cheers coming from the club house. For the next ten years, my evenings and some mornings were spent on the golf links as part of a sporting brotherhood that epitomized a unique brand of friendship, camaraderie and humor.
I found that golfers could be lumped into two categories. There were those that took up the game for the sheer love of it and one found them ambling along the fairways under all conditions. Then there was the category, which consisted of individuals, who thought that playing the game placed them in a social class of its own. They arrived at the club dressed in immaculate golfing attire and carrying expensive kits, blissfully unaware that golfing was a passion combining a steady eye, an unmoving head and a correct swing. It was only then that one heard the delectable click of the club head meeting the ball, followed by the sight of a beautiful ‘wind cheater’ shot.
It was in my eleventh year of the game that the unthinkable happened – I put aside my clubs and said so long to this wonderful sport. It all happened rather dramatically, when one day I overheard my better half discussing me with her friends. I couldn’t believe my ears when I was accused of having a second spouse. I gingerly opened the subject with the mistress of the house in order to defend my sterling character and came face to face with a stark choice – it was either golf or domestic tranquility. I must admit that in the final analysis, I failed in my duty to the game and chose ‘tranquility.’
My golf henceforth has been restricted to watching PGA tours on television and humming the following lines from Mr. Wodehouse:
‘Oh, Praises let us utter, to our most glorious King!
It fairly makes you stutter, to see him start his swing;
Success attend his putter! And luck be with his drive!
And may he do each hole in two, although the bogey’s five!’
The writer is a historian.