‘golf widow’: meaning and origin

The jocular expression golf widow designates a woman whose husband spends much of his spare time playing golf.

This expression refers to the fact that the husband’s repeated absences from the marital home leave his wife feeling neglected.

—Cf. also the expression grass widow, designating a married woman living apart from her husband.

The earliest occurrences of the expression golf widow that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the caption to the following illustration by Harry Furniss (1854-1925), from The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes: Golf (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890), by Horace G. Hutchinson (1859-1932):

A golf widow

2-: From the review of Horace Hutchinson’s Golf, by ‘Orion’, published in The Scots Magazine (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland) of Thursday 1st May 1890:

The illustrations which adorn this handsome book are very good. Mr. Harry Furniss contributes some excellent and some highly humorous ones; notably the charming picture of the golf widow—the lady who is neglected by her husband for the charms of golf.

3-: From the following poem by ‘L. S.’, published in The St. James’s Gazette (London, England) of Thursday 2nd October 1890:

THE GOLF-WIDOW’S LAMENT.

Oh! who a golfer’s bride would be,
Fast-mated with a laddie
Who every day goes out to tee
And with him takes the caddie.

When Donald came to “ask mamma,”
Of Hymen’s links he prated:
The links that now enchain him are
At Musselbro’ located.

I used to be his all in all,
As he himself confesses;
But I’ve a rival now—the ball
He constantly addresses.

I own I feel inclined to scoff,
And get a little “fashy,”
When other spoons he tells me of,
And raves about his mashy.

I think a club ’s a horrid place,
As is my wifely duty;
He vow’s his club ’s a lovely face,
And calls his cleek a beauty.

I hate the wretched game! And can
There be the least disguising,
That its effect upon a man,
Is most demoralizing?

Though Donald knows how greatly I
Detest dishonest dealing,
He loses honour, blames the lie,
And doesn’t stick at stealing.

And then the awful words they use!
(I cannot understand ’em),
Like “bunker,” “stymie,” “divot,” “fooz-
-le”—taking some at random.

I cannot gauge a “niblick’s” charm,
I can’t appraise a “gutty,”
A “bulger” fills me with alarm,
And what on earth ’s a “putty”?

Sweet sisters mine, take warning, then,
Augusta and Adolpha!
Wed cricketers or football men,
But bar, oh bar, the golfer!

4-: From the account of a dinner held on Friday 23rd January 1891 by the members of the Redhill and Reigate Golf Club, published in Golf. A Weekly Record of “Ꝧe Royal and Auncient” Game (London, England) of Friday 30th January 1891:

After a song by the hon. sec., in which the woes of a Golf widow were recited, Mr. F. C. Milford, assistant hon. sec., proposed “the Visitors,” to which Mr. J. G. Gibson, vice-captain, Yarmouth Club, and holder of the record for Blackheath, responded.

5-: From Golfing, published in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (London, England) of Saturday 7th February 1891:

Golf is apparently to the uninitiated one of the easiest and simplest games. But when the novice tries his hand he speedily finds out that the simplicity is a delusion, and that easy playing is only the result of long and careful practice. […]
[…]
Our novice […] begins dimly to grasp the method of scoring, and is heard repeating to himself, “one off two,” “you’ve played the odd,” and so on, a means of scoring which I once heard held up to derision by a lady who was now and again left a golf-widow by her enthusiastic husband. “So like a man’s game,” she said; “why can’t they count properly?”

6-: From The Globe and Traveller (London, England) of Saturday 10th December 1892:

SCOTCH CROQUET.
By a Golf Widow.

