2013 U.S.G.A. Herbert Warren Wind Award Winner – Merion The Championship Story

April 4, 2014

This year’s award winning book, which the U.S.G.A. bestows on the best golf book of the year goes to Jeff Silverman for his masterful work in Merion: The Championship Story. The award is named after Herbert Warren Wind, the dean of American golf writers.

 

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The award was announced at the U.S.G.A.’s annual meeting in Pinehurst in February, a change from prior years when the award was announced at the golf writers dinner at the Masters. The U.S.G.A. were also masters of understatement when issuing their press release about the book saying, “This extensively researched and carefully crafted book explores every aspect of one of the most respected and beloved clubs in the game. Merion’s successful hosting of the 2013 U.S. Open, 32 years after it last hosted the championship, was the final chapter in Silverman’s work.”

We are very enthusiastic about the book and recommend it highly, it is a master work, an impressive 502 pages. Surprisingly, given Merion’s history, no book had previously focused on the tournaments held there. Silverman is a professor of English at nearby Villanova University and he knows how to write. Given the material (one of the greatest golf courses, the Hogan history, Jones winning the Grand Slam) it would be easy to say that the book would be great no matter what. Silverman has done something special with the material, however, and the book is truly exceptional.

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Golf Book Prolific Authors

April 1, 2014

Who are the most published authors of golf books? We decided to look into the subject recently and the results were a bit surprising. My own personal guess would have been Bernard Darwin or perhaps Henry Longhurst. When compiling the list, as a practical matter we did not count club handbooks or authors that published all or most of their books in wrappers, which took away the likes of Robert Browning and Herb Graffis. In Saturday Night Live style, the top ten most prolific authors are listed below in reverse order.

10. Sam Snead

Book count: 17

Sam wrote golf books from the late forties until the late eighties, the highlight being his autobiography, The Education of a Golfer.

 

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9. Peter Dobereiner

Book count: 17

Dobereiner studied law at Oxford and wrote about golf for the Guardian and the Observer and Golf Digest. Dobereiner’s works are funny and varied. Touted as one of the most prolific of authors by his publisher, they say he wrote over three million words on golf.

 

 
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8. Michael Hobbs

 Book count: 20 and growing

Hobbs wrote many golf books in the 1980s and 1990s on a variety of topics including several about art and instruction. He was a regular contributor to Golf World and Golf Illustrated. He also operates a golf photography library.

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 7. Bernard Darwin

Book count: 24

This Cambridge educated lawyer could both play and write! One of the most learned and eloquent writers the game has been blessed with.

 

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 6. Gary Player

Book count: 27 and growing

Player has written on a wide range of subject including great courses of the world, his swing, having a positive attitude and instruction.

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5. Arnold Palmer

Book count: 28 and growing

Palmer’s works are largely instructional or about his ‘Go for broke’ philosophy. His autobiography was co-authored with James Dodson in 1999.

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 4. George Houghton

Book count: 32

Scotsman Houghton wrote over three decades in the 1950s-1970s and is famously known for his Golf Addicts series of humorous depictions of playing around the world. Houghton is pictured on the left.

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 3. Peter Alliss

Book count: 35 and counting

Alliss writes on a wide range of topics on either a solo basis or teamed with other authors. His autobiography was published in 1982.

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  2.      Jack Nicklaus

Book count: 32 and growing

Many of Jack’s books are about how to play the game or to lower your score. He has also written four autobiographical books.

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 1.      Tom Fazio 

Book count: 49 and growing

Tom typically publishes a hardcover book describing new courses he designed. Many have the same boiler plate and there is then a description of and pictures of the featured newly designed course. Fazio is pictured at right signing copies of a new book.

 

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My Greatest Day in Golf – Darsie L. Darsie

March 1, 2014

This month we feature the work of the only golf book author with a reduplicated name: Darsie L. Darsie. Darsie set out to answer the question, “What was your greatest day in golf?” and asked fifty leading players of his era to answer it in 1950. His book is a fascinating look at golf from this era and some of the answers he received are surprising. Not all are from championship matches, nor do they necessarily feature record breaking scores.

What was Ben Hogan’s greatest day in golf? His post-crash final day of the US Open at Merion in 1950? His Open Championship win at Carnoustie in 1953? Neither. Was Bobby Jones’ greatest round his 66 at the Open Championship qualifier at Sunningdale? Or his Amateur win at Merion at 1930? Neither.

