By Willie Park, Jr.
Born into a golfing family without equal, Willie Park, Jr., became golf’s first Renaissance Man. Nothing escaped his eye or thwarted his intention to improve the game. Park rocked the cradle of the golf industry with his first book, The Game of Golf—a watershed in the history of golf professionalism. Paving the way for the thousand books published since, it was the first book of instruction written by a professional player. Remember that the “professionals” of the 1800’s were either money match players, equipment makers, keepers of the green, caddies or men like Park who dabbled in all. At best, their social position was that of a servant or laborer. While the act of authorship alone must have surprised many, the outstanding content had the public in awe of this man from Musselburgh.
Park promptly states in the introduction that this is instruction, without history, or reference to important players or famous links, unless needed to illustrate a point. The first eight chapters of instruction offer such a complete view of the essence of play that all prior books seem amateurish, which is not far from the truth. Park works from the ground up. He explains the nature of the links and how they are an integral part of the experience, the different clubs* and their uses, the choice of putty or gutty balls, the style of playing, and the proper stroke for dozens of specific shots. The chapter General Remarks on the Game sensibly suggests players carry extra balls and some spare clubs, identifies the attributes of good and bad caddies, and details why having the honor (to drive first) on the tee is an advantage.
|* Willie Park, Jr. was a club designer of note. His most significant patented clubs were his bent neck putter, lofter, driving cleek, the bulger and the compressed head wood.|
Park cautions that golf is a fickle game and full commitment is the only avenue. Play is with the hands and the head, and he admonishes as he sings the praises of the “pawky.” For Park believes it is better to exercise caution and avoid a hazard when little is to be gained by attempting a carry.
Another phenomenal section in The Game of Golf is Laying Out and Keeping Golf Links, the first chapter ever written on the subject of golf course architecture.** Park revels in the adaptive nature of golf and presages the spread of inland courses by saying that good golf courses can be built anywhere. He points out that the famous “original” links courses have been continuously altered by adding and removing hazards, moving tees, re-turfing greens, and so on. He warns sternly however, that golf course architecture is not a simple task: “Great skill and judgement and a thorough acquaintance with the game are thoroughly necessary to determine the best position for the respective holes and teeing grounds and the situation of the hazards.”
|** Park’s father, “Old Willie” (Open Champion four times including the inaugural 1860 tournament) is credited with the first designed golf course in the world, a 12-hole course he installed at Aberdeen in 1852.|
Park says that without rules and strict adherence to them, there is no golf, merely hitting a white ball around with a stick. For those interested in the rules, The Laws of Golf chapter contains both the 1895 R & A code (indexed) with 10 local rules, and the 1883 Royal Wimbledon code. His identification of the 11 points of difference in the rules between the Scottish and English clubs is another first for this volume. An educational glossary contains words like break-club, foozle, gobble (“A putt played with more than necessary force which goes into the hole, such that if the ball had not gone in it would have gone some distance past the hole”), wrist shot, putty, and jerk. It also defines, once and forever, the subtle difference between the “sclaff” and the “baff,” and their relations to the “duff.”
It is difficult to overstate the importance of The Game of Golf; a book of instruction far beyond its time in many ways. Curious, says Park, how often players hit the very hazard they are trying to avoid, especially when it is a little bush or branch “and the chances were much against its being struck.” His solution is to blot the thing out of your mind with the positive image of the line of flight. While that is easier said than done, what we certainly will do, is remember the Champion’s counsel: “My experience of pawky players is that they are very dangerous opponents.”
Preface by Archie Baird, Foreword by Robert S. Macdonald.