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The Perversity of Golf Balls
An article from MacMillan's Magazine (1906)


Of all the balls used in the realm of sport the golf-ball is the most perverse. A football has been known to seek adventures on the sluggish waters of a canal; a cricket-ball has been extracted from out of a rainwater pipe; while tennis-balls have behaved in an extraordinary manner on more than one occasion, even to the length of splitting a lady’s parasol; but the ways of the balls used in these sports are .angelic in comparison with the habits and customs of the golf-ball.

The golf-ball, notwithstanding its. core of india-rubber, is the most hard-hearted ball fabricated. A player may imagine that he is on good terms with his ball when he 'is playing at the top of his game; but careful study of the golf-ball and its peculiar code of morals only shows that the little white pillule on these occasions is biding its time, and is merely encouraging the man behind the club for the purpose of letting him down badly when confidence has lured him on to taking upon himself some heavy task. And not only is it conscienceless, but it is also entirely bereft of the sporting instinct.

Give a golf-ball half a chance to lose itself, and it will immediately accept it. No ball with a grain of sporting instinct, after it had been hit hard and true from off the tee, would seek to hide itself, but a golf-ball will do so without a moment’s thought Indeed, to achieve its object when the lie is too good for it to hide in any other manner, this conscienceless sphere will so disguise its appearance that amid the daisies it mil take the most lynx-(or should it be links-eyed of caddies to differentiate it from those humble flowers that invoke the poet’s praise and the golfer’s anathema. How different from the Haskell is the football! No one ever saw a football looking like a daisy.

The naturalist, desirous of emphasising the marvels of Nature, is never tired of bringing before the notice of local branches of the Young Men's Christian Association the marvellous adaptability of the chameleon. “What other beast,” says the lecturer on these occasions, “can in itself rival the colour scheme of a pyrotechnicil display at the Crystal Palace?” He never receives a reply; yet every golfer knows that the beastly ball he so diligently pursues- can defeat the chameleon at its own game,— six up and four to play—with the greatest regularity.

White, green, sand-coloured, yellow, or black, the golf-ball can adapt itself to its surroundings in every phase of lie. The story to the effect that a golf-ball was .seen to burst itself in a vain endeavour to assume a slightly cerulean hue after its owner had played five-and-twenty strokes in the bunker guarding the Death or Glory hole is a lie of another description.

There is a farmer somewhere in the Isle of Wight who has discovered in a local golf-club a scheme for amassing wealth that will speedily put him in position to give libraries to all applicants. It will be assumed that the Croesus in embryo farms out all his family and his wife’s relations as caddies. Such an approach-shot, however, is short of the truth, for in reality he is an agriculturist of an entirely different character, and does not even train his live-stock to simulate death when a golf-ball alights in anything approaching close proximity to thorn. It is common knowledge that certain of the unscrupulous have ere this trained fox-terriers to retrieve balls that alight at a hole that is blind to the driver who follows the short-sighted policy of not sending, on an advance caddy; but it is not due to subterfuges such as this that Vectis daims a son of the soil who is willing to admit that farming as a profession has been too extensively deprecated.

The club in question is situated by the sad Sea shore; the farm in question, some distance away, also runs down to the sands, that are as golden to their tenant as a Pierrot site at Scarborough is to the Municipal Fathers. The golfer proceeds to the teeming off spot, tees up his ball, mentally imagines that he is standing on a. species of .gridiron, and places his feet in the position required by a famous professional when instructing the neophyte how and how not to play,-^in the latter of which pursuits, it may be said in passing,: the golfer in future instinctively knows far more than- his instructor. He draws .his clubs back slowly, he keeps in his wrists, and his right elbow is glued to his side, while his eyes are riveted on the ball, but not so firmly that he cannot with their aid follow its course as it saiils gaily out to sea. The reasoned player likewise tees up the ball, but if the tee-ing ground is large enough he places his feet where he likes. The onlooker does not notice his elbows, and his wrists do not catch the eye, for everything about him works like part of an intricate machine possessing, what no machine can ever possess, a movement that is the epitome of all that is humanly graceful. The ball at first keeps low, so low indeed that it appears to be about to fly into the embrace of the all-embracing bunker, but at this juncture it rises majestically as an eagle ascends from its eyrie, and all the time the lonely watcher on the shore is praying for a stiff land-breeze. It comes ; the ball gladly yields to its persuasive whispering to depart from the straight path of rectitude, and descends like a bolt from the blue into the waters that lave our shores. The golfer— what of him? He, after summing up the situation in a few well-chosen words, drops another ball, and plays his third plump into the bunker. Then cometh the—that is to say, the lonely watcher on the shore waiteth for the tide to turn and deposit at his feet the never-failing harvest of the sea. As the poet has truly said, “ The sea hath its pearls;”