Darsie, whose parents must have been in a particularly cheeky mood when they named him, was a sports reporter for the Los Angeles Evening Herald Examiner. He was an avid golfer and was a member of both Lakeside Golf Club and Palos Verdes Golf Club. He helped William Wrigley, Jr. organize a tournament for amateurs on Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, an event where Bobby Jones presented the trophy. He was the advertising manager of Del Monte Properties Co. from 1924-1927 an era that saw the 17-mile drive open and when Cypress Point was being built. He also taught a course at the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Journalism.

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Darsie’s My Greatest Day in Golf (D & J D3880) was published in 1950 by A.S. Barnes in the U.S. and is 210 pages. The book was published in the U.K. two years later in 1952 by Alvin Redman (D & J D3910) and is 254 pages. The U.K. edition was done with the assistance of the 1951 British Ryder Cup captain Arthur L. Lacey. The difference in length and content between the two editions is because some of the golfer’s featured are different. Pat Abbott and Paul Runyon instead of Percy Allis in the U.S. edition, for example. In total, about a dozen golfers are different between the two books.

So Ben Hogan’s answer to his greatest day in golf was actually his round in 1938 played at the Sequoyah Club during the Oakland Open. Hogan and his wife were traveling from tournament to tournament in their own car and were struggling financially. This was early in his career before he won any big tournaments. They arrived in Oakland with $85 in remaining funds. The morning of the tournament Hogan leaves his hotel room to find that someone had stolen the two rear tires off their car overnight. If he didn’t do well in the tournament, he and Valerie agreed they would sell the car and buy bus tickets home. As he recounts, “I have never gone into a tournament with more determination that I did that Oakland Open.” Hogan won the tournament and its prize of $385, and he states, “Really the money I won was the turning point in my golf life. It enabled me to put the tires and wheels back on my car, continue the tournament sweep, win more prize money, and get national recognition.”

Jones’ greatest day, by his telling, was a non-competitive round he played in 1924 at the National Golf Links of America when he shot a 73 in cold, rainy and raw conditions. Gene Sarazen’s greatest day was his U.S. Open win in 1932 at the now defunct Fresh Meadow Country Club in Queens, NY. Bobby Locke’s greatest day was when we won the 36-hole Open Championship playoff at Sandwich in 1949. He recorded only one ‘5’ on his scorecard between the two rounds, an impressive feat.

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A picture of Byron Nelson hitting out of a bunker at Riviera from My Greatest Day in Golf

Byron Nelson’s greatest day was winning the U.S. Open at Philadelphia Country Club in 1939, where, preceding Ben Hogan’s shot at nearby Merion by eleven years, he “hit a one iron on the fourth hole in his second playoff round.”

Darsie features some interesting lesser known amateurs and professionals such as Joe Novak, professional at Bel-Air Country Club, who states in the book that the Bobby Jones ‘How I Play Golf’ films from the 1930s were largely filmed at the Flintridge Country Club, which no longer exists. I had always heard they were shot at Riviera or Hillcrest. Another lesser known player who tells his story is Ellsworth Vines, a tennis player who won Wimbledon, the U.S. Tennis Open and Roland Garros, who subsequently took up professional golf. Vines won twice on the P.G.A. tour and played in the Masters, U.S. Open and P.G.A. Championships.

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Many golfers in the book (Bobby Locke, Ed Oliver, Clayton Heafner, Ellsworth Vines) reference the now-defunct Tam O’Shanter tournament in their discussions of important rounds they played. The Tam O’Shanter Tournament was held in the Chicago area during the 1940s and 1950s. Typically the event offered the biggest prize money of the year and was the first PGA tour event to be broadcast nationally on television in 1953.

The book is a fascinating look back at golf history in the pre-television era when amateurs had a higher profile and before big money had such a large influence, with the professionals having to play on multiple ‘circuits’ and in various exhibition matches to make a living.

Darsie also authored History of Golf in South California published in 1925 (D & J S29230).

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Golf and the Olympics

February 1, 2014

Golf returns to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 after a 112 year hiatus. Golf was contested very early on in the second and third Olympiads. In the 1900 Paris Games it was contested as a stroke play event, and in the 1904 St. Louis games it was contested as match play. Golf was also scheduled to be on the agenda for the 1908 Olympics in London, but when the area clubs refused to allow access to play the event, it was cancelled. The 2016 games will feature stroke play events for both men and women, on a new course under design by Gil Hanse. It is also scheduled for the Kasumigaseki course in Tokyo for the 2020 games.

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Compiègne Golf Club, Games of the II Olympiad, Paris, 1900

A total of twelve golfers competed in the first ever men’s Olympic golf event. Appropriately, it included a Greek golfer (an oxymoron today?) as well as four Brits, three Americans and four Frenchmen. American Charles Sands won the gold with rounds of 82 and 85.

