Royal Cortissoz Golf Books

February 1, 2016

Scouring the nooks and crannies of the golf world, this month we happen upon a writer whose name is as intriguing as his writing. Royal Cortissoz (1869-1948) trained as an architect and spent several years working at the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead, and White in New York. He went on to become an art critic for the New York Herald-Tribune, writing for the paper for more than fifty years. A prolific author, Cortissoz (pronounced Kor-teé-zus) published many books on art, and artists, including John La Farge, George Frederick Watts, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The well-known critic appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1930.

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Royal Cortissoz, Time Magazine, March 10, 1930

Appropriately enough, given his first name, he played the Royal & Ancient game, chasing the white ball around the well-regarded Garden City Golf Club on Long Island. Time described him as a “small, chunky, lively gentleman with iron-grey hair” and mentioned that he was both a book collector and “addicted to golf.” Perhaps not the most proficient golfer in the world, he called the Emmet-Travis designed Garden City a, “bleakly hard course, meant for supergolfers.”

Cortissoz made two contributions to the library of golf: Nine Holes of Golf and the Ekwanok Country Club. Nine Holes was published in 1922 by Charles Scribner’s Sons (D & J C21850) and is a collection of nine essays that first appeared in the New York Tribune. He sings the praises of courses in New Jersey and New York, including Piping Rock, Baltusrol, the National Golf Links of America, Maidstone, and Glens Falls. The book takes a philosophical approach to the game: “In tennis you are confined to one spot and exhaust yourself in acrobatic exercise like a squirrel in a cage . . . In golf you do not loaf, not by any means, but you invite your soul . . . It is one of those pursuits in which the goal lies perpetually just over the brow of the hill, from which place it also perpetually recedes.”

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The art-critic-cum-golfer knew how to write; describing a hole-in-one that he saw J. H. Whigham make at Piping Rock, he wrote, “Jim pitched a consummate ball, clean as an orchid. It landed perhaps six feet from the pin, and then, like a startled mouse, ran into the cup.” I would use one word to sum up the essays after reading Nine Holes: satisfying. Although less than one-hundred pages, less was indeed more for Royal.

Although he never had a formal education, Cortissoz had quite a solid background in Greek mythology and used it in his writings about golf: “To go after a score might seem, superficially, to ally the golfer with Jason and the Argonauts, in quest of the Golden Fleece. Actually he is more like Sisyphus, rolling a stone up-hill, only to have it roll down again.”

As a critic Cortissoz took some controversial positions. He was not a fan of Picasso, Matisse, or Van Gogh and felt that modernism was a negative development on the arts. The reason he was featured in the national weekly news magazine was for his stinging critique of “sterile modernism.” He regularly lectured about art at the top universities in the United States and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Cortissoz achieved something your author has always aspired to: he was a trustee of the American Academy in Rome.

His second work Ekwanok Country Club (D & J C21880) delves into its subject briefly and primarily through photographs. The twenty-two-page hardcover book was privately printed in 1937 and features interesting black and white photographs of the historic Vermont golf course interspersed with quotations from famous people who played there including Grantland Rice, O. B. Keeler, Francis Ouimet and Jerry Travers. Robert Todd Lincoln was a member and one-time president of Ekwanok and is pictured in the book.

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Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert teeing off at Ekwanok, from the Cortissoz history

The obscure Cortissoz has indeed not been forgotten. Although his name probably doesn’t jump to the front of mind his words are read by millions of people every year. He wrote the inscription engraved into the wall behind the sixteenth president in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D. C.:

 

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— John Sabino

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC

Oakmont Country Club Histories

January 1, 2016

We’ve written about the most storied clubs in the United States . . . Merion, Seminole, the Country Club and Pinehurst, but have never managed to write about Oakmont. In celebration of the upcoming U.S. Open to be held this year in Oakmont, we correct our oversight.

It you can define a course by the quality of the champions that have won there, then Oakmont is unquestionably great: Tommy Armour, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, and Angel Cabrera. Oakmont Country Club has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States including eight U.S. Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three PGA Championships, and two U.S. Women’s Opens.

We begin reviewing the books of Oakmont by noting what are not books associated with the club. Edward B. Foote’s 1989 Beginning At A Black Oak: A Centennial History of Oakmont 1889-1989 is a history of the town of the same name. Likewise Bob Rector’s History of Oakmont Country Club 75th Anniversary 1922-1997 is a history of the other Oakmont: a club with the same name located in Glendale California.

