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10 Nov

Whitlatch Woos Ladies and Fairways

Golf for Beginners and Others, by Marshall Whitlatch in 1910

The American golf explosion took place in the period from 1898 to 1929, it was a time of golf courses construction, golf club innovation, and spendid coverage in most national magazines.  Golf was featured in stories and ads with beautiful drawing and artful displays, and naturally it was also a time when instructional golf books thrived. Instruction with photos were especially desirable as golf instructors were neither commonplace and often "un-qualified". Often golf was simply a self-taught result; some pretty strange action was followed by some pretty high scores.  So, let's enjoy the teaching of one such self-taught instructor of the era; Whitlach... he was a man of charm and personality to boot!

“I can remember how my lip curled with disdain when I saw the red coats and knickerbockers.”

whitlach3Marshall Whitlatch was one who caught the bug after previously ridiculing it. “When I get very old and feeble and my joints creak and I begin to find croquet too strenuous a pastime, then I may take up golf.” “This was in answer to the first invitation I had to play this game,” wrote Whitlatch. He then added, “I can remember how my lip curled with disdain when I saw the red coats and knickerbockers.” But like the rest of us, once “bitten” by the golf bug, Whitlatch went all the way. He found out that the challenge in golf is all about overcoming the obstacles it sets before you. The introduction to his book, Golf for Beginners and Others (Macmillan) published in 1910 and reissued in 1925, is utterly charming. He wrote, “I remember how critically I viewed the old Silvertown gutty ball as I took it out of the bag and bounded it on the bottom of one of the clubs to see whether It was lively or not.

The introduction to his book, Golf for Beginners and Others (Macmillan) published in 1910 and reissued in 1925, is utterly charming

I handed it over and she (ed.note; A young lady was introducing him to the game) put it on a mound of sand which still further convinced me that there was no doubt of its being suitable for mollycoddles; why, they didn’t even give the ball a chance. In baseball the ball had a look in; it took some skill to hit a ball in motion and still more if it had a curve and was coming in fast. She took out a driver—she explained that was the name of the club she selected—and then began a further preliminary course of action in the nature of trial swings, shifting of grip, gage of wind, light, humidity, and doubtless a hundred other things till I was thoroughly disgusted. If they did all that in order to hit a miserable little white pill on a mound they were carrying the thing to absurdity. The young lady said nothing, but swung and hit the ball with a sharp clicking sound and we were off. The ball went about a hundred yards and had an inshoot. “Gee! See it curve!” I exclaimed, then she said in answer to my criticism that the ball didn’t go very far for all the trouble she had taken: “I have been off my drive for over a week and have been slicing right along, but that was rather a fair drive, and I’ll wager a box of candy that you cannot do as well.” That was more than I could stand, and I took the candy against its equivalent in cigars. I took another ball out of the bag and asked if I could baby it up on a mound of sand as she had done. “Certainly.” Well, I did. No foolish preliminaries for me. I swung at it with a force that would have sent a baseball over the outfield fence. My hat flew off, and I felt as though I had broken my collar-bone. My fingers tingled, and I was dizzy. Laughter brought me to myself, and glancing at the mound of sand I saw that white, clean ball still resting there. That roused all the fury in me. I hated that ball then, and I have yet a lingering suspicion of all balls, and am always on my guard in their presence. I had lost my bet and the remark that ‘It isn’t as easy as it looks” only added to my discomfiture. Ha! Thought I, It’s a game of wits. I had better see how the trouble happened, and I walked away from the ball as she had done, and took a more cautious swing at a blade of grass. Missed that too. Saw the trouble now, and hit the grass next time. Now I could hit the ball. I swung good and hard and reached for it and connected. That drive was my undoing. The feel of the club sinking through that ball and the way that ball traveled sent a thrill through me that I’ll never forget.” To Whitlatch’s credit he became a student, actually an addict, of the game.