The 1900 games also featured a women’s competition, won by Margaret Abbott, who was the first American woman to take first place in an Olympic event. She won a nine hole tournament with a score of 47. These games were apparently so poorly organized and spread out over five months that many competitors, including Abbott, did not realize that the events they entered were part of the Olympics. At the time players signed up individually to compete, before the advent of country specific Olympic committees.

Historical research did not establish that the game was on the Olympic program until after her death, so she herself never knew it. Abbott played for Chicago Golf Club and they have a picture of her in their club history and note her historic Olympic win. Winners of the 1900 Games did not receive medals, but rather a cup and trophies, the only time this was done.

The games were contested over Compiègne Golf Club, just north of Paris. The course was designed by Robert Fournier-Sarlovèze in 1896 when he was in a soldier stationed nearby. According to the course’s website, the records reveal that at that time it was considered one of the best in France. We could find no record of a club history for the club.

The 1900 Olympics also included an unofficial handicap event. Albert Lambert of St. Louis (founder of Warner Lambert and benefactor of Charles Lindberg) played in the event while on a business trip to his Paris office.

Glen Echo Country Club, Games of the III Olympiad, St. Louis, 1904

On his return, Lambert mentioned the Olympic golf event to his father-in-law, Colonel George McGrew. McGrew was the founder of Glen Echo Golf Club in St. Louis and with the World’s Fair and the Olympics coming to St. Louis in 1904, Lambert and McGrew put forth plans to conduct an Olympic golf tournament at Glen Echo.

The 1904 games featured only two competing countries – The U.S. and Canada. The gold medal went to Canadian George Lyon when he defeated that year’s U.S. Amateur champion Chandler Egan. The 1904 games also featured a team golf event in which the U.S. won gold, silver and bronze (think of today’s bobsledding where you can enter multiple teams). Thus, Egan received a gold medal for that effort, along with nine of his teammates, and Lambert won a silver medal.

Glen Echo

Glen Echo Country Club, 100 Years is the club history, which was published in 2001 and was written by James Healy (Donovan & Jerris H11440). The course was designed by the Scottish brothers Jim and Robert Foulis and is the oldest 18 hole course west of the Mississippi. The history goes into extensive detail about the games held at Glen Echo and even has a picture of the rare program issued for the event and one of a gold medal that the winners received.

 Riviera Country Club, Games of the X Olympiad, Los Angeles

The 1932 Summer Games are notable from two points of view as it relates to golf. First, Riviera hosted the equestrian related events of dressage and the modern pentathlon. References to the Riviera venue are contained in 1932 Olympic programs. Second, Babe Didrikson competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and won two gold medals in the javelin and the hurdles event.

Geoff Shackelford’s The Riviera Country Club A Definitive History notes how Riviera had a polo club in the 1930s and 1940s knows as the Riviera Equestrian Center. Sunday polo matches at Riviera included famous Hollywood icons such as Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper. The book includes a black and white aerial photo of the Olympic Polo games in progress. The American team won the gold medal at the event.

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Merion Golf Club Books

January 1, 2014

“It was good to get back to Merion. No other course on which the Open is played provides such a strong tie with the past. It was good just to gaze at the unchanged pillared clubhouse, with its black shutters and its old-fashioned green-and-white striped awning over the veranda.” Thus, Herbert Warren Wind wrote in 1971 when the U.S. Open returned there at the time. His words are still perfect today. It was indeed very good to get back to Merion this past year for the U.S. Open.
Merion

As you would expect from such a historic course, books about Merion are varied, detailed and interesting. The combination of the recent U.S. Open and the newly published Merion: The Championship Story have spurred us to write about its books. Merion has hosted more U.S.G.A. championships than any other club in the United States.

Golf at Merion 1896-1976 (D & J H12340) was Merion’s first club history, published in 1977 on the club’s 80th anniversary and written by Richard H. Heilman. Heilman was a retired insurance executive and past president of the club. The book is softcover and covers Merion’s history from its early days, including the transition from the Cricket Club to a golf club. It has some interesting historical black and white pictures including when President Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer visited the course for a charitable exhibition match in 1964. The history incorrectly states that course architect Hugh Wilson got the idea for wicker baskets from visiting Sunningdale, and brought the idea back. Wilson probably got the idea from courses in the British Isles such as Prestwick and Stoke Poges. Merion originally opened with traditional flags and the wicker baskets are credited to William Flynn, who filed a patent for them in the United States.

