THE hundreds of visitors crowding to attend and play in snow golf tournaments, now a regular feature of many of the winter carnivals of New England and the Northeast, are little aware that their game has a history linking it to a celebrated British author and poet. In 1892 Rudyard Kipling, already successful as a writer, married an American, Carolyn Balestier, and settled with her in Brattleboro, Vt.
After living a great part of his life in India where it is 118 degrees F. in the shade, Kipling reveled in Vermont winters. During the big snows of 1895-96, he found good sport in helping the farm hands ``plough out.''
Neighbors took pride in pointing out this unimposing young fellow riding out in his impressive carriage, complete with liveried coachman. For the most part, however, Kipling preferred walking. He loved the woods and took many hunting trips, not gun hunting but eye hunting. When neighbors found this curious, Kipling started taking a book into the woods with him. Little did they know he was writing down their droll expressions or colloquialisms.
These years were productive. He wrote the ``Jungle Books'' and some of the ``Just-So Stories'' for his children, two of whom were born in Brattleboro. On cold evenings he would play out these stories in a make-believe theater set up in his home.
Early one spring the neighbors saw Kipling out in oversized black rubber boots, topped off with a bright woolen cap. Strangers could have mistaken him for some weatherbeaten farmhand. To get exercise, Kipling had invented a game of snow golf. His audience, watching from behind the fence around his home, found it hard to make out what he was doing. With a white birch branch he was hitting something around in the snow. He would bend way down, swing sideways, and come up again with gales of laughter. Knowing he was being watched, he would play on an hour or so. Then he wrote ``The End'' in the snow with the birch branch. Finally he would reach down, pick up what looked like small snowballs, and head back to his bungalow.
This went on for weeks. Then one day, with audience in position, the cottage door opened and Kipling appeared in red knee-high socks, his usual black rubber boots, and a pair of green knickers. To top off his costume he wore a green and red plaid golf cap. As he approached his usual place applause broke out. Kipling bowed, but not too low as he was carrying on his back a large golf bag filled with regular golf clubs.
Lifting the golf bag off his shoulder, Kipling took out eight very red golf balls. Bending to the ground, he made little mounds of snow for tees and put each ball in place. Then he swung. With each stroke a ball made a red streak through the air and over or under the fence, coming to rest at the feet of the watching neighbors.
When Kipling left the United States after five years in Brattleboro he had made such an impression on this continent that villages, streets, libraries, and a station were named for him, from Saskatchewan to Louisiana. Vermonters were not accustomed to a man who wrote about animals but never hunted, who read and wrote more than he spoke. But they had something more personal to remember him by than his literary reputation -- the teasing they took from this theatrical man.