Golf at dawn: An ancient piece of journalistic dreck falls out of a wall | Bleader

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Golf at dawn: An ancient piece of journalistic dreck falls out of a wall

Posted By on 05.30.13 at 07:34 AM

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  • Laura Miner
Perhaps I've uncovered an actual craze that over a century ago struck Chicago. Perhaps it was nothing more than a relative handful of Chicagoans beating the summer heat by getting up when it was cool.

At any rate, I just searched the Tribune archives for a story I had a hunch I'd find. Sure enough, "Trailing the Patient Golf Fiends Over the Public Links" was published on July 11, 1909. "Wherever there are public links," the Tribune reports, "there, in the early morning hours, one is sure to find a golf mad crew that has sacrificed a delicious 'last' nap for the sublime joy of hitting a little ball to an uncertain goal.

"They begin to arrive at about 4 a.m. They come in pairs and parties. The woman of fashion is there intent on bringing the roses to her pale cheeks through a daily devotion to the fashionable exercise. The business woman, trig [sic] and energetic, makes her appearance in company with a friend and starts her ball flying or fluttering toward the first 'green.' Old men and young men, rich men and poor men, all art there. The fever of golf is epidemic and everybody has 'caught' it."

A lot of old journalism is delightfully archaic, and this piece is no exception. There's no byline. The story is illustrated with sketches nicely drawn by someone, identified simply as "the artist," who set up her easel in Jackson Park. The artist—did she also write the story?—chats up the golfers while making it clear to readers she can't wait to go back to bed.

The golfers, however, are brimming with energy and enthusiasm. It is even rumored that some zealots play in their bare feet.

"They do say that there's a barefoot phase to the golf craze and that many women—and men too—steal in and out among the bushes, whacking the balls and scurrying after them with their feet clothed only in the garb that nature bestowed upon them," the Tribune reports. "The barefoot contingent usually arrives before the others. In fact, they come so early that one has a shrewd suspicion that they have remained up all night to be first on the links in the morning.

"In order to have any good come to one through going barefoot," the Tribune explains, "one should arrive before the dew is off the grass, as dew is supposed to be possessed of decided medicinal value."

But no barefoot golfers were drawn, and apparently on this particular morning none were actually sighted.

Why did I expect to find such a story in the Tribune archives? A few weeks ago, we tore down a wall at our weekend place in Michigan in order to expand a room. Out of that wall tumbled old newsprint that had been stuffed there to provide insulation. These old pages were dated 1909, making the house years older than we'd thought it was. And some were so curious my wife had them mounted and framed.

None was more curious than the front page of the Sunday Tribune's Special Features section on August 1, 1909. That front page is pictured above.

The headline, "And Now Her Ladyship Plays Golf in Her Bare Feet (but only in the early morning)," stretches across the page. Beneath it is a drawing of her ladyship whaling away while a long-suffering caddy holds her bag.

The story below the artwork begins with a jingle.

Shoe the old horse and shoe the old mare;
But let the toes of milady go bare! Sh! Bare!

This is identified as an "old rhyme," which it isn't. The actual old rhyme is this:

Shoe the old horse
Shoe the old mare
But let the little pony
Run bare, bare, bare

And then the story begins.

It is not, however, a question of “let,” declare present day husbands and brothers and sweethearts. Masculinity stands helpless and dejected in the face of femininity’s “will an’ won’t an’ there’s an end on’t.” The fair sex has decided that early morning golf is “the thing.” Well and good. But—the same fair members have also declared that they will play golf—barefoot. O, yes, indeed they will. Why? Because.

Slapped in the face with the eternal woman’s reason, what CAN the poor man do?

Nothing—absolutely nothing. Therefore milady plays golf in her little bare tootsie wootsies, while milady’s lord and master—or what hopes to be trails meekly and blushingly behind her over the links wondering irascibly what the dickens has gotten into the women, anyway.