Golf at Merion is a more extensively researched and comprehensive history written by Desmond Tolhurst and was published in 1989. Tolhurst was a Cambridge graduate, golf book author and a contributing editor to Golf Magazine. The first edition is a limited edition of 1,500 (D & J T10990) and was published with a slipcase in July 1989. There was also a standard trade edition (D & J T11000) issued only with a dust jacket only in August of 1989. The books come with an as-issued errata slip laid in.

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Note the Merion logo on the cover of the book which has ‘1912’ under the Scotch broom, representing the year the East course was designed. This is different than the current Merion logo which has ‘1896’, the year the original course opened at its former location in Haverford. The Merion Golf Club wasn’t formally organized as a separate entity until 1942.

Golf at Merion (D & J T11030), an updated version of the 1989 history was published in 2005, by Desmond Tolhurst and Gary A. Galyean. This edition of the book was limited to 2,000 copies and was published in a hardcover with no dustjacket. It is the most comprehensive of the three histories and includes a detailed color hole-by-hole rundown of the East course.

David Barrett’s Miracle at Merion was a worthy winner of the U.S.G.A. Herbert Warren Wind Book award in 2010 and recounts the story of Ben Hogan’s historic win at the 1950 U.S. Open.

Merion: The Championship Story was published in 2013 and written by Jeff Silverman. The book is an impressive 502 pages. The book was published after the 2013 U.S. Open so that it could include that tournament in the book. Surprisingly, given Merion’s history, no book had previously focused on the tournaments held there. Silverman is a professor of English at nearby Villanova University and he knows how to write. Given the material (one of the greatest golf courses, the Hogan history, Jones winning the Grand Slam) it would be easy to say that the book would be great no matter what. Silverman has done something special with the material, however, and the book is truly exceptional.

Silverman’s writing style is understated but powerful. Consider this excerpt about Jones’s career, which is reminiscent of Wind: “From Merion to Merion – the 1916 and 1930 U.S. Amateurs that bracketed the championship career – Jones entered 52 tournaments and won 23 (all while earning degrees, raising a family, passing the bar, building a law practice, and never so much as taking a nickel out of the game other than from a friendly wager). No career winning percentage comes close. In five Walker Cup appearances, he posted nine victories against a single debit. As playing captain in 1928 and 1930 he lead his teams to a resounding 11-1 and 10-2 routs. He never missed a cut in any tournament he entered. He never lost to the same amateur twice in match play. For eight years running, he wore at least one national crown. Yet, Jones played less golf than the average businessman. He’d often go months without practicing.”

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A fascinating story about Jones’s final round to win the Amateur, on the tenth hole (he would win the grand slam on the next hole), both he and Gene Homans took sixes on the easy par four to halve the hole. Jones circled both the sixes and wrote “Ha Ha” next to it on the scorecard, which is pictured in the book.

Legendary Golf Clubs of the American East also dedicates a chapter to Merion and like all its course descriptions and pictures, it captures the essence of Merion very well, especially what it is like to be a member and the traditions of the club.

No mention of the literature regarding Merion would be complete without shouting out Jerry Tarde, editor of Golf Digest, who in 1981 perfectly and succinctly described Merion as “a three-act play: the drama of the first six demanding holes; the comedy of the next seven; and the tragedy of the last five.”

Herbert Warren Wind’s 1971 Sports Illustrated article titled “Return to Merion”, whose quote leads off this newsletter is also worth seeking out, his use of language is an art form.

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Jones during the 1930 Amateur. During the tournament he was surrounded by fifty Marines for his protection and crowd control. The Marines were stationed at the nearby Philadelphia Ship Yard.

I am lucky enough to live close to Merion and have played it half a dozen times and rank it among the top five courses in the world. I find the hole Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam on, the eleventh, to be particularly difficult due to the very small target you have to hit to, on a green surrounded by water on three sides. What makes Merion such a great course is the strategic nature of every shot you have to hit. It is not good enough to be in the fairway, you have to be in the proper spot and on the proper side in order to have a shot at the green. It is not good enough to be on the green, you have to be in the right portion of the green to have any chance of scoring well.

Another interesting tidbit about Merion is that the wicker baskets on the front nine are painted red and on the back nine, orange. They are removed each night because the course runs through an established neighborhood and there are many ways to simply walk on the course and potentially take a basket. A Merion wicker basket sold at auction recently for over $5,000.

Arnold Palmer Plays Merion (D & J P21100) was produced in 1971 by Arnold Palmer Enterprises and is a 44 page softcover that was prepared in preparation of the 1971 Open held at Merion. It has a picture of Arnold hitting a shot on every hole at Merion and describes how you should play the hole. About the seventeenth hole, Palmer says, “The hardest part of the longest par 3 on the course will be getting on the green…it’s one of the more difficult holes, with a hollow in front of the green, deep rough on the left and sand traps almost completely surrounding it.” Players from the 2013 U.S. Open can surely attest to that.

