'Fore! The Best of Wodehouse on Golf'

By: Bob Spiwak

This delightful book can well begin with the back of the dust cover. For thereon is a picture of the elfin Mr. Wodehouse grinning at the camera alongside his more sanguine editor, D.R. Bensen. I grinned back when I saw it and the grins as well as a few belly laughs accompanied my read of the book.

This collection of Wodesouse's writings was published in 1983, but its moments hark back to the days when Harry Vardon was the guru of golfers, hackers and pros alike, in the early 20th century - when Bogey was interchangeable with Par in golfspeak; when players used implements like mashies, niblicks, spoons and other such forgotten names; when a handful of sand was used as a tee . . . well, you get the idea.

The setting for the stories is at a very upscale club, and while there is a ghost narrator, most of the text comes from the mouth of a gent known only as "The Oldest Member," who regales (and bores) other members with tales of the game and its winners and victims on the course.

Not long into the book it occurred to me that The Oldest Member was probably golf's first sports psychologist. He helps helpless and hapless hackers with allegorical tales concerning others who were afflicted with high scores, continual losses, unrequited love, stiff upper lips and the inability to concentrate.

In one of the 11 episodes a golfer - after a long time improving his game to dazzle his dream girl - falls into a funk in a flawless match after he catches up with "The Wrecking Crew," a foursome of loudmouthed unmannerly guys who have no concern whatsoever with the etiquette and rules of golf. This foursome had acquired the unflattering names of "The Grave-Digger," "The Man With The Hoe," "Old Father Time," and "Consul, the Almost Human."

I shall not reveal other chapters, it would spoil the read.

That the game is timeless we all know, and emphasizing this to a prisoner of his profundities, The Oldest Member becomes a narrative philosopher. To wit: "Golf is in its essence a simple game . . . Where the average man goes wrong is in making the game difficult for himself. Observe the non-player . . . who will hole out with a carefree flick of his umbrella, the twenty-foot putt over which you would ponder and hesitate for a full minute before sending it right off the line. Put a driver in his hands and he pastes the ball into the next county without a thought."

There is subtle humor in the names of Wodehouse's characters; of the four ex-wives who come watch their former husband win the championship, of the winsome objects of flubbers' enchantment, the hapless golfers themselves. I was especially taken by "Rollo Podmarsh."

Wodehouse was a titled Englishman whose writings were immensely prolific. His most famous may be the Jeeves stories. He died in 1975.

"Fore! The Best of P.G. Wodehouse On Golf," 1983. Ticknor & Fields New Haven and New York, ISBN 9780547527727

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 while awaiting the Korean War draft. First published at the age of 12, he entered the golf-writing arena in the early 1980s as a freelancer and staff writer for Golf Course News and GolfWeek, all the while freelancing for other publications in the U.S. and abroad. A co-founder of the Northwest Golf Media Association and contributing editor of Cybergolf, he lives below a mountain near Mazama, Wash., with a wife and pets on his former Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf and Flubbers Club. They have unwelcome guests like cougars, bears, deer, and Bob's very high handicap.