​​Jeff Falkingham '95 (MAL)

honored by Sherlockian group
     (Augsburg University, Dec 18th, 2020)
   
Jeff Falkingham (MAL ’95) has earned a Sigerson Award for creative writing from the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, one of the nation's oldest and most respected Sherlock Holmes scions. Due to Covid-19, this year's annual awards ceremony, normally held at the Minneapolis Golf Club, was conducted via Zoom on December 3. 
    This is the third year in a row that Falkingham has won a Sigerson Award. This year, Jeff was cited for his essay titled "Secret to Sherlock’s Golf Game is a Foot Fixation." His winning essay is featured in the 2020 edition of the Norwegian Explorers' Christmas Annual, mailed in printed form to 250 Sherlockians across the nation in December, and distributed digitally to hundreds more around the world in January.   
    For each of the past 19 years, the Minnesota scion has published a book modeled on Beeton’s Christmas Annual, in which Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, originally appeared in 1887. The theme for this year's publication was "Games are Afoot" - an ideal topic for Falkingham, who began his writing career as a sports reporter for his hometown weekly in Browns Valley, MN, honed his skills in the Mass Communications Department at SCSU, served as sports editor for the Wahpeton-Breckenridge Daily News and the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, wrote his MAL Master’s Thesis on the role journalists play in the relationship between sports and society, and more recently worked part-time for 18 seasons at Glen Lake Golf and Practice Center in Minnetonka.  
     To read the winning essay, see the News page [below] on Jeff’s website. While there, Jeff says to be sure to check out the Books page, to learn about his published adventure tales that bring the Great Detective to Minnesota in the late 1800s, and also the Talks page, for info on the Holmes & Doyle program that he has conducted at more than 100 schools, libraries, historical societies and book or social clubs across the upper Midwest. ​

 

Secret to Sherlock's Golf

Game is a Foot Fixation  
     
To the best of my knowledge, the grand and glorious game of golf is mentioned only twice in the Sherlockian Canon. In The Greek Interpreter, the subject of golf clubs comes up briefly in an after-tea conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. In Black Peter, the title character’s accused killer had checked into the Brambletye Hotel in Forest Row, East Sussex, “on the pretence of playing golf.”

     Despite this dearth of documentation, I maintain that Sherlock Holmes not only could have been, but actually was, an exceptional golfer. There is plenty of evidence in the Canon to support this premise. Several examples are offered below.
     First of all, we know that Holmes was quite athletic. He was a skilled boxer, which requires excellent hand-eye coordination – as does golf. He practiced baritsu, a form of martial arts that emphasizes great body control – as does golf (played well, that is). Sherlock was adept at using either a riding crop or a cane as a weapon; and according to Watson, the Great Detective was an expert at “singlestick” (also known as cudgels). All of this suggests that he would have been extremely comfortable with a golf club in his hand, be it a driving iron, a mashie, a niblick or a spoon.
      Holmes also had an uncanny ability to put himself in situations that play to his strength, and avoid situations that expose his weaknesses – a strategy that successful golfers today refer to as ‘course management.’ Finally, his unparalleled mind allowed him to concentrate and maintain focus for hours at a time – essential in an 18-hole round of golf.
      At this point, we should note that Arthur Conan Doyle himself was, like many of us, an avid, though not championship-caliber, golfer. In a Letter to the Editor signed "A. C. Doyle" published in the November 5, 1898 edition of London's Daily Mail, the author notes: "I am myself an intermittent golfer, getting very violent attacks at regular intervals. It usually takes me about two months to convince myself that I will ever be any good, and then I give it up until a fresh burst of energy sets me trying once more."