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Ralph Guldahl Signed Golf Books

December 16, 2013

It seems as if Ralph Guldahl is having a bit of renaissance in the world of golf collectibles. A Guldahl signed book recently sold at auction for over $7,000, a record for books signed by the dapper Texan.

Ralph Guldahl finished the late 1930s with a bang. He won the U.S. Open back-to-back in 1937 and 1938 at Oakland Hills and Cherry Hills. He also won the Masters the following year in 1939. Guldahl beat out Sam Snead by one shot to win the tournament and collect $1,500 in prize money.

Guldahl particpated in the production of book titled From Tee to Cup by the Four Masters, published in 1939 along with Gene Sarazen, Denny Shute and Johnny Revolta. The book is instructional in nature and features clubs of the era being hit including the brassie, cleek and spoon.

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The image above shows the copy of the signed book which was auctioned by Green Jacket Auctions, who specialize in Masters memorabilia. Our speculation is that Guldahl signatures are in demand by those who specialize in collecting Masters winners signatures and Guldahl, who died in 1987, is one of the more difficult to find, having the won the sixth Masters.

The David Duval of his day, Guldahl’s golf rapidly declined after 1939 and he lost both his focus and his swing after writing Groove Your Golf, an early flicker instructional book, which apparently caused him to overanalyze his swing and think too much.

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I’ll Have Mine Rare, Please

December 1, 2013

Who among us isn’t looking to add a rare golf book to their collection? Discriminating collectors are always on the hunt to add rare titles to round out their library. What exactly is the definition of a rare golf book? Describing a book is an art form, not a science. The book seller, dealer or auctioneer also has an inherent conflict of interest when describing a book, in that he or she will likely fetch a premium price for an item that is considered rare. There are many effusive descriptors for a book that is hard to come by. Creativity is at a premium when describing a book’s scarcity. Consider the following descriptions of a book’s availability, all of which conjure up images of paucity:

1. Difficult to find
2. Uncommon
3. Scarce
4. Very scarce
5. Rare
6. Quite rare
7. Very rare
8. Exceedingly rare
9. Truly rare
10. Impossibly rare
11. Notoriously rare
12. Previously unknown
13. Unique
14. One of a kind

I attempted to list the definitions of rare in order of ‘less’ rare to ‘more’ rare, and you can quickly see it’s a fools game. My own personal favorite hyperbolic description of rarity was for a signed copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons described as beyond rare. Since there are four signed copies on-line for sale and the book comes up for auction frequently, the description is meant to generate excitement to entice a buyer to jump at purchasing the book.  Maybe the seller thought he was placing a meat order rather than describing a book, and wanted his steak barely cooked, but his copy was not beyond rare, whatever that means.

Absolutely or Relatively Rare?

In his masterwork on collecting, ABC for Book Collectors, John Carter makes several delineations on rarity and generally takes a jaded eye toward describing items as rare. His definitions in two categories give a broader perspective on the subject:

Absolute Rarity – A book printed in a very small edition. For example Tennyson’s The Lover’s Tale printed in 1833 in an edition of only six copies or Robert Frost’s 1894 Twilight, of which, only two were printed.

Relative Rarity – A property only indirectly connected with the number of copies printed. It is based upon the number which survive.

Based on Carter’s definition, there are likely very few golf books fitting into the ‘absolute’ category. Almost all described as rare are relatively rare. Carter, I think rightfully, also takes exception to the description of unique and prefers to qualify it as apparently unique because you never know if something truly is. Calling something unique should be done with great caution.

Is a golf book that comes up for auction three times a year rare? Probably not, since over a ten year period thirty copies would have been available for purchase. A hand full of golf books that would be rare when compared to books outside the golf universe include Pen and Pencil Sketches on the Game of Golf by George Aikman published in 1888 in Edinburgh, which has seen only two copies change hands in the last twenty years and The Goff. An Heroi-Comical Poem in Three Cantons, also published in Edinburgh in 1793 and is rarely (no pun intended) seen.

Do your homework

The best advice for a buyer of golf books remains caveat emptor. Unlike twenty or thirty years ago, a collector can pretty easily do his or her homework to determine rarity. In today’s world, an estimate of rarity can be checked on-line against auction records, previous sale catalogs (the sale of Joe Murdoch’s library in 1998 is a good benchmark) or holdings at the British Library, the British Museum or the library of the U.S.G.A. If the libraries’ don’t hold a copy, it’s a pretty safe bet that the book is rare. The other benchmark golf book collectors use is the bibliography of golf books published between 1566 and 2005 produced by Donovan & Jerris and referred to in shorthand as D & J. As has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion, D & J did not catalog every golf book ever published. They attempted to and missed some, particularly more than a few from the Southern Hemisphere. The fact that a book is not listed in D & J doesn’t guarantee that it is rare, but it is a good starting point; although, with several caveats, as D & J generally don’t include brochures, for example.

