In his novel Blandings Castle, P.G. Wodehouse produced one of his most famous lines: “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” Not a line to be uttered on the first tee of the Old Course at St Andrews.
Wodehouse was a prolific comic writer, some of his best work being devoted to golf. Several of these stories appear in an anthology published late last year – Above Average at Games: The Very Best of P.G. Wodehouse on Sport. The editor, who is the author, Richard T. Kelly, has selected several golf tales for inclusion. My favourite is probably The Clicking of Cuthbert, which manages to meld golf with romance and Russian literature to hilarious effect. I’ll leave you to discover that one alone but will reference three others here.
The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh concerns the infatuation the gentleman of that name has for a certain Mary Kent – “One may say that he was in love before he had come within two yards of the girl.” I don’t think social-distancing was a thing a century ago so Rollo was perhaps ahead of his time. Rollo’s mother was keen to arrange a relationship between the couple and Mary had become keener on learning that Rollo, like herself, played golf. “Rollo is exceedingly good at golf,” Mrs Podmarsh told Mary. “He scores more than 120 every time, while Mr Burns, who is supposed to be one of the best players in the club, seldom manages to reach 80.” Oh dear.
In A Woman Is Only a Woman, two old friends and mad-keen if useless golfers, Peter Willard and James Todd (“few things draw two men together more surely than a mutual inability to master golf”), both become smitten by the charms of the same woman, Grace Forrester. This soon gets awkward. “Neither allowed the other to be more than a few minutes alone with the girl. They watched each other like hawks. When James called, Peter called. When Peter dropped in, James invariably popped round.” (I have often wondered if this scenario in parts inspired Martin Amis in his dark comic novel London Fields, in which two men, Keith Talent and Guy Clinch, are vying for the attentions of his anti-heroin, Nicola Six.) Anyhow, it eventually transpires that Grace has no time for golf, so you can perhaps guess the denouement.
Ferdinand Dibble is the central character in The Heart of a Goof. He is in love with Barbara Medway. A rather tempestuous courtship reaches a climax over a round of golf in which Ferdinand plays George Parsloe. “Well, may the best man win,” says the latter. Wodehouse notes that “this was precisely what Ferdinand was afraid was going to happen”. The match duly takes place – don’t worry; no spoiler – and afterwards Ferdinand says to Barbara: “I’ve just discovered the great secret of golf. You can’t play a really hot game unless you’re so miserable that you don’t worry over your shots.”
He adds: “Have you ever seen a happy pro?”
Barbara: “No. I don’t think I have.”
Ferdinand: “Well, then!”
Barbara: “But pros are all Scotchmen [sic]”
He really did have it in for them, didn’t he?
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