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

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Royal North Devon Golf Club – Westward Ho! Club Histories

May 1, 2015

I have been meaning to write about the Royal North Devon Golf Club (whose course is named Westward Ho!) ever since visiting and playing the course several years ago during the winter. The overall experience was one to remember. In addition to the charming—and frightening to drive through—hedge rows that abound in Devon, I found the course exhilarating. To me, the course represents the ultimate time-travel backward to traditional golf as it evolved in the British Isles, and is a much more authentic experience than visiting the Old Course at St. Andrews. For non-R&A members the Old Course is crowded, expensive and quite often a long and tedious round. Quite to the contrary, at Westward Ho! I virtually had the course to myself and was taken in by the railroad sleepers of the 4th-hole (a “Cape”), the sheep grazing along the 13th-hole, and the horses meandering on the early and closing holes. An explanation point is indeed an appropriate part of the course’s name, especially when one hits their ball into the distinctive and penal Rushes!

Host of three British Amateur Championships, the club has just published its 150 year anniversary history, thus, it is a good time to have a look. The Royal North Devon Golf Club 1864-2014 was written and edited by R.K. Fowler and published in a signed limited edition of 500. This is the club’s third history, and it is easily the most comprehensive and elegantly produced.

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Golf at Royal North Devon predates Old Tom Morris’ visit of 1864. Prior to his design there were actually two courses: a seventeen hole course which comprised a “short round,” with an additional five holes available to play a twenty-two hole “long round.” Old Tom’s course was subsequently redesigned by Herbert Fowler (no relation to the book’s author) between 1902 and 1904. Fowler’s redesign lengthened the course to a challenging 6,424 yards, considering the equipment of the day. Among the historic images included in the book are two of a North Devon and West of England Golf Club rule book from 1864. The very rare book looks tattered and worn, but it does make the collector salivate and think of other unknown gems still to be discovered.

As compared to the new club history, prior versions were smaller and contain only black and white illustrations. The Royal North Devon Golf Club 1864-1989 (D & J D8320) was published in 1989 and written by E.J. Davies and G.W. Brown. The 202 page book was produced in a signed limited edition of 500. Simultaneously, a slipcased edition was also published in 1989 as an author’s presentation copy (D & J D8290), with no limitation number cited.

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As H.N. Fulford writes in the forward to the 1989 club history, the Northam Burrows—the common land the course was built on—was identified as early as the 1850s as land suitable for golf, specifically, “Providence obviously designed this for a golf links.” Among the club’s distinctions, it is the oldest course in England, and the first club outside of Scotland to be granted a royal title.

The club’s first published history was The Royal North Devon Golf Club A Centenary Anthology 1864-1964 (D & J G31210) edited by J.W.D. Goodban, and it is the shortest of the three at only 96 pages.

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Horace Hutchinson, who was born nearby in Northam, wrote about Westward Ho! in complimentary terms in his Badminton Library: Golf  in 1890, “The new holes, though flattish, are fine golf, and the fourth hole brings us into the country of great sand bunkers, with precipitous bluff, sandy faces, and of the strong sharp rushes.”

The rarest of the books about Royal North Devon is A Short History of the Origins of Golf at Northam and the Foundation of the Present Royal North Devon Golf Club, which was privately printed in 1926 and is a 16 page softcover (D & J L9280) written be G.E. Leman.

Tom Doak selected Westward Ho! early on as one of his original Gourmet’s Choice courses in his Confidential Guide to Golf, for good reason. The historic course is a treat, and deserves a revered place in the world or golf.

Website of Valuable Book Group, LLC, Specialists in Golf Books

Best Selling Golf Books

April 15, 2015

Each quarter we update the list of the top 10 best selling golf books as sold on Amazon. Click on the either the text of the image of the book to buy through Amazon.

Instructional books remain the most popular, but several new entrants appear this quarter related to the Masters (Men in Green) and a book about Bubba Watson surfaces for the first time. We also note a new trend, which is free Kindle books appearing on the list in numbers for the first time, a phenomenon we don’t understand the economics of.  Top ten as of April 2015:

1. Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf by Ben Hogan, published 1990, although originally published in 1957 and still very relevant today, simple and easy to understand. The most influential golf book ever published.