When looking at a description of a rare book you will sometimes see it described as not being found in OCLC or WorldCat. OCLC stands for the Online Computer Library Center and it contains references to over one billion items in the world’s libraries, so if a copy of a book is not in OCLC or WorldCat, it is also a good indication of rarity.

How Many? Is it really limited?

An important factor in determining rarity is how many copies of a particular book were printed to begin with. According to Carter, publishers in Great Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century typically printed between 1,000 and 3,000 copies of a book. The standard trade edition of Horace Hutchinson’s The Badminton Library: Golf was printed in a first edition of 5,000. Today a print of between 5,000 and 10,000 is about standard.

I used to drink 1% milk, which is marketed as low fat or skim, thinking I cut out 99% of the fat, until I discovered that whole milk has 3.25% fat, so that it is about a third less fatty. Limited editions are less common that a book printed in a standard trade edition for sure, but, like skim milk, it can also be a bit of a marketing ploy. Given the number of copies of a book typically printed, a limited edition of 1,000 isn’t particularly limited. Some limited editions really are rare, particularly those with less than 100 copies printed. Take, for example, Wethered and Simpson’s The Architectural Side of Golf, a large paper edition published in 1929 in a signed, limited edition of only fifty. This would be legitimately rare on a relative basis.  Also, Tom Doak’s original hand-produced The Confidential Guide to Golf in 1989 in a production of twenty copies. While his later, hard copy limited edition and the general trade editions, both of the same title, are either difficult to find or expensive, the original is the one that is truly rare. Finally, A Round on the Links: Views of the Golf Greens of Scotland by George Aikman published in 1893 in a limited edition of 28 is also rare.

Price

It’s expensive, therefore it must be rare? Maybe. James Arbuckle’s Glotta: A Poem, published in 1721 sold for over $50,000 at auction in 2011. Pick your favorite embellishment in front of the word rare and you will likely be right on when describing this book. Yes, price is a pretty good indicator of rarity, but not always. Sometimes a book that hasn’t been seen in a while will go up for sale and will then attract other copies for sale, paradoxically, reducing the item’s perceived rarity. The first copy might sell for $3,000 and those collectors holding it will say to themselves, wow, I didn’t realize it was worth that much, I think I will sell it. Thus, the market sees extant copies come forward which then sell for $2,500, then the next for $2,000, etc. because collectors now see the copies that were previously sitting in private libraries now flooding the market because people didn’t think it was rare or worth much. While the book can likely still be described as rare, over time, it can become less rare on a relative basis due to this factor.

Other Factors in Determining Rarity

Several other determinants are important when considering rarity:

  • Age. Books published in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries are rare because they have survived the ravages of time including floods, fires, insects, pestilence, uncaring inheritors and spilled whisky.
  • Who was the publisher? Was it published by Simon & Schuster or was it privately printed by a golf club. The latter will generally be more rare than the former since typically there will be 300-500 members of a club the book was printed for and the motive for publishing was not to make money, but to document the club’s history.
  • Where was the book printed? Those printed in an out-of-the-way locations are generally rarer than those published in New York or London.
  • The position of the book in the author’s literary career. Earlier works are usually rarer because the author may have been lesser known at the time of publication and may not have achieved fame or infamy yet (or ever).
  • The binding. This one is a bit counter-intuitive. Books bound in fancy bindings such as morocco are more likely to survive over time. An heir inheriting a library or someone stumbling upon the book will look at it and conclude that if the book has such a fancy binding it must be worth something (despite our mother’s teachings, we do judge books by their covers) and it is retained and well cared for, while other less luxurious looking ones probably end up in the trash bin or are kept but subjected to heat, light, humidity and toddlers.
  • The state of the book. A book in its original pristine state is prized by collectors and makes it potentially rare. A copy of the limited edition of 260 of C.B. Macdonald’s Scotland’s Gift is expensive and relatively rare; however, a copy with the original publisher’s box or the slipcase can accurately be described as truly rare. Likewise, the Shinnecock Hills club history of 1966 started off relatively rare, printed in a set of only 500. Due to its fragile nature, a copy that retains the unusual original “Spiderman” glassine dust jacket can also accurately be described a rare.

