In the early 2000s, Rand Jerris, a long-time USGA staffer known for his work in the association’s museum and library, discovered a bibliography of baseball songs published in the Library of Congress.
With a busy and growing career at the USGA, he filed away the idea of checking into the research possibilities of a similar list of golf songs.
The COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, everyone’s “Now I have time to do this” list, and his persistent itch as a trained researcher and historian all pushed Jerris to dust off the project of gathering that list of songs with a link to golf.
“I thought about the project for 20 years,” Jerris said. “The disruption of COVID opened up the time.”
Peter Lewis (left), who won the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind award in 2017, and author Rand Jerris
One of his first steps was to seek out Peter Lewis, the former director of the British Golf Museum with a deep background in golf and music. A 15-minute Zoom call made them realize it wasn’t a list, it was a book, that would eventually be titled “Swing Time: A Celebration of Golf and Music, 1870 to 1939.”
“I knew that Peter had written a couple of articles about golf’s appearance in Broadway musicals, as well as London’s West End. But I wasn’t sure if his interests in golf music extended deeper,” Jerris said of his friend, whom he now calls once a week. “As a historian, you are always careful of not stepping on someone else’s territory.”
Lewis, born in Los Angeles and raised mainly in New York and London, was the perfect foil as a co-author. His father Arthur was an award-winning theater producer in London’s West End as well as a film and TV producer both in Britain and the United States. Lewis’ mother was an artist who designed theater posters for shows in London and on Broadway. Adding to the lineage, Lewis’ grandfather was a successful Broadway producer in the 1920s, before producing Hollywood movies in the ’30s and ’40s. He returned to Broadway at intervals in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
In their planning, they realized that golf and music were something to look at and read about, although Jerris still dreams of a Carnegie Hall concert.
“There are 1,100 baseball songs, how many golf songs are there, really?” Jerris said, “When I started looking, it wasn’t just the volume of songs that impressed me, it was the images and the stories that the sheet music told. You’ve got to show people the images. They capture so well a moment in time – the costumes, the colors, everything about it visually was so compelling. The whole point of sheet music was to put a bright cover on something so that people would buy it.”
“Swing Time,” a 336-page hardbound book with 185 painstakingly discovered images of sheet music in full color, is a rare celebration of the unlikely combination of this stick-and-ball game with all varieties of music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The period that is the focus of the book – “notably, it was before Ouimet and Jones and Hagen,” Jerris said – overlaps perfectly with the spike in the growth of golf in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
“One of the most significant ways that golf extended into the homes of the average American consumer or British consumer was all this music,” Jerris said. “It made the images of golfers and golf courses relevant. For a lot of these songs there is just one copy of the sheet music that survives. This from tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands, and in a couple of cases more than a million copies that were sold. That is how many people were exposed to the game for the first time. Of all things, it was music that played a significant role at this moment in time when the game was growing rapidly. It was one of those elements that helped drive people’s awareness of golf and their understanding and appreciation for what the game was about.”
Jerris was also amazed and surprised by another factor when his research focused on the composers.
“We were looking at who was writing and who was buying the music and the number of women – a large, disproportionate number of the composers were women,” Jerris said. “It highlighted the way the game grew and was popularized by women in the U.S. and U.K.”
As the research unfolded, Jerris found another bonus.
“I don’t know if you could have done this project 25 years ago,” he said. “I put a book together sitting in my basement in New Jersey because the digital revolution has made access to history so much easier and richer than it was before.”
Through his network of USGA Museum and Library Committee members, Jerris was approached by Don Wilson, owner of Grant Books. Wilson’s passion for golf and the USGA brought an offer to cover the cost of design, printing, and distribution of a limited run of 1,500 books, with all the purchase proceeds going to the USGA Foundation to support the work of the USGA Museum. Today, the book is available at usgapublications.com and on Amazon.
“It was 15 months from when I first reached out to Peter until we had a book in our hands,” Jerris said. “That is an incredibly fast time for a book with research this extensive.”
Significantly, “Swing Time” has also been awarded the Murdoch Medal by The British Golf Collectors Society, given annually for exemplary literary contributions to golf heritage.
“This is the most satisfying of the projects that I have worked on … ” – Rand Jerris
Jerris states: “It is the recognition that it gives to the composers and lyricists and the artists and publishers who supported the creation of all this music 120 years ago. The award shines a bright light on their artistic creativity, and their genius and their passion.”
With an author’s pride, Jerris enjoys all of these fortuitous circumstances.
“This is the most satisfying of the projects that I have worked on for two reasons,” Jerris said.
“First, because I have thought about it for so long. I have been eyeing it for 20 years. Second, the research in the book proved what I suspected – that there truly is an amazing history of golf and music.”
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