Golf hit me hard at the start. I had the fever as thoroughly as one could get it. I talked golf when I could and dreamed golf when I could not talk it. Everyone I saw with a golf bag seemed a personal friend of mine


In preparing for golf Whitlatch followed the time-tested pattern of amateurs—reading about technique, practicing his “form” at night at home, then playing one day a week. “Mornings I would be beaten invariably. Afternoons I would give up form and get there any old way. I always did better in the afternoons.” He persisted for over two years and getting humiliated by his playing partners who, after starting golf the same time he did, and giving him four and five strokes, would beat him anyway. Then he got wise. “Finally I decided to discontinue trying to follow others and build up a method of my own, founded on sound mechanical principles. My game steadied and my improvement was regular. I was on the same handicap basis as my friends in a few months, playing only when they did. In the fall I conceded three strokes to them. I have been improving ever since.” Whitlatch’s book is thorough (338 pages), interestingly expressed, and well illustrated. He shows, for example, how to tee up the ball on a sand mound for the drive, how to make recovery shots out of water, the “squeeze shot” and the taking of divots on a high pitch shot to stop the ball.whitlach1 Whitlatch’s favorite club was the mashie. So it is with some interest that I read what he had to say about “the simplest shot” with the mashie. Here’s part of what he said. And though he is correct in what he advocates, I wish you good luck if you decide to follow his instructions. “I have drawn three views of the club and ball in order to show what takes place during the short interval of time when the club is against the ground. In the first place I direct attention to position 1 to show how more latitude for error is given by hitting down instead of parallel with the ground, as in the average player’s theory. By referring to the solid line marked A, you will observe that you have a space nearly as wide as the club head in which to hit with the bottom edge of the club and still get off a very fair shot. This is about four times as much leeway as you have in the other scheme. In order to have the club coming down and the shaft pointing at the angle it is, the hands must be ahead of the ball.”  And here’s the part I get a kick out of. My advice is read it carefully. “To give a simple explanation of this way of playing the shot, just imagine you are playing on the same theory you have been, and instead of taking the usual stance, take a position as though the ground under your left foot was to sink down six inches. Then you will pick off the ball in the same way, but your club will go into the ground after you hit it instead of starting to rise the instant you hit the ball. As the club meets the ground the tendency of the head of the club is to turn away to the right. This must be overcome by turning the clubface in more than you are accustomed to by turning the wrists over harder when you meet the ball. Ywhitlach2ou will find that your ball goes a little more to the left than you have been used to, but by facing the club more to the right, as shown in position 1, this is easily overcome. Then when the ball is struck the club head moves along almost parallel with the angle of rise and you have no need of hitting so hard, because you are tilting the face of your club at an angle equivalent to the loft on a midiron.” To which I add, There! Take that to the course and put it in play!

Last modified on Saturday, 10 November 2012 18:17
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Scott’s Profile: A native Northern Californian with a deep love for pacific coast golf courses.  Favorites: Olympic Club, Spyglass, and Pebble Beach.  First golf memory: Introduced to golf at age 3 with a wooden shafted putter (while on a family vacation to Calgary),the putter didn’t make it home in one piece – broken after chasing a gopher down a hole.  Inspirational golf personality: as a kid captivated by many superstars of the 70s and 80s, ultimate inspiration was Arnold Palmer.  Current passion in golf: a slowed competitive ambition, and a love for learning, exploring and appreciating the finer points in golf. Favorite golf activity: traveling abroad and meeting new people, share a love for the game, and of course exploring both new and classic golf courses.  Hole-in-one count: 6. Handicap: a debatable 1.0 index.  College: USF

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  • Kam Jung

    He's converted to knickerbockers apparently as he's wearing in the photo!! Hysterical...

    Kam Jung Monday, 17 December 2012 20:26 Comment Link
  • Wil Gaertner

    These drawing of a downward strike are very interesting. My lessons I always here this but seeing these pictures has helped me get the idea of what the club face should be doing as you make impact. Thanks for posting this article!

    Wil Gaertner Monday, 17 December 2012 20:23 Comment Link
  • Kerry

    I remember how uncool it was to be a golfer back when I was a kid. It definately did not help my dating chances.

    Kerry Monday, 17 December 2012 20:20 Comment Link
  • Golfn Jim

    I like this guy! He has "distain" for knickerbokers... I hate the knicks!

    Golfn Jim Monday, 17 December 2012 20:18 Comment Link

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