Like a lot of what is espoused during political campaigns, collectors, like informed citizens, need to make up their own mind on the relative rarity of a book. Repeating something over and over does not make it true. Just because someone says it’s rare, it doesn’t make it so.

Perhaps the rarest of golf books is the one we have all yet to discover?  Surely, packed away in somebodies attic or forgotten in a club’s archives there lies a truly rare golf book we have not seen before. Perhaps even one that is unique. I mean apparently unique. This is what makes collecting such a passion for us.

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Five Star Golf – Newport Country Club and President Eisenhower

November 17, 2013

“There were few more closely guarded secrets during the eight years of the Eisenhower Administration than the President’s golf scores,” Norman Palmer write in Five Star Golf.  Norman was the golf professional at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island and hosted the President during his summer visits to Newport in 1957 and 1958. Ike setup his summer White House at the Newport Naval Base, partially so he could be close to Newport Country Club.

Ike played forty-five times with Palmer over the two year span. Members of the press were present every time the President teed off but were never told his score. As Palmer states, “One reason frequently cited was that he was worried the public would think he was playing too much golf if every score was recorded. This obviously, was false.” The last sentence is outstanding. The fact is Ike played over 400 rounds of golf while he was President or about fifty rounds of golf per year, which is a pretty big number for someone with a full time job!

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The fact is Ike was a good player, during his rounds at Newport he shot between 86 and 90. His best round was in 1954 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver when he shot a 77. He also shot a 79 at Augusta, Burning Tree and Gettysburg and an 84 at Cypress Point. The book has extensive pictures of Eisenhower playing at Newport and Palmer gives insights into the pressures of playing with the President with the Secret Service omnipresent and the media following every move.

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Bobby Locke

November 1, 2013

“Old Muffin Face” the New York Times called him. He was also described as “heavy-jowled,” and “chubby-faced.” Peter Alliss said he “looked 55 since he was 30.” Who is this fading golfer, who wore knickers and a tie while playing and tipped his cap to the gallery when they applauded? It is the South African Arthur D’Arcy (“Bobby”) Locke.

Bobby Locke
A beaming Bobby Locke holding the Claret Jug

Often referred to as the best putter of all time, Locke used a 45-year old hickory shafted putter given to him by his father. He had an unconventional stroke in both his full swing and on the greens. Locke won the Open Championship four times. In his 1949 Open victory he beat Harry Bradshaw of Ireland by a run-away 12 strokes in a playoff at Royal St. George’s in 1949, which in the pre-TV era was a 36 hole playoff! Locke also won a PGA tournament in Chicago in 1948 by a margin of 16 strokes, still a record.

Locke’s seminal book is Bobby Locke on Golf (D & J L14380) published in 1953 by Country Life in London with a foreword written by Bernard Darwin. Locke discusses his putting style in the book, “More putts are missed because they are started on the wrong line.” His advice is still quite relevant today that you should keep your head down, “You just hit it and listen.” His ultimate summation of what made him a good putter, “Putting is about confidence.”

Locke’s unconventional style had him taking the putter back inside the target line with a closed stance and a hooded clubface to put overspin on the ball. Locke’s philosophy, “If a ball has true topspin, there are three entrances to the hole – the front door and two side doors.” His unorthodox style included his full swing as well, he is said to have hooked every shot he hit. Peter Alliss describes his ball flight as a “looping flight moving at least 45 degrees back to the fairway, and says he, “Played with a closed stance and aimed well to the right.”

Bobby Locke on Golf
The Simon and Schuster edition of Bobby Locke on Golf

His book was also published in the United States the year following its British publication (1954) by Simon & Schuster (D & J L14410). Copies of the book are difficult to find. A reprint edition was produced in 2002 by the Memorial Tournament in a limited edition of 250 copies, this book also being difficult to find.

Bobby Locke on Golf is part autobiography, part instruction manual and part Locke talking about his philosophy with historical insights. The book has over 200 photographs, including Locke at many stages in his life and one with him and his “good friend Bob Hope.” The last part of the book is particularly interesting. Locke describes his “ideal” eclectic golf course with various holes from courses all over the world. He includes Augusta’s second hole, Royal Melbourne’s third, Wentworth’s eleventh, Durban Country Club’s seventeenth and the eighth hole at Tam O’Shanter Club in Chicago, a par three of 230 yards.

locke on golf
The Country Life Edition published in Britain

Locke was banned from the PGA tour in 1949 because after he won the Open Championship he withdrew from an upcoming event he was scheduled to play in at Inverness in Toledo. At the time, the P.G.A. only extended invitations to foreign players who were in the country for short visits and even then such invitations were rare. Although banned from the PGA tour he was invited to Augusta in 1949. Locke called the ban “silly and a disgrace.”

