From the Golf Journal Archives - The Road Back to Worps

Dec 10, 2010

By Herbert Warren Wind

(Note: This article originally appeared in the February 1964 issue of Golf Journal.)

One hears a lot these days about how big golf has become, the hold it now has even over people who don’t play the game but who have been exposed to it via television. I had been inclined to take these reports with a grain of salt until a week before the last Emmy awards – the television counterparts of the moving picture industry’s Oscars – when a non-golfing acquaintance of mine asked me if I wasn’t disappointed that Gary Player hadn’t been nominated for the category called Best Dramatic Performance by an Actor for his work on the 72nd green of the 1962 PGA Championship.

“You can’t count stuff like that,” I told him. “That was a sports event that happened to be televised, not a prepared piece of drama.”

“Sure, if you want to be technical,” he said. “But I saw no other performance on TV that year that compared with it. You remember the situation. He needed a five-footer on the last green to beat Bob Goalby by one shot. Very tense situation.”

I told him I remembered it well. Player had to get down in two from about 45 feet. He went about five feet by with his approach putt and then knocked the five-footer in. A very fine putt but not exactly epochal.

“Man, you missed the whole point,” my friend remonstrated. “I’m not referring to his actual putting. That’s irrelevant. What I’m talking about is what he did after he holed the putt, the way he took the ball out of the hole. He did it just right. First, he practically pounced on the ball, like Gangbusters. Then, just when he was lifting the ball, a change came over him. You could see that everything the tournament meant to him was flashing through his mind. He paused, looked slowly up at the sky, then thoughtfully at the ground, and then – it must have been 15 seconds later – then he seemed to realize where he was again and took the ball out of the cup. No one could have done it better. Not Gregory Peck, not Burt Lancaster, not even Maurice Evans. Say what you will but Gary’s stuff on that green was the best dramatic performance I saw on TV all that year.”

I tell you of this conversation because it opened my eyes to the new dimensions golf has been taking on in this country because of television. The top golfers are no longer just superb athletes, they’re personalities whom the average American now views as part and parcel of the world of modern entertainment. I was, for instance, somewhat dismayed on returning from the Masters last spring to discover that the people who had watched the television broadcast were a little less appreciative of Jack Nicklaus’ courageous comeback on the last six holes than I thought they should have been. A fellow I know who works in television tried to explain this to me. “Nicklaus just doesn’t come over,” he said. “He’s too phlegmatic, doesn’t have enough expression. I’m not saying he isn’t a good golfer, but you don’t suffer with him. If he sank a few more long putts and hopped around a bit, you’d forget about his general image, but at Augusta he was just hitting the greens and getting down in two, and who buys that?”

A Way of Escape

We all have our own methods of escaping from the razzmatazz extremes of life today, and one of mine is to rush to the other extreme. To be more specific, while a little touch of Route 66 does no one any harm, applying its pace and values to golf can make the game seem so unreal that I find the best antidote is to read a few chapters of Walter Travis’ “Practical Golf,” Jim Barnes’ “Guide to Good Golf,” or some other book written at a time when life was so slow that the wooden tee had yet to be invented. However, I find that the surest counterbalance can be gained by dipping into the monthly issues of a small English magazine called “Fairway and Hazard” and subtitled “The Women’s Golf Magazine.”

Now the strange thing is that “Fairway and Hazard” is a contemporary publication, and how it manages to whisk a reader out of the keyed-up present and back several decades into the gentle past is a piece of legerdemain I don’t pretend to understand. For myself, at any rate, the magazine, conjures up what might be termed the pre-Mrs. Miniver era of the 1930’s, a period which for those of us who were educated at our neighboring movie houses is synonymous with C. Aubrey Smith lending a helping hand to Freddy Bartholomew, Joan Fontaine throwing back the chintz curtains so that Robert Donat and George Sanders can do the Times crossword puzzle in proper light, Dame Mae Whitty fixing tea for Basil Rathbone, and Greer Garson talking to the milkman in iambic pentameter. Granted that by the 1930’s the wooden tee had arrived to complicate life, but it was still a fairly allegro proposition, and it is awfully good to get back to it.

Perhaps the best way to introduce you to “Fairway and Hazard’s” anachronistic spell is to show how it reports a tournament. Take the Worplesdon Foursomes, for illustration. It had none of those racy, up-tempo leads that we go in for, such as “Art Wall, a golfer whose children have only recently gotten over a bad case of measles, himself broke out in a rash of birdies today and carried off the Sewanee Open.” Instead – let me hear that string quartet, please – “F & H” plays it soft:

“One cannot imagine the golf season in this country ending with any other tournament. Worplesdon is unique. When one mentions the word ‘Worps,’ one thinks of the autumn tints, that fourth hole by the clubhouse, the Pond hole at the tenth, the narrow rough land from the tenth to the seventeenth, the clusters of golfers gossiping, the various and varied dogs that meet there year by year. Yes, and with Worplesdon we associate the coming of fogs each morning to interfere with the programme.”