Oakmont Country Club’s first history was Foote’s Oakmont Country Club, the First Seventy-Seven Years, published in 1980 (D & J F10870). The book was issued with illustrated boards and without a dustjacket. The first history is only eighty pages and gives a good period view of the course.

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Oakmont’s first club history by Edward Foote

It includes multiple color photos of the course from 1978 and shows high rough, some burned out patches and golf carts in abundance (along with those frightening 70s fashions).
The book is a good effort and details the history of the Fownes family, and has a record of the tournaments held through its publication date.

Marino Parascenzo wrote the two most recent Oakmont histories. Parascenzo was the golf writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he is the recipient of a major achievement award from Augusta National, and also won the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award recently. His first book, Oakmont 100 Years, was written in 2003 (D & J P4140) and is 257 pages and was issued with a dust jacket.

Oddly, the club printed another history in 2009, just six years after their 2003 history. Titled simply Oakmont, the revised and updated club history is 274 pages and includes coverage of the 2007 U.S. Open held at the club. Both histories were published by the Fownes Foundation. The latter two histories are much more comprehensive than the first and give a good feel for not only the history of the course but also of the club itself. Parascenzo gives great insight into how to improve your score at Oakmont, “Well, I’ve uncovered one secret to playing Oakmont. It’s how to handle the greens. It’s all in the touch. You determine just how hard you want to hit any given putt, and then you reduce that by half. It takes courage to try this, but it works. It really cuts down on the three-putts and four-putts.”

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The dust jacket of the club’s 2009 updated history

Both of Parascenzo’s books cover the rich history of the club in detail, and in particular the role played by the founding family: the Fownes’. They also include the architectural drawings for the historic clubhouse and beautiful color pictures of the course and the interior of the clubhouse.

Given the difficulty of Oakmont, Johnny Miller’s U.S. Open round of sixty-three clearly qualifies as one of the single greatest rounds ever played. Miller, Ernie Els, and I have at least one thing in common. Both Els and Miller call Oakmont’s first hole the hardest opening hole in championship golf, and I wholeheartedly agree. The tester is out-of-bounds down the right-hand side the entire length of the hole. If you don’t hit the ball far enough on your tee shot, you have a blind downhill shot to the green. The green slopes right to left and back to front and is lightning quick. Many golf course architects believe in a moderately easy hole to open with, then the course gets progressively more difficult. The father and son designers of the course did not share this philosophy. Their design philosophy of, “A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost,” was executed with precision when they designed Oakmont.

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— John Sabino

Valuable Book Group, LLC, specialists in golf books

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: Volume 2 – The Americas (winter destinations)

December 1, 2015

The new rendition of the Confidential Guide to Golf was conceived as a travel guide, as Tom Doak describes it. The new version is being produced in five volumes covering different geographic regions, and the newly issued Volume 2 covers golf courses in the Americas that you can play during the winter. This includes courses in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, and the Southern United States. The hand-drawn cover illustration of this edition, done by Josh Smith, captures the charm of the Alister Mackenzie designed Valley Club of Montecito in California.

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The Guide has come a long way from the laser printed 1989 edition of 20, when Tom noted that, “I am divulging the locations of some of my favorite little corners of the golfing world, places I would hate to see overrun. So, I ask those of you who are being taken into my confidence to read with a sense of humor, and spread the word discreetly.” How quaint it is to look back only twenty-six years, before email was ubiquitous, before social media, and on-line chat groups, when you could still have favorite courses tucked away and before his books achieved large commercial success.

Not surprisingly, because the game has been played there for so long, the courses of Scotland, England, and Ireland have become better covered and it is increasingly difficult to find the hidden gems Tom refers to. More so than Volume 1, this volume shines by highlighting the lessor-known courses that are spread throughout the Americas.

As is Tom’s trademark, this edition, like all its predecessors begins with a Gourmet’s Choice section, and also as is Tom’s trademark, it contains a good deal of quirk. Exhibit ‘A’ is Wolf Point, a private club in La Hood, Texas which is an odd choice because the club only has one member and the description of it doesn’t exactly make one want to rush and play it.

There’s also going to be hell to pay with this new edition because the seer who is seeking to “make America great again” is not going to be happy that his two courses featured in the book received less than stellar marks, making it difficult to claim them among “the best in the world,” as he does with all his courses.

For the aficionados and serious students of golf courses, I was pleased to see the Audubon Park course in New Orleans prominently featured in the book. Public golf has been played at Audubon since 1898 and featuring the course highlights something that should not be overlooked: that courses like Audubon will bring people to the game and allow it to be fun and accessible to a broad audience. An eighteen-hole course of 4,220 yards, Tom delightfully singles out eight holes as being “great.”