      From other sources (including Memories and Adventures by A. Conan Doyle, as well as The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia), we also learn this: In 1904, in an area of Surrey known as the Devil’s Punchbowl, Doyle helped organize Hindhead Golf Club, serving as its first president. By 1910, he was club captain at Crowborough Beacon, a posh club overlooking the Sussex heath land, where he played into the early 1920s. He also golfed in Egypt, Switzerland and America. In June 1914, he helped design a course in Canada’s Jasper Park. Twenty years earlier, he was seen at a private course in Vermont, giving golf lessons to Rudyard Kipling.
      Similarly, Holmes, I believe, gave golf lessons to Watson. Though the latter never wrote about them, points that Holmes drove home during those lessons pop up, either intentionally or subconsciously, in several of the good doctor’s stories. Here are just a few examples:
      “Always look at the hands first,” Holmes repeatedly told Watson, stressing the great importance of focusing on one’s grip on the golf club when getting ready to strike the ball. This mantra managed to creep into Watson’s report on The Adventure of the Creeping Man.
      “That left foot of yours with its inward twist is all over the place” the Great Detective pointed out, about his friend’s stance and swing mechanics. (Perhaps the doctor had been shot in the leg, rather than the shoulder, after all!) Is it merely a Freudian parapraxis when Watson slips this frequent admonishment into The Boscombe Valley Mystery?
      Before I reveal my next example, I’d like to tell you the most important lesson an older, wiser golfer once taught me about putting: When you reach the green, always walk slowly from your ball to the far side of the hole, then back – up one side of your putting line, down the other. Why? Because (I was told) the soles of your feet can read the slope of the green better than your eyes can. Holmes knew this, and knew it well! Thus, his most important golf tip to Watson was this:
      “There is nothing that is so important, and so much neglected, as the art of tracing footsteps. Happily, I have always laid great stress upon it, and much practice has made it second nature to me.” This crucial golf lesson, of course, was paraphrased by Watson in his very first story about Holmes, A Study in Scarlet.
      Whether the student took this (or any) lesson to heart, we’ll discuss in a moment. But Holmes himself clearly adapted many of his own golf maxims to his life as a detective. Take the lesson on tracing footsteps, for instance: In The Red-Headed League, upon finding the shop of Jabez Wilson, the detective “walked slowly up the street, then down again to the corner.” Then, upon returning to the pawnbroker’s shop, Holmes “thumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or three times.” Why? Because his feet told him something about the ground beneath them that his eyes could not! Likewise, in The Norwood Builder, Holmes “paced one corridor and found it six feet shorter than the corresponding one below,” thus using his feet to deduce the presence of a hidden room. He performed a similar feat (pardon the pun) in The Golden Pince-Nez. Sport imitates life – and vice versa!   
      I could go on. Instead, I’ll return to Black Peter - for yet another Canonical clue that Sherlock Holmes was, indeed, an avid golfer: After examining the scene of Peter Carey’s death, Holmes, rather uncharacteristically, suggests, “Let us walk in these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and the flowers.” Clearly, he is not talking about the Carey estate! That, Watson writes, sits in a clearing that previously housed an iron-works, where “ravaged groves and giant scars in the earth show the work of the past.” Rather, our favorite sleuth, obviously, is suggesting they visit the nearby Ashdown Forest & Turnbridge Wells Golf Course.
      Faced with all this evidence, one must ask the question: Why is it that the game of golf is not mentioned more frequently in the Canon? The answer depends on whom you might ask: Watson or Doyle.

      For Doyle, the answer is simple. Stung by suggestions that his Sherlock Holmes was merely a thinly-veiled copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, Doyle was loath to write about anything that could be labeled “unoriginal.” Much as he had avoided, for decades, to write about fingerprints – because Samuel Clemens beat him to the punch with his tale of Puddn’head Wilson – Doyle, a native Scotsman, was not about to risk comparison to Robert Clark. The latter, also a Scot, had published the renowned Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game in 1875 (reprinted, due to its immense popularity, in 1893).
      For Watson, the answer is a bit more complex. First, as a former rugby player, he may have believed that golf was not “manly” enough for his image. After all, he had played for the Blackheath Football Club, one of the most prestigious rugby union teams in the world! Plus, he already had another sports addiction: horse racing. As he says about that sport (and, more specifically, about betting on it), in Shoscombe Old Place, “I pay for it with about half my wound pension.” Thus, while Holmes enjoyed golfing amid the flora and fauna of Ashton Forest, Watson was likely next door, at Forest Row’s fledgling Lingfield Racecourse.

