One of the many enjoyable aspects of J. P. Marquand's novel Sincerely, Willis Wayde, which I was rereading the other day, is the amount of golf that has made its way into the narrative, probably more than has appeared in any other major American novel. Willis, as those who have read the book will recall, is an earnest young man from Mass. who rises, to oversimplify his progress, to the presidency of the leather-belting company he first served as a 17-year-old summer vacation assistant warehouse checker. Naturally, he takes up golf. For the past 35 years or so, to play golf has been as important an ingredient of the First-Team All-American Businessman as, say, an instinctive sense of inventory control, and Willis is a chap who notices that kind of thing.
"The whole secret of golf," Willis remarks in a memorable scene at a businessmen's convocation at Pinehurst, "is hitting from the inside out. Get a nice pivot, and if you make a good clean finish you don't have to worry." This gives you a fairly good line on Willis, and so do his other pronouncements on golf. For instance, he explains to an executive a rung or two down the ladder from him, "Golf is something you've got to cultivate pretty prayerfully.... I used to be a duffer, and I'm not proud at all of my 91 today, but that trap on the 10th set me back three strokes. I've got to remember to look around the golf shop tomorrow for another wedge." Conceding that a 91 isn't a bad score at all on Pinehurst No. 2, that's still a mighty slick way to handle a 91. You don't catch our Willis explaining that he had been doing O.K. until he topped a spoon shot or choked on a simple chip or committed some other such error that implacably carries the stain of dufferdom. No, he first selects the right hole to go wrong on, the 10th, a brute 593 yards long from the back tee. And how has Willis gone wrong? Very fashionably—"that trap." Even an accomplished golfer, you know, can occasionally miss a couple in a trap, particularly when, as Willis manages to imply, he has been using a defective wedge that should have been thrown away long ago.
Thinking back on Sincerely, Willis Wayde and the natural use it makes of golf's place in the contemporary picture, it is an out-and-out puzzle why the game has never previously insinuated itself to an appreciable degree into novels of manners. Had he lived in a time and place when golf was a big thing, you feel that Tolstoy might have gotten off some stuff on golf as terrific as his hunting, shooting and steeplechase episodes. Thoughts of this type led me into a kind of literary reverie which resolved itself into a brief Saturday noon sequence which takes place at an imaginary summer-colony golf club peopled by some of the country-club characters of fiction, folks who logically would have played the game. To help the reader to identify some of the members whose literary affiliation he may have forgotten, the names of their home clubs are appended in parentheses.
As our story gets under way, it is June, it is Saturday, it is noon when Willis Wayde drives his station wagon into the parking lot of the Fair Way Country Club. (There are more Marquand characters in the club than those proposed by any other author, hence the club's name.) On Willis' way to the clubhouse, he quickly cases the spotless new Jaguar that belongs to one of the newer members, Jay Gatsby (Fitzgerald C.C.), then waves a greeting to the old pro, Tom Foyle (Morley Town and Country Club). Willis reminds himself that he must pick up a new wedge in Foyle's shop when he has a little more time on his hands and walks on past the practice tee where Gatsby is hitting out a bag of balls. Gatsby not only uses nothing but brand-new balls but he has also neglected to remove the wrappers from part of the batch.
December 26, 1955
"ONE O'CLOCK SHARP"
"Hey, there, old sport," Gatsby calls to Willis, "don't forget we're scheduled to tee off at one o'clock sharp."
"I'll be there, fella," Willis replies. "I've got to look in on a meeting of the Membership Committee but that won't last long. Don't take any wooden Nicolls, fella."
En route through the bar, Willis turns down an invitation from Bertie Wooster (Royal & Ancient Wodehouse) to have a quick one with him. There is nothing wrong with Bertie, Willis reflects hurriedly, but you do have to watch who you do your drinking with at the club. That could have been a nasty scene last night, for instance, when Julian English (O'Hara C.C.) threw that glass of Scotch at George Babbitt (Lewis C.C), if old Sam Dodsworth hadn't appeared out of nowhere and speared the glass even as it hung in mid-air.
Willis arrives finally at the small oak-paneled room where the Membership Committee is convening, and the chairman, H. M. Pulham (Marquand C.C), informally calls the group to order. The other three members of the committee are Clyde Griffiths (Dreiser Park), Christopher Newman (James International C.C), and Silas Lapham (Howells C.C.). Pulham, with just a fleeting touch of self-consciousness, outlines the business before the committee. It seems that several members of the club have strongly requested that Robert Jordan (Hemingway Hunt Club) be expelled from the Fair Way C.C. Jordan, the complainants have charged, has been paying excessive attention to the members' wives right along, the climactic incident having taken place two weeks back when he was playing a twosome with Mrs. H. M. Pulham. On the second hole, Mrs. Pulham had hooked her drive deep into the woods and it was some 40 minutes before she and Jordan returned to the fairway. "I see nothing wrong in this myself," Pulham declares, "but it is the duty of our committee to talk these matters over."
There is a fairly animated discussion and then a verbal vote. Clyde Griffiths and Willis Wayde are in favor of expelling Jordan; Lapham and Newman think the evidence insufficient for so drastic a measure. "I am inclined to agree with Si and Chris," says Pulham, whose lot it is as chairman to cast the deciding vote. "Myself, I fail to understand this ganging up on Jordan. I will go further. I think our club would be a much finer one if there were more fellows like him. It was extremely considerate of him, I think, to spend 40 minutes helping Mrs. Pulham look for her ball. I wouldn't have had the patience to look for over five minutes myself—even with the price of golf balls being what it is."
The meeting over, Willis Wayde rushes to the first tee. He is not a moment too soon. The three other members of his foursome have just driven off and are waiting for him. Willis whips through a quick practice swing and then belts a (for him) tremendous drive, 230 yards straight down the fairway. Each of the three members of his foursome is stirred to comment.
"A real beauty, old sport," says Jay Gatsby.
"Best one I've seen you hit on any continent," says Lanny Budd (Sinclair C.C).
"Splendid," says David Copperfield.
Willis is so pleased he is unable to restrain himself from asking his caddy, Sam Weller (Dickens C.C), "Well, what did you think of that tee shot, Sam boy?"
"Vel, sir," Sam replies, "as the coachman said ven he unhitched the horses in the inn yard in Edinburgh after whippin' them wery fiercely all the way from Glasgey, that was one helluva drive."