I personally found the chapter on South America the most interesting, since its courses get scant coverage in the news media and English-language books are difficult to find on the subject.

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Streamsong Blue Course 7th hole 

 

This edition of the book covers over 450 courses, and again contains the ranking of Doak and his three co-authors. All four raters dutifully earned their paychecks, each giving Cypress Point a ‘10’; frankly, you’re insane if you don’t rate Cypress Point a 10.  Ran Morrissett is much tougher judging courses in this book than he was in the British Isles version and gives Augusta National only an 8. The writer does not agree with Ran’s rankings of Streamsong, particularly giving the Coore & Crenshaw course (the Red) a 7. Doak ranks his own course in the book (Streamsong’s Blue Course) and gives it a high mark, as do I.  You can excuse an architect who can design a hole like the 7th—seen above—for ranking his own course highly, although he gives a modest explanation of it in the book.

Therein lies the secret to the Confidential Guide and its enduring success. Golfers love to compare their opinions of courses and challenge the merits of each other’s arguments as to why we are wrong or right. It is one of the endearing features of the game that keeps us otherwise engaged even when our game abandons us. We might not be able to play worth a damn but at least we can continue to have strong arguments about why a course is under or over-rated and the Guide provides an informed baseline from which to start.

The cumulative list of courses scoring a perfect 10 from all the authors now total two: The Old Course at St. Andrews and Cypress Point. My own expectation is that the number will double in the next volume with Pine Valley and the National Golf Links of America soon to join the pantheon. We only have to wait twelve more months to find out, when Volume 3 is published a year from now. Until then we have Volume 2 to delightfully content ourselves with.

 

— John Sabino

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC

Crump’s Dream: The Making of Pine Valley 1913-1936

November 1, 2015

Pine Valley already has three club histories, does it really need a fourth? The short answer is yes, and the new entrant focuses on a very specific time period, and it is a doozy. Crump’s Dream The Making of Pine Valley 1913-1936 was written by Andrew C. Mutch and was published in 2013. The hardcover book was issued without a dust jacket, in a slipcase. The pictorial slipcase has beautiful black and white images on both the front and the back.

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The book is 226 pages and represents an extensive and exhaustively researched history of Pine Valley’s early years. It contains a copious amount of early black and white photos of the course, early architectural hole drawings and insights into the design of the course. It also includes in-depth coverage of the 1936 Walker Cup, which was held at Pine Valley, as well as insightful quotes and other interesting facts about the #1 ranked course in the world. Close-up color images of the murals that adorn the walls of the clubhouse at Pine Valley are also included. Mutch is a museum professional designer and artist, and he has done his homework.

The book was edited (in a supreme fashion) by Jerry Tarde, the editor of Golf Digest. The opening 43 pages serve as a visually oriented preamble to the book and they contain scores of old black and white photos (more accurately they are old sepia photographs) of the early course. Several things jump out at you as you look through the extended introduction: the early pictures of the course show a stark landscape, without many of today’s trees. In particular, a shot of the early short par-4 eighth hole, is breathtaking. The picture shows a foursome and their caddies standing on the green (which is smaller than today’s), and it looks like they are adrift on a small desert island, hanging on the precipice of land. The other thing that stands out is how young and small the child caddies pictured are. There are other interesting historical items the book shows, including how the initially designed course is slightly different than today’s. Of note is the “buried elephant” hump in the middle of the eighteenth green, which, luckily for us mortal golfers, has been removed. And there is a picture of the tenth hole showing it prior to the addition of the Devil’s Aperture bunker in front. This first section of the book is like playing the course itself: exhilarating. All credit to Mutch for tracking down such an eclectic and wide-ranging group of interesting early photos, which he did from obscure private collections and unlikely sources from around the country. The man has a Ph.D., and the book reflects the meticulousness you would expect of such a learned student of the game.

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The pictorial slipcase of Crump’s Dream

Mutch’s approach is a thoughtful one, rather than try to interpret a lot of what occurred during this early period in the club’s history, as he explains, he wanted to “…let the makers of the history speak for themselves in their own voices rather than apply a surplus of interpretation where it is not necessary,” and it is a brilliant strategy.

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George A. Crump, the driving force behind Pine Valley

Among the many interesting tid-bits I picked up from the book was the fact that both A.W. Tillinghast and George Thomas were founding members of Pine Valley. The former said about the course in 1913, “It will not be for the novice or the timid player.” Anyone who has stood on the fourth tee box, well below the surface of the fairway, with a blind shot featuring 180 yards of uphill carry over waste area, knows that Tilly was not exaggerating.

