Early next week, Robert Stanley Weir’s induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame is expected to be announced. Although he is now best known for penning our National Anthem, Weir, who was born in Hamilton in 1856, was also a prolific golf-writer – our first -, as well as a distinguished poet of two volumes, which he juggled with a successful law career in Montreal that eventually saw him serve as judge.
His writings on golf, however, had been essentially forgotten until Ian Murray happened upon them, mainly by chance, while doing research for a still-to-be-published biography about his grand-father, Albert, and great-uncle, Charlie, with whom Weir intermingled in the early Canadian golf sphere. Weir, as Murray notes in his piece “The Lost Writings of Robert Stanley Weir”, quite literally saw the birth of golf on this continent: “Weir was 17 when Royal Montreal came into existence in 1873,” Murray writes, “he recounted first seeing golf played below these slopes in the early 1880’s where he witnessed Sir George Drummond, Colonial Dennistoun, and the Sidly brothers on “club days where it was ‘de rigueur’ to present themselves in red coats and white unmentionables when playing.” Eventually Weir would distinguish himself as a first class player in Montreal’s golfing circles, a talent that would be put to good use by Max Behr who charged him with reviewing all new golf instruction books for Golf Illustrated in 1914, a magazine Behr started and in which Weir’s writings would be published alongside Bernard Darwin’s, Horace Hutchinson’s, and Francis Ouimet’s, among others.
Prior to that, Weir, whose summer residence near Lake Memphremagog provided him with the solitude to immerse himself in his generous library of books and volumes, had been contributing fairly regularly to American publications, commonly to Golf but also occasionally to Harper’s Weekly and Chicago’s Golfers Magazine. Murray remarks that “perhaps, not surprisingly, with his academic background, a lawyer’s logic, and keen observational skills in the new era of “applied” science, Weir became fascinated with “elucidating that most elusive of all things, the theory of the Why and Wherefore of Golf”, the editor of Golf magazine wrote in 1904.” Weir provided profiles of famous golfers and figures, but eventually veered towards instruction and reviews.
Murray also notes that “long before video, high speed photography and the like, Weir, relying solely on personal observation, books, magazines and photos- the mass media of the day- tried to disentangle the physics and forces of a struck golf ball. Positioning, grip, the swing and follow through were the components Weir pursued in search of their fundamental laws to be a competent golfer.”
Weir’s writings consistently reveal the observational skills, the dexterity with meter and rhythm, and the careful craftsmanship of a very good poet. Reading the prose work of poets, however, can be an inconsistently rewarding venture – some poets excel at both forms, while others less so. Poetry and prose, after all, come from very different places: poetry comes from the heart, the hand; whereas prose comes from the head, the gut, the legs. At its core, most romantic poetry, the kind Weir produced otherwise to his golf writings, slows time to a standstill so as to further consider an overwhelming moment, a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: “here’s a powerful image, or sight, now let’s stop to consider its effect upon me” romantic poetry asks. And this is very much what Weir does in many of his pieces that, I think, have best stood the test of time: “Latin on the Links”, “Pioneer Golf in America”, and “The Gentleness of Golf”, among others. He does, in other articles, apply a more subdued, less “high-brow” style, if you will, but I am fond of these pieces, when the poet, the golfer, the studious man combine.
A collection Weir’s writings can be found at the link provided earlier.