2. Why You Suck at Golf: 50 Most Common Mistakes by Recreational Golfers by Clive Scarff, published in 2014. A new entrant on the list, the book was named as one of the best books of 2014 by Amazon’s editors and apparently readers agree.

3. Men in Green by Michael Bamberger, published in 2015 and focuses on the subject at hand, which is Masters winners.

4. The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever by Mark Frost, published in 2009. Frequently the best selling golf book, it chronicles a match between Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan against two amateurs at Cypress Point. A real winner.

5. Open Mind: An Introduction to Silent Mind Golf by Robin Sieger, published in 2014 the book is popular among Kindle readers. 41 pages and free?

6. Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons And Teachings From A Lifetime In Golf by Harvey Penick, published in 2012. Widsom for golf and for life from the wee Texan.

7. Golf: How to Consistently Break 90 by Robert Phillips, published in 2013. An admirable goal that almost no golfers achieve consistently.

8. Bubba Watson: Victory at the Masters by Golf Channel Staff, published in 2012, another free Kindle book.

9. Funny (but true) Golf Anecdotes: about Tiger, Phil, Bubba, Rory, Rickie, Jack, Arnie, and all the rest. by Dick Crouser, published in 2012. A wee 96 page softcover with mixed reviews on Amazon, but apparently selling well.

10. Tuesday’s Caddie by Jack Waddell, published in 2014, the third of the free Kindle books making the top 10, of a love story set in the 1930s.

 

Website of Valuable Book Group, specialists in golf books.

The Velvet Touch – The Biography of Golfer Horton Smith

April 1, 2015

Horton Smith is one of the enigmatic golfers of the twentieth century. Winner of the first and third Masters tournaments, his name is vaguely recognizable, but aside from his winning Bobby Jones’ prized event, not many facts are easily recallable about Smith.

Born in the Ozark Mountains seven miles from Springfield, Missouri, Smith was called “the greatest putter who ever lived.” His autobiography, titled The Velvet Touch is really closer to a biography, or more accurately a hagiography. The book was co-written with Marian Benton, a self-described housewife and member of the Detroit Golf Club, where Smith served as the professional for eighteen years. The book was self-published in 1965 (D & J S23740) and the title is derived from Benton’s description of Smith’s approach to both putting and to life generally. In writing the book Benton spoke with dozens of Smith’s friends and fellow golfers including Bobby Jones, Tommy Armour, Cliff Roberts and Gene Sarazen.

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Published two years after Horton’s death, Benton wrote The Velvet Touch in the third-person, and Bernard Darwin she is not. Her prose is straightforward, but lacking punch, “When Horton started to play, there were no matched sets of clubs and the clubs were not numbered.” And while describing her subject she sometimes lays it on a bit thick; describing Smith’s second Masters victory, “Perhaps Horton’s victory was a tribute to clean living and sterling endeavor.”

Smith started caddying at eleven years old and learned to play the game with only one club, a mid-iron (today’s 2-iron). At six feet-one-inches tall and weighing 163 pounds Smith was a natural talent. He met Chick Evans when he was sixteen years old at the Western Junior championship in Chicago, and was inspired to work on becoming a professional golfer. He qualified for the 1927 US Open at Oakmont when he was nineteen years old. His first win was the 1928 Oklahoma City Open. The next year he won nine tournaments and made the Ryder Cup, where he had to shift from steel shafts to hickory to play the tournament—at Moortown in England—because the R & A had not yet authorized the use of steel shafts.

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Smith was a widely respected player when he arrived on the scene. O.B. Keeler wrote about him in 1930, “The boy is good. He has the best grooved swing I ever saw, and I really don’t see why he ever misses a shot, except that he is human. But if ever there were a perfect mechanical golfer, Horton Smith is it.” Smith received his nickname, “The Joplin Ghost” because he was relatively unknown and at the time played out of the Oak Hill Golf Club in Joplin, Missouri. He is described as having an “infectious smile.” Smith attributed his superior putting ability to having learned the game on sand greens, which were primarily flat; thus, he felt it allowed him to develop a uniform stroke. Grantland Rice wrote about Smith, “It remained for this young star from Joplin to appear suddenly with a golf swing that was sheer genius, as sound and as smooth a swing as Vardon, Braid, and Taylor, Jones or anyone else ever had.”