Although the course opened in 1913 in an incomplete state, it took an additional six years for the final seven holes to be completed. In the intervening years, George Crump committed suicide— in 1918 at the age of 46. During the early years of the course, they had much trouble growing grass and continually sought outside help to try to rectify the problem. Mutch attributes the suicide to the failing condition of the course and associated financial troubles.

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The happy young caddie corps at Pine Valley in the early years

The book contains a detailed analysis of the course’s design. It is clear that Crump was the driving force behind the course and its design, although H.S. Colt was intimately involved in the routing. Colt camped on the grounds in a tent for a week during a U.S. visit and produced a routing map (which hangs in the clubhouse, and is pictured in the book). Crump took most of the Colt’s design, although he had strong views on what should be changed, and he prevailed. The book states that Pine Valley’s first hole is patterned after Hoylake’s. After Crump’s death Charles Alison was brought in to complete the routing and the course and many other learned architects of the day were also consulted including A.W. Tillinghast, Hugh Wilson and William Flynn. The book contains copies of Colt’s hand-drawn hole-by-hole color illustrations.

As Mutch illuminates Crump’s design philosophy, “In almost all instances where a player could receive a lucky bounce or use an unintended slope to an advantage, the offending flaw was eliminated. Great care was taken to assure that a range of demands were placed on the golfer, necessitating thought, strategy, power, finesse and endurance…there was no place for luck.”

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H.S. Colt’s hand-drawn color hole illustrations of Pine Valley

After Crump’s death the Philadelphia Evening Ledger wrote in his obituary, “The greatest monument to George A. Crump will not be the shaft that will be raised over his grave…but the Pine Valley Golf Club. Other men have left hospitals, endowed libraries, bequeathed art collections, but [he] instead has given to the golfers of America the finest and most scientifically build golf course in this or any other country.”

Thanks to the club and Mutch for producing another fine history.

— John Sabino

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Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC, specialists in golf books

The Dinosaur of Golf Book Collecting

October 1, 2015

Amazon has taken the old adage in retail, “Lose money on every sale, but make it up in volume” to a new level. Who knows whether the strategy works in the long run? It is either a smart business model that forces competitors out of business so you dominate the market; or, you’re a fool and go out of business yourself.

This month we focus on a new phenomenon that we admittedly don’t understand, which is Amazon’s pricing model. Yes, growth in market share is important, and for sure their on-line marketplace is driving competitors out of business. What piqued our interest on the subject is not so much Amazon’s disruptive approach, which is not new news, but rather, the rise of free Kindle books. Each quarter we compile a list of the best-selling golf books on Amazon as a way to track the zeitgeist of the buying public. There are certain books that are perennial favorites among the top ten: Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, Mark Frost’s The Match and Greatest Game Ever Played. Instructional books usually occupy at least five of the ten slots, as the never ending quest for improvement continues.

Recently we were taken aback because three of the books that made the top ten were Kindle versions, and they were priced at zero. That’s right ‘0’, zilch, nil. We’re not particularly smart, but the economics of zero are pretty easy to understand. With many mouths to feed, including the author, publisher and Amazon itself, how does anyone make money on an item sold for zero and delivered electronically? Okay, we understand that the marginal cost to download a Kindle book is probably close to zero, but still.

Amazon has always been opaque about how they make money (actually, for most of their existence they haven’t). Wall Street has given the company a free pass, buying into the vision of future rewards. The company’s market capitalization is $178 billion. As Dr. Evil would emphasize, that’s billion with a “B”.  I have read analyst reports that state that the Kindle itself probably loses money in the classic “razor/razor blade” business model. Assume that is true, how do you then offer your razor blades (downloads of books) for free? Perhaps in the interest of generating excitement and getting customers hooked on a subject, with the bet that they will actually buy or download a book and hand over some actual simoleans in the future.

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While we are on the subject, please excuse a minor digression. There are now close to a million eBooks on Kindle. For sure, I’m old school and prefer the real printed artifact in my hands. There is something about the tactile experience of holding a book; appreciating the time, expertise and expense that went into its production and design, and being elevated (if only a tiny bit) by the experience. For me, reading on a computer screen just doesn’t do it. It strains the eyes and doesn’t have the same comfortable feeling. Plus, you can’t sit in the warm snugness of an e-Library. But oh, the joys of sitting in a room lined with books on a rainy day admiring all the varied and interesting bindings and covers, the smell of the leather and cloths, and the lost hours spent randomly browsing.