Besides bringing you up to date on the recent tournaments, “F & H” fills you in on the whole wide vista of British women’s golf. In nearly every issue, for example, there is mention of the latest feats of my favorite English woman player, Mrs. Sutherland Pilch, and it is the rare month that among the plentiful photographs there is none of Susan Armitage, a very pretty young girl. For the most part, the magazine – it runs to about 24 pages – dispenses its information in short paragraphs, like a country newspaper. In one issue, for instance, there were two small items which particularly caught my fancy. The first, which appeared in a potpourri at the front of the magazine, was complete in one sentence: “Sandiway Ladies raised forty pounds on behalf of the English Ladies’ Golf Association at a Bring-and-Buy Sale and Coffee Morning on 20th February.”

The second, appearing in another potpourri at the back of the magazine, was somewhat lengthier and was headed WOMAN PROFESSIONAL RETIRES.

We learn that Miss Cynthia Ceci, one of the first women to sign up with the PGA as a professional and who worked at Enville as an assistant, has retired at the age of 19. Recently she was married. Rumors are that another woman professional is also considering applying for her amateur status again. It seems pretty obvious that at the present time anyhow professionalism for women golfers in Britain holds out little prospect for progress. The PGA is therefore unlikely to have many more applicants in the near future.

If you take these two items together, I think you have “F & H” neo-Edwardian viewpoint in a nutshell. Without actually saying it in so many words, the editorialist has made it pretty clear that professional golf is no life for a young English girl, and that Cynthia Ceci, if she has any brains at all, will promptly join the Sandiway Ladies and bring her old practice bag, her full-length teaching-miror, and her cash register to the next Bring-and-Buy Sale.

Credits

It isn’t that “F & H” is against commercialism. Not at all. All it asks is that you approach it with a certain style, a rural ease. For example, the report of the Kayser Bondor Foursomes is preceded by eight short paragraphs in most of which credits are graciously bestowed on the various companies whose little attentions helped to make the tourney the smash it was. Take the third and fourth paragraphs:

SOUP KITCHEN
“On the tenth hole on both courses everyone, players, Press, caddies, and spectators were served a variety of soups, thanks to the generosity of Knorr Anglo-Swiss Limited. They used Calor Gas equipment and there was, for the first time ever on a golf course, an elevated gas fire to keep the soup drinkers warm at the hut!”

CIGARETTE PRESENTATION
“As each player arrived at the clubhouse on the first day they were presented with twenty Benson and Hedges cigarettes, a kindly gesture by Gallaher Co., Ltd., and very much appreciated by all."

In candor, I must add that this threw me off when I came to the next paragraph:

THE LOUD HAILER
“The Hon. Mrs. Robert Howie is a very important person at this annual event. This year she was armed with an electric loud hailer at her own request. It worked wonders and the battery was almost dead at the end of three days.”

There seemed to be something missing. Surely the electric loud hailer was supplied by Knights-bridge Communications Material Ltd., that old friend of women’s golf, who had equipped the Hon. Mrs. Howie with a megaphone back in the old days.

One could go on interminably quoting from “Fairway and Hazard” – from its bridge column, book reviews, foreign correspondence, letters to the editor, knitting pattern, fashion page, and its other features – but it would merely serve to reinforce a point that should be plain by now: by the very reason of its distance from Route 66, the road to Worplesdon – pardon, Worps – is an exceedingly pleasant one to travel.

I only wish that we had something like it, with natural variations, in our country – a women’s golf magazine with some of the taste and charm of the old “American Golfer” that would be basically unlike the general run of golf magazines today in that it would devote only a modicum of its space to instruction. Since we were talking about television at the beginning, I hope, quite seriously, that it is also not too long before we will have a chance to see some women's golf, both amateur and professional, via that medium. (A good many of us have always believed that the average player can profit more from watching the technique of the top lady golfers than the top men golfers.)

Well, all this is definitely well worth thinking about and perhaps we can all start thinking once Mrs. Henri Prunaret sets down her electric loud hailer and allows us to finish our Benson and Hedges cigarettes and our Calor-heated Knorr consomme in peace.

Gary Player on Camera (USGA Museum)


The Placid Mr. Nicklaus (USGA Museum)