Drive a golf-ball into the ocean well out of reach, and it wiD give a display of the natatory art that will make a Channel swimmer writhe with envy, while even the easy-going halibut will regard with jealousy its marvellous buoyancy. Take another ball, in every respect its counterpart, even to its inherent guile, and top your drive at the second,—what is the result? The sphere descends into the morass thoughtfully provided by a Green committee that is incorporated with the National Guild for the Promotion of Wading among Caddies; your partner asks if it was a new ball in a voice redolent with the sympathy engendered by two strokes in hand, and you say farewell both to the ball and to your faith in the floating ability possessed by india-rubber and gutta-percha. Can golf-balls swim? Of course. Will golf-balls swim? Not so long as there is a possible chance of their being recovered by their owners. It is, however, believed that no golf-ball can withstand the whistle of a caddy when, bereft of the white man’s burden, the youth proceeds to the pool alone and lures the sphere from its depths by his persuasive note.

How full of resource is the golf-ball? It is never at a loss when desirous of causing annoyance. Once upon a time one was driven off on the Chislehurst links that, finding no other method of getting itself disliked, sought shelter in the pocket of an innocent individual two hundred yards away from the player. It was not the ball that was lost on this occasion : its owner doubtless lost the hole, and the player driven into would have been justified in losing his temper.; but this last mentioned loss is extremely doubtful. Tempers are never lost on the links ; it is there that the mildest of men finds the temper that his friends never knew he possessed until at the twelfth hole he lodes three balls in as many strokes when negotiating the hay-field that the committee playfully designates the carry from the tee ; then does he find the temper that proves him to be at heart a golfer.

In the course of a University golf match a year or two ago a ball, out of sheer desire for notoriety, ascended to the roof of the club-house at a critical point in the game. Most players in similar circumstances would, at the instance of the caddy, have appeared at the local Police Court the following day to answer a charge of assault and battery ; but the player was not one to give way to a fit of the Blues. “What do I do?” said he, in a tone that indicated that, if necessary, he was prepared to drop another ball down the nearest chimney-pot and play it from where it lay. “Your best,” laconically replied the referee. “Caddy, I’ll have my ladder” (or words to that effect), continued the undefeated player, who, on that useful appendage to every golfers’ kit being produced, quickly ascended to the roof, to the secret joy of a local builder who scented a job. On reaching the summit the player informed those below that the high sloping tiled bunker in front of him completely hid the green, whereupon a kindly soul on terra firma proceeded to the ag and emitted sounds resembling, to the best of his ability, the plaintive note of a hole seeking its mate. The ruse succeeded better than could have been expected, and the ball, rising to the occasion, dropped within ten feet of where it was required. Thus did guile meet guile.

Balls that sought to secret themselves have ere this lodged in hen-coops. Such lies would defeat the chicken-hearted player, but the golfer of spirit has been known to enter the coop and play the ball out, to the intense disappointment of the legitimate occupant, in whose breast hopes of hatching out a little rubber-cored had been suddenly raised.

At Bushey, some little time ago, a distinguished wielder of the niblick was dallied upon 'to enter a pigsty to play his ball, which he most successfully extricated, although the tenant (who was a bit of a bore), disregarding all the rules of etiquette, protested loudly while the stroke was being made. Balls have attempted to escape from their owners by burglariously entering cottages through the window; and one had the extreme mortification of doing a good deed in spite of it9elf, for it broke the glass in front of a painting that was recognised by the driver of the ball as a Teniers worth 500.

It is needless to say that a ball which can, and does, play these tricks on the human intelligence will not hesitate to deceive an untutored quadruped. Dogs have been observed ere this carrying off a gutta ball under the impression that a succulent beef-bone had descended like the gentle run from heaven for their special delectation, while strong men have kept nine couples and a four-ball match waiting seventeen and a half minutes by the dock while they argued but what ruling should apply to a ball that a neighbouring cow was masticating under die impression that it had’ picked up a delicate mouthful of hay. The man who did not play the ball argued that any ball must be played where it lay, saving in the case of it entering a rabbit-hole or, in the case of the Unatali or other African links, the den of a lion; no one disputed the ruling affecting lions’ dens. The man who did play the ball, having failed to sustain the plea that he had driven out of bounds, held that, as the cow was chewing the cud and the cud was originally grass, and the grass sprang from the ground, and that whereas in the first place the chewing process was not complete; and -in the second that the ball lay in or on the cud, that he could 'drop a bail not nearer the hole, and play it without penalty. And then, when, in response to the question by what chain of falsehoods this exhibition of insanity was arrived at, the man Who did responded that the cud was obviously ground under repair, the four-ball match malevolently and of malice prepense drove into them and changed the current of the conversation, with the result that the affrighted animal, galloping off in dismay, carried the ball two hundred and seventy-six yards nearer the hole and then restored it to its owner, who promptly claimed to have driven it three hundred and ninety-seven yards and the right to play it where it lay. In such manner are lifelong friendships sundered through the guile of the malevolent demon that dwells in the heart of every golf-ball.


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