If you will excuse a further rant, how annoying has it become of late when you search for a real book on AbeBooks (which is owned by Amazon, incidentally) only to have thousands of PDF books and low-quality eBooks pop up in the search results. Like flies that need to be swatted away, please clear the screen of all this drivel. Thank heavens the site has added a filter to weed out ‘Print on Demand’ books. I have been pleading with them to add in a filter to decontaminate the site of the latest detritus: PDF books. So far, without success, although I have taken it up as a personal crusade.

Admittedly, I am a book snob and have never appreciated cheap, preferring the dear. I am sure there is a market for inexpensive reproductions, and electronic reprints provide access to out-of-copyright historic works for people who otherwise can’t afford a vintage first edition. And I do understand it is convenient to load books onto a tablet if you travel and don’t want to carry around a lot of hard covers. I simply raise the issue as a warning flag; that the prominence of eBooks continues to rise as evidenced by the recent top sellers. The ubiquitous use of technology is the defining characteristic of our era, although it is helpful to pause periodically, drown out all the marketing and advertising we are bombarded with and assess whether it is always positive. In my view, it seems like a race to the bottom to go all digital. Producing a quality book is an art, not a science. The best books in a golfer’s library were labors of love, and were not produced with commercial gains in mind. And certainly they were never envisioned to be sold for a penny; or less.

Let us hope that their rise will not supplant the stuff made from trees. Last time I checked, Bobby Jones didn’t sign any electronic copies of books. The sensation of seeing the actual ink signatures of golfing greats, with their personalized inscriptions, can’t be experienced on-line. There are few better small joys than the sensation one gets holding the large-paper edition of the Badminton Library: Golf, with its smooth India paper and spectacular feel. Or, marveling at a nineteenth-century large-paper edition of Hutchinson’s British Golf Links, with its elegantly produced and vivid images of early golf in its ancestral home. And, the art of quality book design is not something that has been lost to the Victorian Era. Case in point, the Story of Golf in the Country Club, produced in our century, and proudly displayed on my shelves it its gilt edged slipcase.

For reference, the dinosaur in the newsletter’s title is yours truly. An old-fashioned, dying breed for sure, but not going down without a fight! I am hopeful that those of us who enjoy book collecting will not go the way of the dinosaur. A more hopeful historical analogy is perhaps that of radio, and not the extinct reptiles. Its demise was widely forecast with the rise of television, but prediction is not prologue—my apologies for butchering Shakespeare—and it still thrives today.

Anyway, thank you for indulging me. My little tirade has been therapeutic and I do feel better now.

— John Sabino

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Carl Spitzwig’s The Bookworm (1850)

 Website of Valuable Book Group LLC, specialists in golf books

Wade Hampton Golf Club History Book

September 1, 2015

The premier club featured in this month’s newsletter takes its name from a Confederate General: Wade Hampton III, known as “The Giant in Gray.” Hampton came from a long line of soldiers, including his grandfather who served as a colonel in the Revolutionary War. At one point, Hampton was the largest landowner in the South with his holdings of plantations in Mississippi and South Carolina. Wade Hampton III also served as Governor of South Carolina and in the U.S. Senate after the Civil War. The course is named after Hampton because the land the club is built on was owned by his family for generations.

The Wade Hampton golf course is located in the mountainous western part of North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the town of Cashiers. The mountains of western North Carolina have long been a summer retreat for Southerners who trek there to escape the sweltering heat. Built in 1987 and designed by Tom Fazio, the course is regarded as one of the best in the world and is regularly ranked as such by the various golf magazine rating panels.

Wade Hampton Golf Club A Pictorial History was published in 2011 with a goal of capturing the club’s early history and formative years, while the founders were still around to tell their stories. Written by Adam Messix, a professional at another Fazio-designed 9-hole course nearby, the club history appropriately captures the spirit of Wade Hampton. Like the course itself, the book is beautifully done and understated. It offers a well-researched and detailed history of this private club, which was the brainchild of one of its founders: William McKee. McKee had the vision to develop the course into a world-class facility and hired Fazio before his rise to stardom in the design business. He had the foresight to bring on a couple of Augusta members who helped guide the club in the right direction.

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Membership at Wade Hampton is limited to those who have a home site on the property and it counts Fazio among its members. Set at 3,500 feet of elevation, the course was blasted from granite and out of thick forest. In much the same way that Muirfield Village is Jack Nicklaus’s masterpiece, Wade Hampton is considered Fazio’s best work. Many of the holes play from elevated tees and the course uses the nearby Chimney Top Mountain as a spectacular backdrop.