      Similarly, passing from Norfolk through Suffolk on their way back to London after The Adventure of The Dancing Men, the two friends naturally would have made a slight detour: Holmes to play “The Sacred Nine” at Royal Worlington in Bury St. Edmunds, Dr. Watson to assuage his passion for the ponies by throwing a few bob at the nags at nearby Newmarket Racecourse. How could any true English sporting gentleman pass up such an opportunity?
      Finally, golf was just one more area in which Holmes was clearly superior to his friend, for reasons cited earlier. While his rugger’s build may have helped give Watson’s drives a bit of length, his faulty footwork surely affected his accuracy off the tee; and his failure to learn how to feel with his feet on the putting green, despite frequent reminders from Holmes, likely made him a very poor performer with the flat stick. No wonder he chose not to write about it! I should note here that, while mourning the “death” of Sherlock Holmes, Watson did attempt to seek solace in the game of golf, even trekking to the “Old Course” in Scotland in 1894. But that’s another story!
      Speaking of another story: Let us not forget that it was on a golf holiday that The Hound of the Baskervilles was born. During (and after) a friendly round of golf at the Royal Links in Cromer, on the north coast of Norfolk, a young journalist named Bertram Fletcher Robinson introduced Arthur Conan Doyle to the legend of a gigantic phosphorescent hound. Thus, it is only because of the grand and glorious game of golf that “the camaraderie of two friends and the liberating concentration of the game had resurrected Sherlock Holmes.”  
      I hope I’ve provided enough evidence to convince you of the important role golf played in the life of Sherlock Holmes. If not, I believe that if one looks hard enough, producing even more evidence would be easier than finding a shanked gutta-percha in the deep British gorse.  Either way, I do know this: When (if) I reach that great green golf course in the sky, I’d love to be paired in a foursome with Holmes, Watson and Doyle. Even in a unique 3-on-1 best ball match, I’m fairly certain I could predict the outcome, long before the end of the round. After tallying up our scores over a pint in the pub, the Great Detective, a consummate golfer, would hoof it back to Cloud 221B with all the golden guineas.
      I gladly will have dug deep into the pockets of my plus-fours to contribute my share!

        (If you enjoyed this essay, see the NOTE that follows the Footnotes)
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FOOTNOTES

      Established in 1888, Ashdown Forest & Turnbridge Wells Golf Course (AF&TW) is now known as Royal Ashdown. It is just down the road from the Brambletye Hotel, and is likely the course that young John Hopley Neligan cited in Black Peter as the reason for his visit to Forest Row. Also established in 1888, Royal Links at Cromer is one of 64 "royal" golf courses around the world, including 34 in the United Kingdom (18 of them in England).

      Established in 1890, the Lingfield Racecourse is still operating, as a key component of the Lingfield Park Resort complex in Surrey. Established in 1893, Royal Worlington Golf Course is universally acclaimed as “the best 9-hole course in the world.” 

      Established in 1667, Newmarket Racecourse (home to both the Rowley Mile and the July Course) has been the headquarters of British thoroughbred racing for over 350 years. And of course, “The Auld Course” at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, is recognized as the oldest golf course in the world, having been established over 600 years ago.

      The report of an alleged visit to “The Home of Golf” in Fife by Dr. John Watson can be found in Mystery at St Andrews by W. P. Lawler (2012). The observation about Doyle and Bertram Fletcher Robinson is from an Inspection Report to the Diogenes Club, UK by Richard Hartman (1999).
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​     NOTE: As the write-up states, this was Jeff's third straight Sigerson Award! In 2019, he won an award for his essay titled "Doyle's Imagination Reflects Visions of a Screen Writer." In 2018, he won for "War of Words" about a "feud" between Arthur Conan Doyle and Samuel Clemens (also known as Mark Twain).

     You can now read ALL three award-winning essays -- plus 10 more! -- in Focusing the Lens on Doyle and Holmes. This collection of Jeff's essays is available in eBook form for just $2.99, or a photo-packed paperback for $6.99! 

     For immediate delivery of Jeff's new eBook, click HERE



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