Describing his early experiences at Augusta, Smith recounts, “I like the daily changing of pairings which creates an air of sociability. It is one of the few ‘Opens’ in which we play twosomes and in which due to the system of qualification the field is limited to a number which permits unhurried play and allows every contestant a ‘preferred’ starting time.”

In addition to his two Masters victories Horton Smith has thirty-two professional wins, he played on three Ryder Cup teams—which were all victorious—and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. During his second Ryder Cup appearance, during the Depression in 1933, there was not enough money to send the captain across the Atlantic so Smith and Walter Hagen jointly managed the team.

Smith had a reputation as being straight-laced: he didn’t smoke, drink, gamble or curse and liked to drink milk. Benton describes Smith as the anti-Hagen, “The two of them made the most amazing contrast ever seen in the sports world and they got along perfectly. They differed in their opinions about everything from marriage, to ties, to women.” In spite of their differences Benton mentions they maintained a deep and lasting friendship.

Smith married Barbara Bourne, the daughter of Augusta National charter member Alfred Bourne, in 1938. Marrying Barbara changed Smith’s life since the Bournes inherited significant wealth from her grandfather’s position as head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, although their marriage appears to have been an unhappy one. Smith enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served as a Lieutenant until 1945, in primarily administrative positions, and as a golf companion for generals. Horton and Barbara had one child, Alfred, born in 1943, although they separated two years later when she filed a, “Divorce decree…in Reno on grounds of mental cruelty.” After their divorce Barbara denied him visits with his son.

DSCF9254-001Horton Smith pictured in the Velvet Touch with his “inevitable Coke”

The book provides a detailed look at the 1934 and 1936 Masters, including some little known details about the tournaments, such as the fact that the P.G.A. protested the playing of the final round of the 1936 tournament because of torrential rains since the course was so wet. The book is an interesting look back at golf during the Great Depression and describes how golfers of the day had to hold down day jobs as professionals at a golf club and also travel the “circuit” to earn modest sums of money. There was no official coordination of tournaments during this time period; Smith tells of a time when he went to a tournament in Sacramento, practiced for two days and then read in the newspaper that the tournament was canceled. Smith went on to serve as the President of the PGA from 1952 to 1954, and among the highlights of his tenure was his decision to allow Joe Louis to play in the San Diego Open, a controversial move at the time because of Louis’s race.
The book is organized into four parts, the fourth part at the end of the book runs about fifty pages, and contains Smith’s playing record and instructional tips. The inaugural Masters winner died young, at age 55, of Hodgkin’s disease. Bobby Jones said at his death, “He had the most belligerent dedication to golf of anyone I’ve ever known.”

The book is an interesting look into Horton Smith’s life and contains many pictures of him, although it falls short of providing real insights into the man. One comes away longing for more details into what Benton describes as the one unsuccessful facet of his life, “in the role of husband and father.” And, into what really motivated and drove the man. While the book is collectible because it is the work of the first Masters winner, a real, insightful biography of Horton Smith remains to be written.

 

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The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club by Clifford Roberts

March 1, 2015

A good way to combat depression during a cold and snowy winter is to read about Augusta National, to anticipate the spring, and the brilliance that is the Masters. This month we return to the fountainhead to gain insights into Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts, author of The Story of the Augusta National Golf club, published in 1976.

Returning to the source is rewarding and Roberts offers many interesting insights into the formation and running of the club. Of particular note are the detailed chapters describing his relationship with President Eisenhower and their friendship over the years. Roberts was such a trusted advisor that he ended up serving as trustee of Ike’s estate after his death. The book also features a nice collection of black and white photos of the club’s history including one of Bobby Jones’s final round of golf, some nice images of founding member Grantland Rice and of the Berckmans family.

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Roberts is a good storyteller and gives insights into the inner workings of the club and describes the origins of many of their traditions including the awarding of the first green jacket, which was only instituted in 1949. The club opened during the Great Depression while prohibition was still the law of the land. The official course opening was beset with poor weather, or as Roberts described it, “Miserably bad, both wet and cold, but most of the party went ahead and played golf despite the conditions. One thing that stimulated their determination was tents at the first and tenth tees, each with a keg of corn whiskey.”