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The 18th hole at Wade Hampton

The 128-page book includes a hole-by-hole pictorial of all the holes on the course and Messix chose to use pictures taken in the fall with the orange and crimson colors bursting off the pages. Wade Hampton is in a charmed setting and the picture of the 9th hole in the book, with the clubhouse behind it has the look of a Thomas Kinkade painting: idyllic, with bucolic scenery and an idealized version of the world. Given the exclusivity of the club, their club history is one of the harder ones for a collector to obtain.

There are two other books that have been produced about Wade Hampton, both also difficult to find. The first was Wade Hampton Golf Club: The Journal (D & J W1840), a 55 page hardcover issued in 1987, it captures the first year events of the club. Tom Fazio also produces a book for many of his new golf courses and did so for Wade Hampton, publishing Golf Course Designs: Wade Hampton Golf Club (D & J F4990) in 2000.

Website of Valuable Book Group LLC, specialists in golf books

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – Muirfield

August 1, 2015

I can fondly recall my first visit to the Honourable Company. At first, I thought the routine was a bit regimented; and a tad snooty to have to wear a jacket upon arrival. As visitors we were not allowed to play off the first tee in the morning. And—horrors!—you aren’t permitted to play your own ball in the afternoon. Well, I now chalk it up to inexperience and part of my golfing education.

The fact is, there are few finer experiences than playing Muirfield. What was initially a complaint about having to play foursomes turned out to be one of the most fun and competitive rounds I have ever enjoyed. And to keep it in perspective, allowing visitors should not be taken for granted; you can’t call Shinnecock Hills and book as an unaccompanied guest, so who am I to complain about the Honourable Company’s rules. After all, they have been at it for a while (since 1744 to be precise). And, if there is one club that is entitled to have a lot of rules, it is these chaps since they created the first thirteen rules of the game. Over its long history the club has played over there different courses: the Leith Links, Musselburgh and Muirfield.

Motivated by a new book about the club, this month we feature the books of the Honourable Company and their rich heritage.

The earliest history is the unpublished typescript The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers on Leith Links 1764-1796. Compiled by C.B. Clapcott in 1939, the hand-bound 124 page booklet with text on the recto only, gives an early history, a list of members and the original rules. It is thought that less than half-a-dozen copies exist of Clapcott’s important work.

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To celebrate the club’s 200th anniversary R.M. McLaren complied The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers 1744-1944 (D & J M23560) which was privately printed in 1944. At the time, the club had wanted to produce a more comprehensive history but because their bi-centennial fell in the midst of the Second World War they settled for a 23 page softcover.

One of the scarcer books about the club is Stair A. Gillon’s The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield 1891-1914 (D & J G8080) which was privately printed in 1946. The 58 page softcover rarely comes up for auction, and when it does sells for several thousand dollars.

George Pottinger’s 1972 history Muirfield and the Honourable Company (D & J P17740) has the most colorful cover of all the club’s histories. The hardcover book’s dust jacket has an image of William St. Clair of Roslin, who was captain of the club in 1761, 1766, 1770 and 1771. A copy of the paining of Roslin hangs within the Muirfield clubhouse, along with other impressive works.

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Norman Mair’s Muirfield: Home of the Honourable Company (1744-1994) was produced to celebrate the club’s 250th anniversary in two editions in 1994. The hardcover standard trade edition (D & J M7510), and the limited edition of 100 (D & J M7540) which was produced in half-gilt stamped leather and is signed by the author. Mair’s trade edition features an image of William Inglis on the jacket, who served a Captain of the Honourable Company from 1782-1784.

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Peter R. Bryce produced Moments of Fascination at the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, (D & J B44170) in 1998, a 19 page softcover.

Rules and Regulations of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfer were produced twice: in 1888 and 1889 and are very rare. They are softcover and 19 pages.

The book that spurred this newsletter was The Evolution of Muirfield which was produced in 2013 by Richard Latham, the fourth in a series that includes Woodhall Spa, County Down and Hoylake. As with Latham’s other works the book is of a very high quality and includes beautiful images of the links and its history as well as a detailed hole-by-hole analysis of the course with color pictures. The progression of changes at Muirfield are carefully documented including those by Old Tom Morris, Robert Maxwell, H.S. Colt and Tom Simpson. It is a worthy addition to the Honourable Company oeuvre of books.

