We Are Not Amused - Victorian Golf Jokes

13 March 2015

How the Victorians invented bad golf jokes.

Queen Victoria went into mourning after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, and acquired the reputation for creating a funereal atmosphere around her. It is said the only person who could make her laugh was John Brown, her husband’s former Highland servant, who rose to such prominence that she was publicly lampooned as ‘Mrs Brown’.

Thus, nowadays we think of the Victorians as rather humourless, but Victorian golfers continued the traditions of wining and dining and singing songs and writing amusing verse about golf, reported in most golf books of the day including Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game and Reminiscences on Bruntsfield Links.

'If he was as good..'

The first humorous record in golf is by Duncan Forbes in 1728 when he lamented his son’s lack of abilities.

This Day after a Very hard Pull I Got the better of My Son at the Gouf in Musselburgh Links, if he was as Good at any other thing as he is at that there might be some hopes for him.

The Seance

 The (Royal) Musselburgh golf club has the following minute.

Kedslie’s Feb, 11, 1791

The Club met according to adjournment, Captain Smart in the chair. The Club, taking Mr Macmillan’s card of resignation into consideration resolve that, since he had put himself to death, they don’t chuse to try their hands for his resurrection.

'Put him on the Bill'

George Fullerton Carnegie, author of Golfiana, inherited estates worth £5,000 a year.

“Carnegie no sooner came into possession than he commenced a gay and extravagant life.  There was the living much in Edinburgh a very wild set of young men, who played high, hunted, kept racehorses and so on. Of this set Carnegie became a well-known member. As an instance of their reckless, mad-like behaviour, is the story of a party of them one day dining, and sitting late at the Royal Hotel princes Street – the late Lord Glasgow, then Lord Kelburn, being one of them.  They took offence at one of the waiters, and by way of a gentle punishment pitched him out of the window into the area below.  Some one of the house came into the room to tell them that the poor man was seriously injured: the only answer he got was, “Put him on the Bill.”’

Mrs Forman's Legs

Thomas Aitchison and George Lorimer tell the story of Sir David Wedderburn who had just finished lunching at Mrs Forman’s in Musselburgh.  Intending to congratulate her on the freshness of her eggs, but catching sight of the leeks hanging from the kitchen rafters, said ‘What beautiful legs you've got Mrs Forman!’

The Rev John Kerr even had a section of 'golf jokes' in his book The Golf Book of East Lothian, which he titled Notes and Anecdotes.  The following are a few short extracts.

 ‘The Pantomime’

A young lady was once asked if she had ever seen golf played. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I never go to the pantomime.’

Not ‘Gentlemen’ but ‘Golfers’

A young Edinburgh minister was one day playing in a foursome at North Berwick.  He had a short putt for the half, and not knowing all the outs and ins of the game, he was walking off as if the needful had been performed. The Adversary demurred to this, and the minister failed to get the short putt down. ‘No gentleman,’ he remarked, ‘would have asked me to hole a short putt like that.’  ‘Maybe not,’ said the adversary calmly, ‘but we’re not gentlemen in this case, we’re golfers.’

A Greenhorn

A new green-keeper was being shown over an East Lothian golf-course for which he had been engaged, and, on being asked if he had any improvements to suggest to the committee, replied that he thought those big holes (the bunkers) he saw about, should all be filled up.

Moses and Golf in Egypt

A well-known East Lothian minister (Rev. Mr. Tait, Aberlady) once found his way to the top of the Great Pyramid, and putting his hand into his pocket he found one of Morris 28’s.  The instinct of a keen golfer prompted him to tee it, and swinging his umbrella for want of a club, he sent it spinning far out of sight in the direction of the Holy Land. After such a mighty effort he sat down to rest and meditate.  He pictured to himself some antiquary finding the ball, now somewhat faded by the ruthless hand of time, and with all the ardour of Pickwick trying to decipher the inscription on the ball and reading – “Moses”.  ‘Ah!’ says he, ‘I never knew before that the great law-giver of Israel was a golfer.’ (PW in Scotsman May 22 1889).

‘Beastly Fluke’

Mr Balfour gives amusing evidence of the caddies’s readiness to learn the language of his employer, in his story of the English player who did not know any French and who made a fine shot one day on the links at Pau. On doing this he turned round to his attendant for approbation.  The latter, looking full in his employer’s face and with a most winning and sympathetic smile, uttered the words, ‘Beastly Fluke!’ They were the only English words he had heard habitually associated with any remarkably successful stroke.

Drunkenness in England

Then there’s story of the two Scots playing golf at Hoylake who found a drunk lying in one of the bunkers. ‘There, you see,’ said one, ‘there is just as much drunkenness in England as there is in Scotland.’ ‘Well that may be true,’ said his caddie, ‘but that’s Jock from Aberfeldy, down to visit his cousin.’

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