The Finest Literature and History of Golf

The Duffer's Handbook (1926)




By Grantland Rice and Clare Briggs 

Pronounced in ingenious segments of word and art is a glorious celebration of the game by two of the most gifted and popular artists of their day. The Duffer’s Handbook of Golf commemorates golf’s immersion into the mainstream of America during the Roaring Twenties, when more than two million players hit the U. S. links. It is a guidebook for the curious and fun loving, a tablet with the immutable laws of golf inscribed, a witty tabloid of slang and innuendo.

There is no doubt “duffer” is a pejorative term. While the word’s origin is unknown, it appears in the 1800s as slang for an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person. What better word to describe a neophyte attempting golf? The first “wave” of new golfers occurred when the gutta percha ball became available in the 1850s. Its lower cost and superior durability enticed many citizens to gather a few clubs and try their hand at the sport, some woefully ignorant of the rudiments of the game. “Duffer” first appears in the golf lexicon in 1875 in Clark’s Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game, in a poem by “Two Long Spoons.”

Duffers Yet
“After years of play together,
After fair and stormy weather,
After rounds of every green,
From Westward Ho to Aberdeen---
Why did e’er we buy a set,
If we must be duffers yet?
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!
After singles, foursomes---all,
Fractured club and cloven ball,
After grief in sand and whin,
Foozled drives, and “putts” not in---
Ev’n our caddies scarce regret,
When we part as duffers yet.
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!
After days of frugal fare,
Still we spend our force in air;
After nips to give us nerve,
Not the less our drivers swerve;
Friends may back, and foes may bet,
And ourselves be duffers yet.
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!
Must it ever be thus?
Failure most mysterious!
Shall we never fairly stand,
Eye on ball as club in hand?
Are the hounds eternal set,
To retain us duffers yet?
Duffers yet! Duffers yet!

A hundred years after publication of this poem, Dick Schapp describes in The Masters how Gene Littler “inexplicably, like any Sunday duffer, shanks his shot into a bunker.” Golfers early and permanently adopted this term as their own. Yet when a seasoned golfer refers to himself as a “duffer” it cannot be complete self-deprecation: why would he continue to play? The answer is, those who have hopelessly relegated themselves to dufferdom persist in playing—just for the fun of it. In a similar vein, The Duffer’s Handbook of Golf is intended simply for entertainment. Interspersed among the humorous illustrations—again, because it is a book for beginners—are both obvious and cleverly concealed hints on how to succeed in the many bewildering aspects of golf.

It was not so much the advent of the rubber core ball in America but rather social and economic changes that caused the influx of golfers in the 1920s. Leisure was no longer the private domain of the upper class, and novices by the hundreds of 
thousands flocked to the links. Undoubtedly, Grantland Rice and Clare Briggs interacted with many of them, as both men were avid golfers. They were a perfect team to co-author The Duffer’s Handbook of Golf: Rice was the most renowned sportswriter* of the day and the first to elevate golf to the stature of a major sport, while Briggs was a wildly popular, nationally syndicated cartoonist.

* While O. B. Keeler is most closely associated with reporting the triumphs of Bobby Jones, Grantland Rice was also present at many of his tournaments and wrote beautifully on Jones. The Classics of Golf selection The American Golfer contains several articles by Rice on Jones, including an account of Jones’s inaugural U. S. Open win at Inwood in 1923.

Briggs captures stereotypical Americans in sketches and puts them through their golfing paces. Meet the suicidal husband whose wife has, in a short time, bettered his lifetime best score; the over-deliberate golfer who, after his numerous preliminary waggles and re-grips, tops the ball badly and then blames his club; the frustrated golfer who hits them fine when practicing, but sprays them all over the course during his round; the wife with her three young children who stops her husband going out for the first round of the summer, asking for some money to keep them in food until the fall; and so on.

Rice showcases his writing skills while lampooning instruction in How to Lose Distance, On Remaining in a Bunker, How to Top a Mashie Shot (“Let the hands lift the mashie blade just as it reaches the ball with the left wrist somewhat flabby. There is no finer way to top.”), How to Make a Hole in 9, and The Crafty Art of Slicing (if you do the opposite of everything in that chapter you may hit some nice draws). Amid Rice’s irreverent portraits and disparaging quips are serious snippets befitting a true handbook on the game, including: why the temperaments of Walter Travis, Jerome Travers and Walter Hagen (total 13 U. S. and UK national Championships) are the best in golf; the one most important stroke in golf; good tips from Hagen, Chick Evans, Bobby Jones and James Barnes; and more.

Rice and Briggs captured the essence of the game and the spirit of the times in The Duffer’s Handbook of Golf. Golf is only in part a game. It is also, in part, “a religion, a fever, a vice, a mirage, a frenzy, a fear, an abscess, a joy, a thrill, a pest, a disease, an uplift, a brooding melancholy, a dream of yesterday, a disappointing today and a hope for tomorrow…Golf is companionship and feud, friendliness and fury, ambition and despair. It is concentration, disintegration, inflammation, elation and desperation.” But oh, what a grand and glorious feeling it is on the first tee, when you see your opponent—who has taken a series of beautiful practice swings—sway, lunge and slash at the ball when he tries to actually hit the drive.

Foreword by Herbert Warren Wind, Afterword by Jim Murray.

This product was added to our catalog on Tuesday 28 April, 2009.

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