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Now that I am more mature in my golfing education I hope to one day return to Muirfield (with a stay at the Greywalls) so I can more fully appreciate the pomp and circumstance of the Honourable Company.

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC, specialists in golf books

Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy

July 1, 2015

A masterpiece or over-rated trash? This month’s newsletter touches on a golf book that stirs strong feelings and controversy. Golf in the Kingdom was first published in 1972 and written by Stanford educated Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

To give a sense of the strong emotions about the book we take a sample from Amazon reviews. Amazon’s one-star rating doesn’t mean you didn’t like the book, their two-star rating is reserved for that; one-star means, “I hate it.” The feelings of those giving the lowly one-star to Golf in the Kingdom: “psycho-babble; severe waste of time; If I had a fireplace handy it would have gone into the flames; pretentious twaddle; tedious and lecturing; how does a high school level writer even get published; the prose is forced and overly descriptive.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the five-star reviews: “I consider this my golf bible; Murphy’s magic is infinite and simple; found it to be awe-inspiring; I have read it at least five times and each time I find something new; the best golf book ever.”

What ignites such disparate feelings on both ends of the spectrum? Well, the book is quite deep, and delves into meta-physics, mysticism and Eastern philosophies. Certainly it is a golf story, one of the mysterious teacher Shivas Irons and the hermit Seamus MacDuff. By any standard Murphy did not write a conventional novel. Those looking for a traditional narrative, as you have seen, literally hate the book. Those looking for deeper meaning and a williness to explore how golf can be used to find a greater purpose, love the book.

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First edition in dust jacket

My own personal view is somewhere in the middle. The book doesn’t ignite my passions, nor do I hate it. Murphy wrote a compelling and interesting, if non-linear book. The ‘Kingdom’ he refers to is the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland, and the golf story in the beginning of the book is interesting and well written. As the book goes on, the writing gets difficult to follow, a little too mystical and rambles a bit. A fabulous golf book cover-to-cover it is not, although approached in the right frame of mind, it is a good book and allows you to expand your mind. Clearly, not everyone wants to spend a lot of time reading about the whiteness of the ball or the mystery of the hole, which strikes some as naval gazing. The faux Scottish words throughout the book can also begin to grate on the reader, a small sample follows, “…he was the sensation o’ the house, regalin’ fower or five o’ the lassies wi’his stories and winnin’ smile, a regular satyer on the face o’t.” Page-after-page, sentence-after-sentence of these begin to tax the mind.

One thing that is indisputable is that the book was (is) a huge commercial success. It has sold over one million copies (not many golf books can claim that), has been translated into nineteen languages, and spawned a society and a movie. Name another golf book where you can go on-line and buy branded gear or one that has its own Wikipedia entry.

When I asked learned people in the golf industry about influential golf books, they also split along the same lines as the disparate opinions on Amazon. Both Lorne Rubenstein and John Updike mention that the book clearly influenced them. Although I was only asking the thought-leaders about favorites that inspired them, two others (who will remain nameless), told me unprompted that they hated it.

From a collector’s standpoint two editions are worth focusing on and have become difficult to find. The original 1972 Viking Press first edition, with an unclipped dustjacket, with a price of $7.95 (D & J M38830) or the signed slipcased edition of 500 published in 1997 by Broadway Books (D & J M38860).

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The signed, limited edition of Golf in the Kingdom

Although he was talking about life and golf when he wrote the prose, Murphy himself sums up the two views of Golf in the Kingdom pretty well in the book, “We tend to see everything as part of a journey. But other men have not been so concerned to get somewhere else—take the Hindus with their endless cycles of time or the Chinese Tao. Getting somewhere else is not necessarily central to the human condition.” If you want a definitive story with a definitive ending and lots of golf, you will likely be in the one-star group. If you are open to a long discussion of philosophy using golf as a backdrop without a definitive end, you will likely be in the five-star group.

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC

Chambers Bay Golf Club History Book

June 7, 2015

Host a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open within ten years after a course opens? Not even Oakmont or Merion can lay claim to that, although both have hosted the prestigious tournament. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the public course hosted the Amateur in 2010, three years after it opened. It is set to host the 2015 U.S. Open. Located south of Tacoma, Washington on the Puget Sound, the course was built on land reclaimed from an abandoned gravel mine.

The club published a club history in 2014 titled America’s St. Andrews. If I were their marketing consultant, I would have told them that the book probably would have sold better if they put the name of the course in the title. Also, that is quite a claim. America’s St. Andrews? What about Pinehurst? A big presumptuous I think. And hasn’t St. Andrews been around for centuries? The subtitle of the book is Linking Golf from its Past to Its Future, publicly owned Chambers Bay is the Dream Realized. The author is Blaine Newnham, a former journalist for the Seattle Times.