Roberts describes why the club decided to use Pinkertons for security, because the club had no fence around the property and people could just walk onto the club grounds without a ticket. The Pinkertons were needed to enforce the buying of badges since the local police knew too many patrons and were lax at enforcing the rules. Difficult as it is to believe today, both Augusta National and the Masters has a difficult time gaining traction in the early years. As Roberts describes it, “To accurately describe the state of our club’s finances…one would have to use the old saying about being only one jump ahead of the sheriff.”

Another astonishing fact, especially in today’s era of thousand dollar Masters tickets on StubHub, is that television broadcasts of the tournament was blacked out within 200 miles of the course between 1956 and 1969 to help spur ticket sales, which were anemic for many years.

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Bobby and Cliff were traditionalists and wanted their club to follow suit, as Roberts describes, “The club’s operation was to be kept as simple as possible, on the order of golf clubs in England and Scotland, with no living quarters.” As famed as the on-property cabins are today, they were not a part of the original design of the club and were added out of necessity, “During 1945, however, it was realized that the Augusta National was doomed unless the club provide living quarters on the grounds. This was something we did not at all want to do, but we were forced by unforeseen circumstances to undertake such a program.”

The book contains hand-drawn black and white illustrations of various early Augusta National members including Alfred Severin Bourne (a founding member of the club and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company), Burton F. Peek (a founding member and chairman of Deere and Company), Clarence J. Schoo (a manufacturer from Massachusetts), John W. Herbert (an attorney and Judge from New Jersey), Bartlett Arkell (founder of the Beech-Net Company) W. Alton Jones (CEO of Cities Services, today’s Citgo), Melvin A. Traylor (head of the First National Bank of Chicago) and Charles H. Sabin, CEO of the Guaranty Trust Company). Focusing a spotlight on members and their backgrounds is certainly something the secretive club would not do today.
Roberts is a difficult historical figure to get insights into and The Story of the Augusta National is as in depth a look at the man as you will find. His rigid personality comes through, but the book also features warm writing about employees of the club. Roberts displays a real affection for the loyal service and dedication of early club employees. He writes about his own journey as well, “I have fared reasonably well, despite never being willing to make an all-out effort. The making of lots of money never seemed as important as traveling extensively and retaining some independence…I have no regret about lost business opportunities. In all truthfulness, my life has been so enriched by the working association and joyous companionship of Bob Jones and Ike, and many other Augusta National members, that I consider myself to be far richer today than could have been possible by any other measure of success. Briefly state, I’ve been overpaid.”

The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club was published in two editions by Doubleday, Garden City. A limited edition with no limitation cited (D & J R11110) that includes a slipcase and a standard trade edition (D & J R11080). Later editions were also produced, including a 1993 reprint.

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Robert Trent Jones biography – A Difficult Par

February 1, 2015

A new biography, A Difficult Par, written by James R. Hansen, focuses on the life and work of Robert Trent Jones Sr. The subtitle of the book, “The Making of Modern Golf” indicates the prominent role Jones has played over a career that spanned an astonishing seventy years. A shameless self-promoter, Jones used to boast that the “Sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones golf course.” Over his lifetime, Jones designed or remodeled over 400 golf courses.

Hansen’s book, at 484 pages, is detailed. He had access to the “Robert Trent Jones Collection,” an archive of hundreds of thousands of documents that would fill the equivalent of 280 filing cabinet drawers. The title of the book is derived from Jones’s design philosophy of “Hard Par, Easy Bogey.” Among Jones’s better known courses are Valderrama, Spyglass Hill and Peachtree in Atlanta, which he co-designed with Bobby Jones.

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Jones began his career at a difficult time, working as the Great Depression was gripping the country. As a result, he was not paid for the first several works he did. He teamed up with Canadian architect Stanley Thompson early in his career, and his inchoate genius came into view when he did the routing for the Capilano Golf & Country Club in Vancouver. He then took on a series of assignments for the WPA to sustain himself until the economy improved.

