Holiday Reading- Five top golf books to take with you

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THERE WERE JUST TWO criteria for selecting a handful of excellent holiday golf books to have ready for lazy days by the pool or when waiting for that, almost inevitable, delayed flight home.

First up was that they contained absolutely no instruction of any kind. No ‘Modern fundamentals’ of pronation nor abstruse psychological pointers from self styled ‘Doctors’ who have been no nearer a major Championship victory than you and I. Second is that they would do what all good holiday books should so, namely entertain and keep you turning the pages over. So here it is: The Blog from the Forest’s selection of great golfing reads for summer, 2014:

At Number Five: The Golf Omnibus by PG Wodehouse.

A selection of 31 stories from the man who spent so much time in the sand on one particular hole of his home course that he wrote: ‘Anyone wishing to write to the author should address all correspondence to: PG Wodehouse, c/o the 6th bunker, The Addington Golf Club, Croydon, Surrey.’

In the Omnibus, Wodehouse’s hero, the Oldest Member, hands out sage and salient advice from his seat on the clubhouse terrace. He helps love conquer all as forlorn young men with preposterously high handicaps attempt to dazzle glamorous and youthful girls by beating a hated and much more talented rival in the monthly medal.

In another splendid tale, he tells of a magical pair of trousers that act as a powerful stimulant in reducing a handicap but with shattering moral consequences.

And through all there is the simple, straightforward joy of Wodehouse’s language: ‘I attribute the insane arrogance of the later Roman Emperors almost entirely to the fact that, never having played golf, they never knew that strange chastening humility which is engendered by a topped chip shot. If Cleopatra had been ousted in the first round of the Ladies’ Singles, we should have heard a lot less of her proud imperiousness.’

Above all Wodehouse reminds us, first, last and foremost, that golf is simply a game!

At four: Preferred Lies: a journey to the heart of Scottish golf by Andrew Greig,

Greig is a poet and novelist who starts to play golf again to help him recover from brain surgery, but do not let this put you off. This is no search for the golfing equivalent of the Holy Grail where wisdom, truth and inner well-being are found after a round with some ageing golfing Shaman rejoicing in the name of Hoots MacSporran (for enthusiasts of the spiritual, psycho-babble, golf guru genre there is the wholly preposterous ‘Golf in the Kingdom’ written by Michael Murphy to enjoy.)

Greig’s work is fine prose written about some wonderful golf courses, many of which lie well off the beaten tourist track. He plays Shiskine on the Isle of Arran and the artisan courses of Bathgate and Dollar. It is only towards the end of the book, when he spends a week with a group of Buddhist golfers, that he seems overly keen to embrace his inner tree hugger, but for the most this is a lyrical, evocative and sensitive read with some glorious descriptions of playing scenic courses north of the border.

At number three: Quiet Please by Lawrence Donegan

Writer and journalist, Donegan, blags his way into the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry determined to witness the contest first hand. Despite having been a part time, European tour caddy he fails miserably in his attempts to carry Lee Westwood’s bag during the three-day tournament but secures what he thinks is the ideal job when it comes to viewing the action; Ryder Cup marshal carrying his ‘Quiet Please’ paddle sign as football crowd hysteria is erupting all around him.

The first problem he encounters is that he is not there to watch the golf all day but to ensure the galleries are not carrying cameras, mobile phones nor- the year after the 9/11 catastrophe in the USA- something far more dangerous.

Donegan’s sense of humour and straightforward prose gloriously captures the ‘jobsworth’ element amongst those given responsibility for ensuring things run smoothly at the Belfry, none more so than an impossible parking attendant who ‘Shrugged that shrug…the don’t-mess-with-me-I’m-wearing-an-official-issue-donkey-jacket shrug they teach on day one at car park attendant school.’

He also evokes the drama of the competition particularly when it appears that USA captain, Curtis Strange, ‘Has eaten a magic mushroom omelette’ before selecting his singles’ order for the final day when all of his best players- Woods, Mickelson, Love, Furyk- were chosen in the closing matches where they would not be able to influence the result if Europe managed to win sufficient early pairings.

This slim volume will bring back memories as well as providing some genuinely laugh out loud moments.

At number two: The Match by Mark Frost

It is 1958 and two wily, wealthy and extremely self-assured businessmen have a bet. One, a pugnacious car dealer named Eddie Lowery who, as a 10-year old carried Francis Ouimet’s bag in his US Open triumph of 1913, employs two amateur golfers who he reckons can beat any professionals of the day. His rival, millionaire George Coleman, persuades Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, with 14 major Championships between them, to take up the challenge.

Frost’s book is about the match played at Cypress Point Golf Club on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The two amateurs are the raffish Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi, who went on to win the US Open in 1964.

This is still a time when amateurs were more highly regarded than professionals, playing for the love of the game rather than simply money. The fact that men like Lowery could offer his talented charges full time employment when, in reality, they did little else but play golf highlights the dual standards of the time.

Frost’s book is based on interviews with all four protagonists and recreates all the drama of what was one of the greatest matches ever played, even if the crowds only started to show up when word of who was out on the course started to spread around the Monterey Peninsula.

Instead of a whodunit this is a page turning whowunnit right up to the last chapter which looks, somewhat sadly, at how the six men involved fared in the years that followed.

And at number one: Tommy’s Honor by Kevin Cook

This is a book to delight lovers of golf and social history alike plus anyone curious to discover how the game has changed beyond recognition over the generations. American author and golf writer, Kevin Cook, has assiduously pieced together details of just what it was like to be a professional golfer during the Victorian era. And the answer is exceptionally hard especially when compared to the pampered, preening, multi-millionaire professionals of today.

Back then golf professionals were a rough bunch, mostly part time caddies and often full time drinkers, who depended on the tips and commissions they would receive from playing matches with gentlemen for undisclosed purses.

Even after winning four Open championships Old Tom Morris would still spend Saturday kneeling down in front of the gentlemen players of St Andrews to tee their ball up for them.

But whilst Cook paints a glorious portrait of Old Tom and the other top players of the day, this book is really about young Tommy, golf’s first superstar and a professional player who would have nothing to do with caddying. He made his living from winning golf matches.

He scored golf’s first recorded hole in one and also the game’s first eagle whilst at Prestwick, where his father was employed after being dismissed from his assistant’s job at the Old Course at St Andrews.

Tommy was a natural who won the Open four times in succession, the first when he was just 17 years old. Yet his star was not to shine bright for long. In 1875, in a match partnering his father at North Berwick, he received a telegram saying that his wife had gone into a difficult labour with their first child.

Tommy completed the match and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth, only to find both mother and baby dead. Four months later, on Christmas day, Tommy died too aged just 24. Some said it was of a broken heart, although the more likely cause is a cardiovascular problem brought about by heavy drinking.

Old Tom soldiered on, outliving all his children, and becoming the grand old man of golf in his hometown of St Andrews, dying in 1908 aged 87.

2 thoughts on “Holiday Reading- Five top golf books to take with you

  1. Am amazed Colin Strachan’s ‘Fair Ways in Ashdown Forest’ isn’t on your list……. some mistake surely?! Will enjoy reading your selection after have completed Fair Ways…

    • Funnily enough Colin made this very point. The only reason it was left out, Peter, was that it would put our luggage considerably overweight when checking in at the airport. Rest assured when the paperback edition is published it will be our number one selection!

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