It is may be that the best fictional golf stories were written by P.G. Wodehouse around a century ago. The Clicking of Cuthbert, Chester Forgets Himself and scores more are tremendous, hilarious tales of golf-related trial and tribulation as Wodehouse skewers the attitudes of club golfers everywhere – towards golf, towards women and towards their fellow-men. The ‘Wrecking Crew’, the fourball from hell, are a simply glorious creation.
A sense of his writing style can be gathered from his preface to another story, Heart of a Goof, which he wrote “immediately after I had won my first and only trophy – an umbrella in a hotel tournament at Aiken, South Carolina, where, hitting it out of the meat for once, I went through a field of some of the fattest retired businessmen in America like a devouring flame”.
The subject of golf as fiction in general is a subject to which I shall return now and again but in the here and now I would like to refer to one particular book, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie. It has more twists and turns than the 14th green at Augusta National, although it is a lot easier to read.
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It involves (inevitably) a death, the discovery of a dying man on cliffs beside a golf course in Wales. The book begins thus: “Bobby Jones teed up his ball, gave a short preliminary waggle, took the club back slowly, then brought it down and through with the rapidity of lightning..[the ball] scudded along the ground and embedded itself firmly in the bunker! There were no eager crowds to groan with dismay… and that is easily explained – for it was not the American-born master of the game who had played the shot, but merely the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt…”
Although she could not have known it, the author’s use of the word “master” was apposite. The book was published in 1934, the year Jones founded the Masters Tournament (although it did not then go by that name). But there was surely no coincidence in her making young Jones 28, the age the Bobby Jones was when he accomplished the Grand Slam in 1930, the very feat Tiger Woods will endeavour to take a second step towards when, as the present Masters champion, he tees off in the USPGA Championship in New York on Thursday.
It is the fictional Bobby Jones who first sees the stricken man in this book, although not before Christie has written of another tee shot that he “waggled his club for a long time, took back stiffly, shut his eyes, raised his head, depressed his right shoulder, did everything he ought not to have done – and hit a screamer down the middle”. She then has him speaking to his companion: “’I know now what I’ve been doing,’ said Bobby – quite untruthfully.” So she’s pretty much nailed that truism!
There is no Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot around any crime scenes in this murder mystery. To be frank, there isn’t a great deal more golf in it either, other than a game Bobby inexpertly plays with his charming and resourceful female friend, Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent. But then, as explained by the Oldest Member, another wonderful Wodehouse creation, at the end of another story: “A woman is only a woman, but a hefty drive is a slosh.”
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com