I read this story through to the end and asked myself, can I presume to judge it by contemporary journalistic standards? Well, I thought, why not? Some standards are eternal standards, and these are the ones this self-indulgent exercise fails to meet. To begin with, it's insufferably cute and condescending. It's also amazingly lazy. No actual barefoot golfers are even seen, much less interviewed, nor is any golf course identified where they might be seen. I wondered: Is this guy—for the writer's clearly a man in the throes of self-amusement—making the whole thing up? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I looked for—and found—an earlier piece of journalism that would have served as the wafer of fact on which he propped his nonsense. "The artist" got up before dawn to prepare her report. The tootsie-wootsie man ripped her off.

I'd like think that across a span of time exceeding a century, in that long vanished age when men in bleached white shirts sat behind massive typewriters preparing the daily report and there wasn't a skirt to be seen in the newsroom, when women, in fact, were a decade away from even gaining the vote, hard-bitten editors of the old school marked up the story on barefoot golfing and said to themselves, "What a load of crap!" Maybe the writer had covered the Spanish-American War with distinction before demon rum stole his gifts; maybe he was a kid who'd five years later put in a chit to go cover the Great War and wonder why the foreign desk never got back to him.

Who knows? The story came out of our wall, I read it and said, "Good God!" Here's the whole thing.

Shoe the old horse and shoe the old mare;
But let the toes of milady go bare! Sh! Bare!
— Old rhyme.

It is not, however, a question of "let," declare present day husbands and brothers ande sweethearts. Masculinity stands helpless and dejected in the face of femininity’s "will an’ won’t an’ there’s an end on’t." The fair sex has decided that early morning golf is "the thing." Well and good. But—the same fair members have also declared that they will play golf—barefoot. O, yes, indeed they will. Why? Because.

Slapped in the face with the eternal woman’s reason, what CAN the poor man do?

Nothing—absolutely nothing. Therefore milady plays golf in her little bare tootsie wootsies, while milady’s lord and master—or what hopes to be trails meekly and blushingly behind her over the links wondering irascibly what the dickens has gotten into the women, anyway.

The pretty barefoot enthusiasts are to be found almost any morning at many golfclubs. With the dawn they come sprinting over the grass from all directions, bright eyed and eager for the morning’s sport. Nearly all are attended to by some devoted though irascible man who is still so sleepy that he can hardly walk and whose dull mind fails to comprehend why chasing barefoot over wet grass after a small ball is of sufficient interest to draw one from a comfortable bed where for at least three hours more one might sleep and—O-ho-ho.

"Stop yawning, John," says milady, severely. "What in the world is the matter with you? Why, I was never wider awake in my life. Isn’t this morning air delightful? And look at the dew on the grass. I never knew that mornings were so beautiful."

"Wish you’d never found it out," grumbles the unreasonable man. But milady, being used to John, only smiles sweetly and goes her way.

Those women who live within walking distance of the links usually walk from home barefoot. Those, however, who are obliged to avail themselves of transportation are obliged to conform to the requirements of conventionality for a certain length of time: but when the links are reached—away with the confining shoes and clinging stockings. A quick exit is made to some secluded spot, shoes and stockings are disposed of and when there comes a reappearance all is there but the pedal coverings and they are conspicuous by their absence.

While most of these women venture out boldly and make no secret of their bare feet, there are some who have gotten no farther as yet than the sandal stage.They wear, it is true the Japanese sandals which are, in reality, no sandals at all, but the knowledge that they have something on their feet salves their dignity and makes them women—for they play early morning golf with just as much zest and verve as their juniors—mercy, yes! Unlike their younger sisters, though, they have carefully defined reasons—-why.

They play for their nerves.

They play to set circulation going.

They have heard that dew on the grass is decidedly good—or bad, rather—for rheumatism. "I assure you, my dear, it’s no pleasure—I do it for my health."

But the younger generation, shamelessly flaunts its uncovered toes, snaps its fingers in the face of the critical and sprints along—barefoot.

What next, milady?

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