This was only one aspect of the movement, however; and now that the pencilling disease has more or less abated, it is only fair to admit that the new impetus given to the game by its sudden popularity outside of Scotland has been in the long run most beneficial. The competition has, of course, become far greater; and as young athletes have taken up the sport more and more, the standard of excellence has proportionately increased. I am quite willing to believe that "Young Tom" Morris was one of the greatest golfers that ever lived, but I am equally convinced that there were no amateurs in his time who could compare with the players of to-day. The conditions are certainly in our favor.
Lost Ball in. the Meadow.
Not only have the greens become easier, and straight driving less essential, but the implements of war are far more efficacious. The quality of the balls has greatly improved, and the introduction of the "bulger" has revolutionized the art of driving. With the old-fashioned long-headed club it was practically impossible to hit hard with any accuracy, the slightest deviation in aim involving a terrific slice or pull. Nowadays the curve on the face of the club, and the more compact volume of weight make the matter of direction so much easier, that a far greater force can be given to the stroke. Twenty years ago a man who was a long driver was at once stamped as an erratic player, not to be relied upon. Now unless a certain average of distance is maintained, no one can rank as a first-class player.
But it was not merely the old-fashioned weapons which handicapped the amateurs of the past generation. We have only to consider who they were to see that, other things being equal, they could not possibly have competed with the best players of today. In the first place, they were far behind the professionals, which is not the case at present. Secondly, they were, for the most part, middle-aged men; so much so, that it was considered an impertinence for any youngster to play against them. They kept up the pleasing fiction for a long time that at golf, as at whist, the ripeness of long experience was necessary for success; and it required many expositions of the game to persuade them that the cracks of the younger generation, men like Mr. J. E. Laidlay and the Black-wells, were introducing a new and superior kind of play. When, for instance, Mr. Ted Blackwell used to drive across the corner of the railway at St. Andrews, - a carry of about one hundred and seventy yards, - his feat was regarded as a sort of circus trick, wonderful to look at, but quite outside the true sphere of golf. After a while, however, it became apparent that not only could the trick be repeated, but, what was more important, Mr. Blackwell almost invariably beat his opponent; and gradually the old order began to change, making way for the new, which was hastened in its coming by the fresh impulse from the athletes in England. In other words, the kind of golf which could be played by an elderly Scotch judge on Monday afternoon at Musselburgh, in a stiff collar and a high silk hat, ceased to be regarded as the best standard of excellence which could be reached by the amateur. It was recognized now that to play the game to its full advantage a man must be in good health and training, with muscle and eye in perfect accord; and we must thank the English cricketer for helping to impress this fact upon the hardy but conservative Northerner.
Four Strokes at the Bunker and not over yet.
It is now time to turn to the growth of the game in this country, which is the main theme of the present article. We have seen that the sudden spread of golf in England was almost contemporaneous with a new development in the evolution of the sport. It remains to inquire how far that development has been appreciated in America. The particular genius of the American has a tendency to reduce sports of all kinds to a scientific basis; and therefore it is to be expected that sooner or later the lovers of the game in this country will be able to throw some new light not only upon the methods of play, but upon the interpretation of the rules, which has always been a difficulty since golf passed out of the hands of the few into the possession of the many, who cannot be controlled by tradition alone, but need the assistance of hard and fast laws. It seems to me that so far the players in this country have been more exercised over the proper reading of the regulations than they have over the development of the game itself. And since it is extremely important that no radical changes should be made in the rules, which long experience has proved to be best adapted to the government of the game, before, at least, it is definitely understood what the game is, it may be well to point out a few of the main shortcomings of the golf that is played on this side of the Atlantic.
Smoking-room of the Essex County (Mass.) Club.
You cannot play golf without links, any more than you can make bricks without straw, so that the first consideration is that your links should be as good as possible. It is five or six years since the game was introduced into the United States; and yet the fact remains, that there is hardly a course in the country that in any way approximates a first-class links in the proper sense of the term. Of course allowances must be made for the many drawbacks which have to be overcome in the way of climate and soil; but there are so many errors in the best courses in the country which might easily be remedied, that it seems necessary to indicate exactly what are the features of the best courses in England and Scotland, and what is the standard at which we have to aim. To put it as shortly as possible. Great Britain is encircled for the most part by a belt of sandy soil from half a mile to a mile in breadth which has been formed by the receding of the ocean. This belt of land is of an undulating character, with occasional abrupt sand-hills, and the whole surface is covered with a short velvety turf, which stands a great deal of wear and tear, but is always smooth and soft; even in the rainiest summer the grass seldom grows long enough on the regular course to conceal a golf ball from sight, while the climate of the British Isles is such that a drought seldom comes to parch the young blades, or scorch the putting-greens. Such a thing as a stone or a tree is practically unknown on the best courses; good play will always secure good lies on perfect turf, while the putting-greens are simply part of the regular course, not laid out with a spirit-level, but taken as they come with the natural roll of the land, which greatly increases the necessity of skill and accuracy in negotiating the finer part of the game. The only hazards admissible are sand-bunkers, which occur naturally at irregular intervals; the long grass which on the seashore is called "bent," and which generally bounds the edge of the course to prevent wild driving; the gorse, which is an incident of most Scotch links; and, if nature happens to supply it, a water hazard in the shape of a pond or stream. There are cases of stone walls on Prestwick and North Berwick, two of the finest courses in Scotland, but they are there of necessity and not by choice; and to imagine that they are proper adjuncts, would be equivalent to considering that every racket-court must have a cracked wall because there happens to be a slight fissure in the best court at Lords.