By H. J. Whigham
(Amateur Champion of the United States, 1896)
Illustrations by A. B. Frost
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
IT is natural that a game which has formed the chief recreation of the Scottish people for several centuries should have by this time acquired a large literature of its own; so much so, that two of the best volumes in the whole domain of sporting history are devoted to this subject. It will be unnecessary and superfluous, therefore, to enter upon a full description of the game's development in the remote past; for are not its annals written in the pages of the Badminton book upon golf, and did not Sir Walter Simpson go back farther yet, and invent a pretty legend to explain the origin of the pastime? All this has been done for us already. It is needless to recount how the popularity of the game began in the seventeenth century seriously to menace the profession of the soldier and the pursuit of religion; how the great Montrose preferred a friendly contest at Musselburgh to raiding the base Low-lander, or how Charles I. forfeited his crown and his life because he allowed the Irish Rebellion to break out while he was sacrificing his royal duties to indulgence in this ancient sport. More recent passages in history tell the same tale. The one fact of importance which has been related of the predecessor of Queen Victoria on the throne of England is that he was elected captain of the St. Andrews Golf
Club; and it is certain to-day that Mr. A. J.
Balfour would refuse the premiership of
Great Britain if he could by so doing become the amateur golf champion of Scotland and
Plan of Newport Golf Club-house.
[The distinctive feature of this Club-house, as shown by the plan, is that it is divided into three parts. One is given over to the dining-room, kitchen, and servants' quarters; another to dressing and locker-rooms; and the third to the social or general club features - the three wings being joined by an elliptical hall - the rendezvous.] the full "blue' being the reward for services in the Rowing Eight, the Cricket Eleven, or foot-ball teams. The president of the "blues" committee was at that time one of the best all-round athletes in Oxford, and he very strongly objected to extending any university recognition to the exponents of a game which, as he put it, did not induce perspiration. In other words, he confirmed the general opinion of outsiders that golf is not an athletic pursuit at all, but merely a mild recreation for old men. Now, although it is perfectly true that children often and octogenarians can trudge round the links and enjoy the fresh air and the mild exercise involved in tapping the ball, it is entirely wrong to suppose that the game, when properly played, does not require the same muscular strength, skill, -and endurance which are requisite for preeminence in all of the higher branches of sport. Golf was never in-tended to be a game for team
In order, then, to avoid returning over ground that has been so often trodden before, it will be well to confine ourselves to the more recent incidents in the growth of the game, more especially those which have to do with its spread in this country. For even Mr. Horace Hutchinson's excellent work in the Badminton series was contributed before England became thoroughly converted. Nine years ago, at the English universities, not only was the game played by a very small body of undergraduates over the half-inundated cricket-fields during the winter months, but the ignorance displayed by all who did not belong to this devoted band was simply appalling to one who had been born and educated north of the Tweed. The point of view taken by most Englishmen was well expressed when it was proposed about a year later that the members of the team selected to represent Oxford in the inter-university golf match should be allowed the privilege of wearing a "half-blue," matches, and for that reason it is probably right to leave it out of the reckoning in university athletics. On the other hand, we need only look for a moment at the career of the best amateur players in the world to see the truth of the assertion, upon which I should like to lay some stress, that strength, skill, and training are absolutely necessary for success in the royal and ancient game; for if it were really a pastime for old men, women, and children, as so many seem to imagine, or if it were simply a society fad, as it would appear to a large section of the American public who have been unaccustomed in the past to any form of athletics which can be indulged in by a man after he has left college, then the best players would be drawn indifferently from the ranks of the strong and the weak, the young and the aged. This, however, is not the case. Every prominent golfer whose name comes readily to mind has achieved success in other branches of sport. Mr. F. G. Tait, the amateur champion of Great Britain for 1896, was a fair cricketer at school and a first-rate foot-ball player. He did not go through a university career, and so his prowess on the foot-ball field was not widely known; but he was one of the strongest players at Sandhurst, the training-school for the army, where strong men are rife. His predecessor, Mr. Leslie Balfour-Melville, whose record as a golfer is a long and glorious one, was for years the best all-round athlete in Scotland. He was one of the few cricketers from the North who could ever rank with the English exponents of the game. At school he was one of the most brilliant foot-ball players in the country; his skill at lawn tennis was far above the average; and it may be remarked in passing, that he is a billiard-player of no mean ability; for, curiously enough, accuracy in billiards and golf seem to go together in a great many cases.