The book is chocked full of pictures on the beautiful course, which is more reminiscent of a links course in the British Isles than it is an American parkland-style course. At 160 pages, it is a “coffee-table” book, although almost no-one has owns a coffee table anymore! For those that collect golf club histories, the book is a nice addition to the library. For those intrigued by the story of how such an unlikely location came to develop a U.S. Open golf course, the story is interesting.

You can purchase the book on Amazon by clicking on the image below:

click image above to view the book for purchase on Amazon

Golf & Country Club by Charles Wendehack

June 1, 2015

Most books in the golfer’s library are written about golfers, tournaments, course architecture, or about the game’s rich history. Not so with the subject of this month’s featured book. A unique and collectible volume to complete the canon a golfer’s library is Golf & Country Clubs (D & J W8650), written by an architect, although not one that designed courses. Rather, Clifford Charles Wendehack was a building architect, and his book’s subtitle: A Survey of the Requirement of Planning Construction and Equipment of the Modern Club House gives a clue that the audience is for architects and not for the lay person.

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The actual technical title of the book is: GOLF & COVNTRY CLVBS: A SVRVEY OF THE REQVIREMENT OF PLANNING CONSTRVCTION AND EQVIPMENT OF THE MODERN CLVB HOVSE. For some reason Wendehack, and his publisher William Helburn, Inc. chose to use the old Latin convention of the letter “V” instead of the letter “U”. He also seems to have had an affinity for Roman Numerals, as the first fifty-one pages of the book are numbered using them. This front section of the book is targeted toward practicing architects and gives practical advice on how to design and layout buildings, how to save costs, and the pros and cons of various methods of design.

Wendehack begins the large format book with a bold statement. He feels there were only two distinctly American forms of architecture: the skyscraper and the modern golf and country club building; his analysis was that all other building types had clearly evolved from European architecture. Written just before the stock market crash in 1929, the book has an unmistakable Roaring Twenties feel to it as he espouses the good times and the popularity of golf, “…it is a frequent occurrence for crowds to be assembled at daybreak in their anxiety lest they miss their opportunity to play their favorite sport.”

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Interior of Maidstone clubhouse, East Hampton

The heart of the book from the point of view of the collector or historian are the 157 black and white plates that comprise most of the book. They contain fabulous illustrations and images from the interior of many historic clubs including the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, the Gulf Stream Golf Club in Florida and the Longue Vue Country Club in Pittsburgh. Of particular note are clubhouses that no longer exist, including the original Fishers Island clubhouse in New York and the clubhouse of the Oakland Golf Course (a Seth Raynor design) on Long Island.

Wendehack was a New Yorker whose practice was based on Park Avenue; he studied architecture in Europe for a number of years, thus his ability to continually refer to various historic building types with first-hand knowledge throughout the book. In addition to his focus on designing buildings for country clubs, Wendehack’s architectural practice also designed homes for individuals.

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Fishers Island Club original clubhouse

Writing about the grill room he feels that it is, “undoubtedly the survival of the old English Inn or chop house so amusingly immortalized by Dickens in his ‘Pickwick Papers’.” He spends considerable time discussing how to design a grill room and feels that a large fireplace and ‘hearthstone’ is the key. Wendehack’s most famous work is Winged Foot’s clubhouse and he gives it the full treatment in the book (seen below, shortly after opening). Anyone who has had the pleasure of sitting in the majestic and oversized Winged Foot grill room, with the fire roaring on a crisp fall day will need no further explanation as to why the buildings Wendehack designed represent the pinnacle of what his profession can deliver.

His approach to writing is quite philosophical at times; he alternatively quotes Socrates and Confucius and refers often to ancient Rome and Greece. He also seems hooked on the virtues of golf: “As an economic necessity to preserve our health and sanity, therefore, we are realizing that more time should be spent out of doors. The open country of the golf course increases our perspective, permits us to measure ourselves as well as our fellowmen by the yard stick of life. So in these oases of business activity, we are erecting in increasing numbers, modern temples of sport; shrines at which we worship and obtain a better understanding of the human side of our fellowmen, and perhaps more than suspected, God Himself through the glories of nature.”

DSCF9287Winged Foot’s clubhouse shortly after opening

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Crossing Country Club, Trenton, NJ from Golf and Country Clubs

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC


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