World Golf Hall of Fame Profile: Bernard Darwin
It is said Bernard Darwin invented golf writing as we know it today. He was the first golf writer to transcribe facts and figures into a branch of literary journalism and he did so with style, wit and an ability to turn a phrase.
Born September 7, 1876 in Downe, Kent, Darwin's grandfather was Charles Darwin, the great naturalist, who proposed the theory of evolution. Bernard never trained as a journalist. After graduating from Cambridge with a law degree, he became a barrister in London for a few years. But Darwin was unhappy in his work and in 1908, he gave up his career in law. "Once Darwin dipped his toe into golf writing, the reports he produced regularly for The Times of London over a forty-five year period and his ruminative essays for the weekly Country Life possessed a quality that no one else has ever approached," Herbert Warren Wind wrote, "We are simply very lucky that a man of his high talent was so smitten by golf that he wrote endlessly about it."
His description of Royal St. George's reveals his deep affection for his work: "My pen has run away with me over the first six holes, as I knew it would, and there still remain twelve more holes to play." At the Times of London, Darwin always wrote anonymously as "Our Golf Correspondent." It was not until some years after he retired that the paper began to name its writers; nevertheless, his readers could tell his immaculate prose.
To read a story by Darwin was to be placed in the center of the action. Darwin served as the scorer in the playoff for Francis Ouimet in his improbable victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Forty years later, Darwin witnessed Ben Hogan's victory at the British Open during his incomparable 1953 season. Darwin summed it up with the confidence of a writer who knew he had experienced a command performance: "If he had needed a 64 on his last round, you were quite certain he could have played a 64. Hogan gave you the distinct impression he was capable of getting whatever score was needed to win."
Darwin would not relate any part of a tournament that he had not witnessed himself: if he did, it was always "a kind friend told me that..." After Max Faulkner won the 1951 British Open, Darwin endured the beginning of Faulkner's talk to the press but soon departed, convinced that his readers would be more interested in what he thought of Faulkner's round than what Faulkner thought of himself.
Darwin was a prolific writer. Over the years he became acknowledged as one of the best essayists in Britain. He sprinkled his text with quotes from Charles Dickens, of whom he was a leading authority. "Where others today would quote Nicklaus, Darwin, had he still been working would have quoted Nickelby," wrote his successor at the Times, Peter Hyde.
When he wasn't writing, he could usually be found on a golf course. At Cambridge, he played on the university golf team and was captain his senior year. He was a semifinalist in the 1909 and 1921 British Amateur and served as captain of Britain's first Walker Cup team. Accompanying the team as Times correspondent, Darwin took the place of team captain Robert Harris, who fell ill. Darwin lost in Scotch Foursomes, but he won his singles match, beating W.C. Fownes, Jr., the U.S. captain, by 3 and 1. Darwin was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1934.
Above all, his writing has a timeless quality. "To me he appealed to the reader on the most individualistic terms. He TALKED to us, apologized to us, cried to us, bared his temper to us, and made us laugh with him, all in an attempt to reveal his deep, deep love for golf to us," wrote Ben Crenshaw in an afterword to Golf Between Two Wars, a reissue of Darwin's 1944 classic. "Darwin's writings have given me as much pleasure and as sound education as anything in my golfing life. His words express closely what we feel about the game, if we have taken this game to our heart, as he did."