The Apocryphal Twain: Golf is a good walk spoiled.


Malcolm Gladwell began the second season of his Revisionist History podcast with an episode about the public subsidization of expensive private golf clubs. He called the episode “A Good Walk Spoiled,” but wisely refrained from attributing that now ubiquitous phrase to any particular source. Many have not shown the same restraint.

Unlike many of the aphorisms which we’ve traced in these pages, the substance of this quip was definitely in circulation during Twain’s lifetime, as this passage from Arthur Myers’s Lawn Tennis At Home & Abroad (1903) evidences:

Garson O’Toole of QuoteInvestigator.com has unearthed several other variations on the joke which appeared around the same time. O’Toole credits William Gladstone with the particular “good walk spoiled” phrasing around which the aphorism has since codified. However, Garson draws Gladstone’s claim from an anecdote which circulated in 1924, part of the publicity for Frederick E. Smith’s America Revisited (1924)

Found on Newspapers.com

There have been occasions when Gladstone’s wit and Twain’s might potentially be confused:

Found on Newspapers.com

However, more than ten years before this quote appeared in Smith’s memoir, it had circulated in much the same language as part of a Liverpool Post clipping that appeared in papers throughout the U.S. In this brief collection of golf-related wit, the “good walk spoiled” aphorism is treated as an already tired cliche.

While I still think it unwise to attribute “Golf is a good walk spoiled” to Twain, who was not alleged to have said it until, as O’Toole notes, a Saturday Evening Post story in 1948, Gladstone is also a specious source.

Perhaps the observation that the tedium of golf exceeds that of all other forms of exercise truly is common sense.

Enjoy your weekend!

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