June 7, 1976
When one thinks of Darwin—and many of us find ourselves doing it frequently—one finds that he presents a definite puzzle. He seems to have lived at a much earlier time than he did—to have been, in essence, more of a nineteenth-century than a twentieth-century man. How far away his world sometimes seems: a world in which his tutor at Eton once competed against two other whizzes in a quoting match to see who knew “Pickwick Papers” best; in which there were gardeners who mowed a portion of your lawn as short as a golf green so that you could go out and practice your diegeling; in which a golf correspondent, such as Darwin, repaired to the clubhouse for a cup of tea and there knocked off his day’s report in longhand and asked a member of the club’s staff to carry it to the telegrapher in the local post office. Nor does Darwin make any bones about what he considered to be golf’s golden age. It wasn’t the age of Jones or of Hogan or of Palmer. It consisted, he wrote, “of the last few years of the gutty-ball era and perhaps, though golf would have been better if it had never been invented, of the first few of the rubber-cored era”—say, from 1896 to 1906, when the group of British golf champions called the Triumvirate (J. H. Taylor, Harry Vardon, and James Braid) was in its prime. And yet, when you look at Darwin from a different angle he seems to be thoroughly modern—as up-to-date as next week’s tournament, the newest magic-metal long-distance shaft, or the latest rumor of an impending change in the rule about cleaning the golf ball on the green. The explanation is obvious. Nobody ever knew more about golf than Darwin or wrote about it so intuitively.