Vanity Fair, November 1915


An Agonized Cry from Pelham Grenville
Sketches by May Wilson Preston


COME with me to the golf-links at Bellport, Long Island. Let us stand at the first tee, and survey the scene that confronts us. The emerald turf, so smooth and inviting. The gentle bunkers, so easily overcome even by the novice. The crisp air. The beaming sun. The sparkling waters of the Great South Bay. I hear you murmur, “Is this Paradise?”

No, Rollo, it is not Paradise. You have overlooked the Golf Child.

Just as he who would dive into the sparkling waters that lave the shores of Bellport, draws back as he is about to spring because he sees that the s.w. are not so much s.w. as a solid mass of jellyfish; so does the golfer, about to tee off from the local clubhouse, hold back his stroke when he notes that the emerald turf is almost entirely black with Golf Children. A kindly man, he does not wish to add infanticide to his other minor sins. He says, “I will pause awhile, and let these children get ahead before I make my big drive.” And he waits and waits. And waits. . . .


THERE they are, the little pets. There they are, toddling along in couples and giving their lifelike imitations of men rolling peanuts with tooth-picks for an election bet. See, Rollo! Over yonder two of the cute angels have just done the third hole in a hundred and ninety-one, so now the patient looking, grizzled man and his wistful friend can make another stroke. Then, if they wait half an hour or so, they can make another. This is what is meant when you hear people talking about the fascination of golf. It is a great game, as played at our Long Island summer resorts, for it inculcates patience, philosophy, and control of the nerves, and it keeps one out in the open air.

But it is thought by some that our genial committee at Bellport made a mistake when they passed that law that, by paying the sum of one hundred dollars down, any individual may become a member for the season and enjoy the privileges of the links not only in his own person but in the persons of as many of his family as he cares to have enjoying his generosity. For it is this law that has produced the Golf Child.

As Bacon finely puts it in his widely read Shakespeare, “the evil that men do lives after them.” It is thus with many parents. Papa is a business man. He can only afford to take week ends off, and Bellport only knows him on Saturdays and Sundays. But he insists on his wife and children enjoying our soothing air right along. So he pays his hundred bucks to the golf club, and passes away, like one of those unpleasant moths which lay a million eggs in a bee hive and then go away from that place. The evil that he has done lives after him. On the strength of what he has stripped from his roll, by virtue of that one hundred iron men which the committee have thrust into their jeans with a fatuous smile of satisfaction, the entire family may overrun the links like an army corps of Germans swooping blithely onto a neutral country. And it is one of Nature’s strange, immutable decrees that the fathers who do pay the all-the-season-come-yourself-and-bring-the-whole-dam-family subscription always have a quantity of offspring that would make a rabbit look on himself as a race-suicide promoter and duck down a by-street when he saw Colonel Roosevelt coming.


AND so, as I say, just as we are about to drive off, we stay our hand and lower our club, for we perceive that Willie, Percy, Clarence, Harold, Twombley, Stuyvesant, Cuthbert, Aubrey, and Baby George are in our midst, and that further on, just where our drive will land, are little Genevieve with her sixteen sisters and the nine cousins who have come down to visit them. Wherever your ball drops, it must infallibly maim or slay an olive-branch of one of the sexes.

It is impossible to outgeneral the Golf Child. You rise at five sharp and get to the links at five-thirty, and you find a platoon of progeny hard at it. You hang around till the dinner-hour draws near, and through the gathering darkness you can still hear the clear, fresh young voices of a whole drove of issue as they quarrel over whether little Claude has taken two hundred or two hundred and twenty approach-shots to reach the seventh green.


SOME hold that the Golf Child is more sinned against than sinning. They advance the theory that the pestilence is due to that ineradicable trait in human nature that urges a man to get as much as possible for his money. A man, they say, who has paid a subscription of a hundred dollars feels that the more people he can decant onto the links, the more value he is getting for his outlay. His adult friends are probably men like himself, who cannot get away from New York except for the tail-end of the week, so he has to fall back on children. There is something in this, one feels.

And the Golf Child aids and abets his parsimony. He likes doing it. It tickles him to see a long line of adults forming up patiently by the clubhouse, waiting for his little ones.

And so, what happens is that Papa, anxious to make his hundred dollar payment cease to seem an extravagance, rushes out into the highways and byways, scooping in children with both hands and packing them off to Bellport. Nor does he desist until Mama telegraphs him “House full. Three sleeping in bath already. Can put one more on dining—room mantelpiece, but that is the limit.” When that message comes, he rubs his hands and says, “Well, it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all, paying that century. I’ve given a lot of pleasure to an extraordinary number of children.”


HE MISSES the point. Golf is, or should be, a game for the grown-ups. Papa should think for a moment of the wretched adults who have been lured to Bellport by its advertised links, and who must punctuate their every game with long pauses for fear of massacring the kindergarten. There is only one thing to say to such a parent, and that is “Have a heart!”

But I must cease, for I hear the voices of my own six little ones who have just returned from a happy day on the links.