Jones is credited with advancing the “heroic” school of golf course architecture, a distinct style that blends elements of both the strategic and penal styles. Among the innovations Jones help to advance were long tee boxes, which allowed a course to be shortened or lengthened with ease.

Jones developed a reputation as the “Open Doctor” after his much criticized work at Oakland Hills in preparation for the 1951 U.S. Open. The current view of golf courses designed during the Jones era—including many of his works—is not kind. Concepts that are derided today such as a course having a “signature hole” were created by Jones.

One of his most significant contributions to the game was made during his 1946 alterations at Augusta National. He opened up the eleventh hole to play straightaway (previously it was a dogleg right). He also dammed Rae’s Creek on the 11th and 16th, greatly enhancing both holes. He was at the height of his prowess at his time; two years later he was brought in to make changes at both the National Golf Links of America and Winged Foot.

DSCF9211-001A young Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

Hansen’s best work is in areas that are lesser known, in particular the creation of the secretive Vidauban course near the French Riviera, which nearly bankrupted Jones. The original concept at Vidauban was to build three golf courses, 3,000 condominiums and two large hotels. Hansen also describes in detail the complicated (and tense) relationships among Jones and his sons Rees and Robert, Jr. Another interesting story Hansen relates is the fact that Jones was present at a Coup d’état attempt on the King of Morocco, who he designed the Royal Dar Es Salaam course for. While he was on the property armed soldiers starting shooting at the palace and captured the King for a period of time. Jones was held by the armed captors during the harrowing event.

Hansen is a professor at Auburn University and wrote a bestselling biography about Neil Armstrong. He covers his subject in depth, and the book fills an important void in the history of golf course architecture, giving detailed insights into someone so well known that most golfers recognize him simply by his initials: RTJ.

Although Jones wrote an autobiography, Golf’s Magnificent Challenge, in 1989, A Difficult Par fills a void in the history of the game and can proudly take its place among the golf course architect biography section of a golfer’s library alongside The Captain, The Toronto Terror, Tillinghast, The Life and Work of Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Tom Morris of St. Andrews and Discovering Donald Ross.

A difficult par was awarded the USGA’s 2014 Herbert Warren Wind Award in recognition of its high standard of achievement in golf literature.

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Tommy Armour – The “Silver Scot”

January 1, 2015

The Scottish born Tommy Armour is responsible for two unique words in the golfer’s vocabulary. Three-time major winner Armour was the first person to coin the phrase the “yips.” His definition was, “A brain spasm that impairs the short game,” and unfortunately it—the word and the affliction—sticks with us today. The Silver Scot worked at a variety of world-class clubs over his career including Westchester Country Club, Medinah and Tam-O’-Shanter. At one point he was teaching at Winged Foot—where he was a long-time member—in the summer and during the winter he served as the pro at the Boca Raton Club.
His three majors were in three different tournaments: The U.S. Open in 1927 at Oakmont, the Open Championship in 1931 at Carnoustie and the PGA Championship, in 1930 at Fresh Meadow in Queens. Armour lost his vision for six months in World War I while serving in the Tank Corps with the Black Watch Highland Regiment. He was caught in a mustard gas attack and later regained vision in his right eye only. The war left many scars on Armour; he also had eight pieces of shrapnel that were never removed from this shoulder.

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 The Silver Scot pictured on the cover of his instructional book

The second word he contributed indirectly—and involuntarily—was at the Shawnee Open in 1927, Armour scored the first ever “Archaeopteryx” (15 or more over par). He made a 23 or 18-over par on a par-five, one of the worst scores for a single hole in tour history. This infamous performance happened just one week after winning the U.S. Open.

When Armour won his 1927 U.S. Open at Oakmont he was the professional at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland, and to celebrate his victory the membership give him a Marmon Roadster as seen below. Has a golf professional ever looked so dapper, wearing white pants, plus fours and a pocket hanky? I think Armour outdoes both Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones, two pretty dapper fellows in their own right.

