Golf: Commentary

Books make a great last-minute gifts

Your favorite golf nut will enjoy these new releases

bgillespie@thestate.comDecember 23, 2012 

WE SOUTH CAROLINA golfers are a spoiled lot. So far this year, we’ve had little bad weather to keep us off the links, even in December.

Eventually we’ll face weeks stuck indoors by cold or rain, or both.

That reality makes Christmas the perfect time for books that feed the need of housebound players. Thus, we offer up some of the best writing available for those in search of ideal gifts for your golf-obsessed relatives and friends.

Golf books generally fall into three categories: instructional (being pretty much hopeless, I avoid those), history/biography (my favorites) and coffee table (visual treats, though perhaps not intellectually stimulating).

This year’s offerings include accounts of the game’s top names, and one fascinating story of an all-but-unknown player whose accomplishment 65 years ago staggers the imagination.

Two books focus on South Carolina’s contributions to the game. This list isn’t all-encompassing — but it’s not bad, either.

American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf

By James Dodson. Alfred A. Knopf, 378 pages, $28.95

North Carolina native Jim Dodson debuted in golf books with “Final Rounds,” “The Dewsweepers” and “A Son of the Game,” highly personal accounts of the game’s impact on his family.

He also did a biography of Hogan, and co-wrote Arnold Palmer’s “A Golfer’s Life.”

But “Triumvirate” is his most ambitious project, and probably his biggest success. It recounts the rise of the three giants of the 1930s-1950s, who took golf’s popularity to new heights and set the stage for the Palmer-Nicklaus-Player TV era.

Dodson’s research is solid, but he also vividly brings each Triumvirate member to life, exploring their complicated interrelationships in a manageable, readable package. To understand pro golf’s history, this is your roadmap.

The War by the Shore: The Incomparable Drama of the 1991 Ryder Cup

By Curt Sampson. Gotham Books, 275 pages, $28

Personal note: I covered the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island’s then-new Ocean Course, and in 2001 wrote a 10-years-later retrospective. I thought I knew all about the most significant clash in the event’s history — but I learned even more reading this entertaining account.

Sampson continues the edgy style of his previous golf works (“The Masters,” “Hogan”), exposing some of the nasty (and entertaining) moments in South Carolina’s first venture into international golf competition. From Seve vs. Azinger to Hale Irwin-Bernhard Langer, it’s an enlightening look at a week that, depending on your point of view, made the Ryder Cup or nearly ruined it — controversy that makes for great reading.

King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938

By Jim Ducibella. Potomac Books, 141 pages, $24.95

If you’ve never heard of J. Smith Ferebee, join the club. At the height of the Great Depression, this talented amateur bet a former business partner he could play 600 holes of golf in eight cities — from Los Angeles to New York — in four days, and then set out to do that in a story of excess straight out of the Roaring Twenties.

If that doesn’t already hook you, there is much more to the story, told by former Virginian-Pilot sports writer Ducibella (part of the 1938 bet involved property in Virginia). Even non-golfers will enjoy how the saga unfolds, the depth of Ducibella’s research and his gift for story-telling. At less than 150 pages, it can be read in one sitting, and I’d bet you won’t be able to put it down, either.

Making the Masters: Bobby Jones and the Birth of America’s Greatest Golf Tournament

By David Barrett. Skyhorse Publishing, 256 pages, $24.95

On my bookshelf are a dozen volumes on the Masters, and that’s hardly a comprehensive collection. So Barrett, formerly with the Augusta Chronicle and Golf magazine, had his work cut out to create something different.

His efforts produced a readable account of how Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts founded Augusta National and kept it alive through the Depression. Barrett tells how the Masters struggled before establishing itself. By plumbing local archives for tidbits others likely missed, the author has produced a solid addition to anyone’s golf library.

The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers

By Andy Farrell (foreword by Padraig Harrington). Elliott & Thompson Ltd., 284 pages, $22.95

Arnold Palmer says Farrell has written a “fascinating book:” 100 mini-biographies of the most influential players in history, according to the former golf correspondent for England’s The Independent newspaper.

The list doesn’t rank them 1-100, but lists them chronologically from the golf pioneers of the 1800s to today’s current No. 1, Rory McIlroy.

All the names, male and female, you’d expect to find are there — Jones, Hogan, Snead, Whitworth, Palmer, Nicklaus, Lopez, Watson, Woods — and some you might not know (Harold Hilton, Freddie Tait, Marlene Streit). Each entry is about a page and a half, so Tiger and Arnaud Massy democratically get the same ink. None of the bios are in-depth, but it’s a good, quick reference — perfect for bedside reading.

Kiawah Golf: The Game’s Elegant Island

By Joel Zuckerman (foreword by Pete Dye). The History Press, 236 pages, $34.99

There are coffee-table books and travel books, and then there’s this combination, which offers a visual tour of Kiawah, its golf courses and others in Charleston, plus chapters on courses and the city’s prominent golf characters (Kiawah president Roger Warren, the Ford family, Beth Daniel).

Zuckerman, who produced books on Lowcountry golf (Hilton Head/Savannah) and on architect Pete Dye’s courses, opts for a collection of individual profiles rather than an overview.

The book tells how Kiawah went from undeveloped barrier island to world-class destination and host of the 2012 PGA Championship, South Carolina’s first men’s major. For state golf enthusiasts, it’s a package worth considering.

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