Locke’s strong and feisty personality comes through in Bobby Locke on Golf, in particular his relationship with Americans, which was difficult. He discusses how he was asked about his winnings and refused to discuss them. The next day the headline in the paper blasted him for refusing to discuss it. He comments in the book, “the Americans go in for hard hitting” and he’s not talking about their ball striking abilities. And, “The Americans are, of course, intensely interested in dollars; perhaps intensely is not quite a strong enough word.” Seems like a strong enough word to me. To his credit, he knew his limitations. As he states, “There are people who regard me as off-hand, even surly, when I am playing golf. But golf is my business. When I am playing I must concentrate to the utmost.” From a temperament standpoint Locke comes across as the Colin Montgomerie of his generation, and describes several incidents at the end of the book where the crowds or comments upset him or he snapped back at fans.

He criticizes the British system of professional golf as being ‘closed’ and ‘exclusive’ and thinks American golfers resort to too much gamesmanship and trickery during matches. John Derr describes Locke as “hearing a different drummer in his band.” In 1947 Time magazine wanted to feature Locke on its cover, but he turned them down because they wouldn’t pay him. Locke would only do interviews he got paid for; he typically charged $100.

Bobby Locke on Golf is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read, giving great insight into a golfer who we should remember as one of the best of the twentieth century. Along with The Walter Hagen Story and Down the Fairway, it is one of the three most interesting autobiographies in golf literature.

Locke also wrote several softcover items: Golf Hints (D & J L14500) is a four page brochure produced in Sydney in 1953. Golf Hints (D & J L14530) is a 36 page softcover produced in 1955, How to Improve Your Putting (D & J L14560) was produced by Dunlop Tire in 1949 and is nine pages. The final item is The Basis of My Game (D & J L14590), produced by Slazengers in 1950 and is 8 pages.

Ronald Norval produced a biography of Locke in 1951 titled King of the Links: The Story of Bobby Locke (D & J N16780).

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC

John Derr Golf Book

October 1, 2013

I am always on the lookout for under-the-radar golf books that don’t receive a lot of fanfare. One recent gem we acquired is My Place at the Table : Stories of Golf and Life by John Derr. The book was published in 2010 by Old Sport Publishing in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

I heard John Derr being interviewed by John Maginnes while riding in my car on satellite radio, where he was talking about the first Masters he attended, in 1935. I was supposed to catch a train into the city, but as I sat listening I was mesmerized. I missed my train, but heard the entire interview. As I listened I was sure it was a taped interview replayed from years ago. To my surprise the interview was live and 95 year old John Derr is still alive and kicking!

As a 17-year old reporter he met Bob Jones, Cliff Roberts, O.B. Keeler and Grantland Rice at that first Masters. Derr would go on to cover a record sixty-two Masters and the club granted him its Major Achievement Award for doing so. What impressed me about Derr was that the man could tell a story and was still sharp as a tack. His book is a series of sixty-eight stories, most of them centered on his interactions with an individual of note. Derr enjoyed a very privileged position, as I have never heard of anyone else Cliff Roberts would invite to his cabin to have tea and crumpets during the Masters, but Derr was.

John is the ultimate raconteur and he has a nose for a story and how to tell it. Among the non-golfing people he met and profiles in the book are Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Yogi Berra, Gandhi (yes, that Gandhi) and Joe DiMaggio.

My Place at TableDustjacket of My Place at the Table showing Derr with Bing Crosby

Derr was an early pioneer in broadcasting golf on both radio and TV. The Jim Nantz of his day, Derr presided over the Masters ceremonies from Butler Cabin at his peak.

Aside from being on the property when Gene Sarazen made his double eagle in 1936, he also accompanied Ben Hogan around Carnoustie every day in 1953. This included the four tournament rounds as well as the two practice rounds and two qualifying rounds. Derr was also at Merion in 1950 when Hogan hit the famous 1-iron to the eighteenth green. What a front row to golf history he was lucky to have.

His stories are varied and interesting. His chapter on Pinehurst’s Richard Tufts explains how it was his idea to build the first driving range. Prior to Pinehurst building a practice area, lessons and warm-ups were done on holes near the clubhouse.

Derr is a walking history of the game and he talks about his visits to the U.S.G.A. headquarters when it was in a small townhouse in New York City and when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn. Referencing Presidents Hoover, Nixon, and Eisenhower can be tricky, but Derr does it without a sense of name dropping. His humble roots and simple approach shine through in his book. His sense of inquisitiveness is unmatched, and he retains the enthusiasm of a 5-year old ninety years later.

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC


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