“‘Do you have much play here?’ said someone to the keeper of a racquet-court in the neighbourhood of an English golf-links. ‘We used to, sir,’ said the man; ‘but ever since this d—d Scotch croquet has come into fashion no one comes into the court.’” I came across this passage in one of George’s books, and as, barring of course the dreadful language, my opinion of golf is probably much the same as the racquet-court-keeper’s, I have taken his expression as my title.
When I last wrote to you it was to tell you of some of my sufferings as “A Politician’s Wife” during the general election, when George went all over the country exercising the franchise, and leaving me and the children alone at the seaside. Well, I put up with it all, consoling myself with the reflection that when once it was over George would quiet down and give me a little more of his society. But it was not to be. There is a worse thing than politics, and that is golf. For the last two or three years George has been complaining that he never gets any exercise in the winter (in the summer he plays cricket), and that he must find something to keep down his fat—as if walking with his wife was not good enough for him. He used to be passionately fond of football till he married, but he gave that up to please me; for I scorn the explanation of one of his bachelor friends that he found “one dangerous game at a time enough for any man.” Other friends have since suggested rackets, fives, and tennis as possible winter games; but to all their suggestions he turned a deaf ear, and it was not till some ingenious tempter whispered the fatal word “golf” that he succumbed. I fancy politics had a good deal to do with his selection. This is how he put it to me:—“All Scotchmen are golfers; most Scotchmen are good Gladstonites; I am a good Gladstonite; therefore I must be a golfer.” I never did see much good in logic; and I thought George’s remarks were simple nonsense, and said so. But he was not to be persuaded. The next question was what club he should join. The choice narrowed itself down to two—one handy from the office, but far from home; the other nearer home, but farther from the office. It will not be necessary to tell you more about his choice than this, that on golf days—and most days are golf days—he invariably dines in town because he “couldn’t get home in time, my dear.”
He did give me, it is true, another reason than this for his selection. Some cousins of mine live near the links, and he pointed out that I might accompany him while playing, and if I grew tired of watching his frantic efforts to get a small ball into a small hole, might take the opportunity of calling on the C’s. “While I’m teeing the ball, you can be afternoon teaing,” as he facetiously put it. Well, he joined the club, at the cost of I do not know how many guineas—what I do know is that I could not have a new sealskin this winter—but I have not been round with him yet. The only time I suggested it he put me off by saying that the heavy rains had made the ground so swampy that it was not fit for a lady to walk on. But I soon found out the real origin of his objection. Looking one day in the book from which I have already quoted, I stumbled upon the following passage relating to ladies on the links:—“But it is to their presence as spectators that the most serious objection must be taken. If they could abstain from talking while you are playing, and if the shadow of their dresses would not flicker on the putting-green while you are holing out, other objections might, perhaps, be waived. But, apart from these positive offences against the unwritten laws of golf, they unintentionally exercise an unsettling and therefore pernicious influence, deny it who can.” And, would you believe it? these words were underlined with a pencil, and against them my husband, who used to pride himself upon his chivalry, had written “Very true.”
His frequent and long-continued absences—for his promise not to play more than one day a week, and never on Saturdays, has long been a dead letter—have naturally caused a certain breach between us. It has been widened by the fact that we no longer speak the same language. I continue to talk what I flatter myself is plain English: George talks golf. A more ridiculous and unintelligible jargon was never gabbled by savages. “My new clique suits me admirably,” he said to me one day at breakfast. “What clique is that?” I asked, “One of my clubs,” he said, seeing that I did not quite understand. And yet he was as angry as possible when Mrs. Tittle-Tattle, to whom I happened to mention it, spread it all over the neighbourhood that George was giving himself tremendous airs because he had got into a more exclusive set than our suburb could provide. How was I to know that there was any difference between the “cleek” which is a club and the club which is a clique? Then again I heard him say one day that he must take a caddy with him to make the tea, as there were so many cups about. Like a good wife I got a little canister, filled it with “best mixed,” and put it in his bag when next he went to play. Over the explanations which followed I will draw a veil.
Another day, he came home looking very miserable. Perhaps it was unwise of me, but I asked him if he had enjoyed his golf. “Golf!” he growled, “Don’t talk to me of golf; I haven’t been playing golf; agriculture is more in my line.” I was telling him that I thought agriculture would be quite as health-giving and much more useful, when he stopped me with, “Did anybody ever married such an aggravating woman?” and then condescended to explain that golfers called it agriculture when one ploughed up the turf instead of hitting the ball. Still I thought he really had taken a liking to gardening when I saw him out in what he calls the “cat-walk,” cutting holes in the grass-plot, and, as I imagined, planting bulbs. When he came in I thanked him for taking so much trouble, and remarked how bright they make the garden look in the spring. “Bulbs!” he said; “I haven’t been planting bulbs; I’ve been arranging miniature links for the baby to go round when it’s too cold for him to go out in the mailcart. One can’t begin too young.”
No; but one can begin a great deal too old; and that is what George has done. No fool like an old fool, and I am sure no young man ever went so mad about a game as George has about golf. Most of my cherished ornaments have disappeared owing to George practising his swing in the drawing-room: and it was only yesterday that I found him with a cut-glass soda-water tumbler on the dining-room carpet into which he was endeavouring to “hole a put.” The housemaid cannot get on with her work because she is always “cleaning master’s sticks,” and the boot-boy has struck for higher wages in consequence of the amount of mud which George brings home with him.
I can see only one hope for myself and my household. My miserable husband will never see the results of his infatuation till they are exhibited in someone else. So I have just been elected to a Lady’s Golf Club, and mean to show George the meaning of “sauce for the gander.”

In fact, it was not long before the expression golf widower arose—the earliest occurrences that I have found are as follows:

1-: From The Royal Game of Golf, by ‘H. A. S.’, published in the Liverpool Mercury (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Monday 12th June 1893:

It merely remains to describe golf from the point of view of an enthusiastic golfer, as the most worthy pursuit of the present and the future. It is, like converse with a refined lady, a liberal education in itself. It beats chess and lawn tennis, and rivals whist as a pastime; it vies with Confucianism as a philosophy; its fascinations are such that they are positively dangerous; the ominous and suggestive words of “golf widow” tell their own ghastly tale. And who, in view of the number of fair players on our links, shall venture to say that the expression a “golf widower” shall not shortly be coined to express a state which seems impending?

2-: From On the Subject of Cynthia’s Golf, by ‘A. C.’, published in Black & White (London, England) of Saturday 13th April 1895:

Cynthia imagines herself a golfer. She forgets that between absolute and relative proficiency the difference is considerable. I call her only relatively good: she can beat me, but then I am very bad. It was a disastrous day for me when Cynthia was attacked by the golf fever, for it made a new woman of her. […]
[…]
But now that Cynthia has taken to golf I am not certain she remembers my existence. Her enthusiasm is positively appalling, and since we came to reside at Cleekhaven she has lived for nothing save the game. People talk of golf widows, but a golf widower is more pitiable.

2 thoughts on “‘golf widow’: meaning and origin

  1. “Golf widow”: you are most certainly more adept at verifying the following……that it was originally “grass widow”.
    From the time of the British Raj in India, when, in summer, the womenfolk on the tea plantations, as a respite from the relentless heat, were sent up to higher, cooler and greener pastures on the mountainside.
    This was a luxury their husbands could ill afford because of the work they had to see to on those vast acres, at times stretching both ways to the horizon.
    Hence “grass widow”.

    Like

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