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Armour pictured in 1927 in front of his Marmon Roadster at Congressional Country Club

Armour’s contribution to the golf library include How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time in 1953 (D & J A9650), A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour in 1959 (D & J A9570) and Tommy Armour’s ABC’s of Golf in 1967 (D & J A9685). All three books are instructional in nature. Although the books sold well, Armour had the misfortune of writing instructional titles at a time when the best in the genre was published, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons. During this period, however, Armour was known as one of the best teachers of the game. There was also a flicker book published about Armour in 1932, Long Iron (D & J A9660), and two small softcovers in the 60s: Play Better Golf: the drive (D & J A9665) and Play Better Golf: the irons (D & J A9670). Books signed by Armour fetch of premium of about $250.00

In his biography of Ben Hogan, James Dodson describes Armour in a rather uncharitable fashion as a “red-faced, heavy-drinking Scotsman who allegedly once hurled his irons in disgust from the Firth of Tay railroad bridge.”

Website of Valuable Book Group, Specialists in golf books

The Greatest Player Who Never Lived

December 18, 2014

The Classics of Golf has just re-released The Greatest Player Who Never Lived, written by J. Michael Veron. We have always recommended the book, as it is one of the best in a difficult genre.

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I was also thrilled to be asked to write the Foreword to the book and as I wrote.” The Greatest Player succeeds in a perilous genre because Veron combines all the key elements in a nuanced way. There is a detailed history that adds significantly to the story without becoming pedantic. It doesn’t hurt that he chooses Bobby Jones and the Masters as a backdrop, subjects of universal appeal. Nor does it hurt that he conjures up an interesting scenario with a down home Southern character. Since lawyers are incapable of writing a mystery without courtroom drama, Veron also includes his own blow-by-blow rendition with a spine tingling finale. Top it off with interesting vignettes about golf during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression, and you have a page turner.”

The book can be purchased on the Classic of Golf website and would make a great gift for Christmas!

The New Confidential Guide to Golf Courses

December 7, 2014

We have come full circle in our newsletter and return for the first time to a book that was previously reviewed. The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses was the subject of our first newsletter in October of 2005; the book has always anchored an important part of the golf library, notably the golf course architecture critique section. Most golf books don’t fit into the “reference” category, but the Confidential Guide does. Owners of the Confidential Guide find, as I do, that the book is pulled from the shelves frequently.

As noted in our original review of the book, there have been multiple versions and editions starting with author Tom Doak’s first effort in 1988, which was printed on a dot-matrix printer and hand-bound. This was followed by a hard cover limited edition of a thousand copies, without pictures in 1994, and finally an all-encompassing standard trade edition in 1996, which included color pictures.

Confidential Guide to Golf - CGG

 After eighteen years, Tom decided it was time for an update and launched a more ambitious undertaking. The newly released edition of the book is the most comprehensive, and includes coverage of scores of new courses, some recently built, and some that have been around for decades. The new edition is so far ranging that it will be issued in five volumes, broken down by different geographic regions. The first of the five was just issued and provides in-depth coverage of Great Britain and Ireland. The philosophy behind breaking the book into smaller and more digestible subjects is to ensure it will be usable, rather than being a big tome sitting on a coffee table.

At 180 pages, the latest edition is much more of a travel guide than the prior editions, although that is not a completely fair description of the book, it remains a useful primer in course architecture and in the history of the game.

The new version of The Confidential Guide is a collaborative effort, and Tom has selected respected and thoughtful partners in the endeavor. In addition to offering his own views—and numerical rankings, based on the Doak Scale of 0 through 10—he also includes the opinions of his three wise men. They are: Ran Morrissett, the founder of Golf Club Atlas, and as Tom rightly points out, Ran is a first-class writer and analyst of golf courses; Masa Nishijima, a writer for golf magazines in Japan and a widely traveled aficionado of golf courses; and Australian Darius Oliver, the creator of the Planet Golf books and Web site, and another insightful observer.

The original Confidential Guide was written when Tom was a brash young architect just starting in the business, and his honest and opinionated views help to define his career and raise his visibility. Since he now runs one of the most successful golf design businesses in the world, with scores of highly acclaimed courses under his belt, some interesting questions arise: Has he mellowed with age, and would he tone down his opinions of courses he didn’t like? Would the same critical eye be used, or would success spoil the man? Would working with three collaborators dilute the effort?

Happily, he has not mellowed and the work is not diluted—it is enhanced by the others. The same sharp, insightful and incisive comments that made the Confidential Guide such a treat all these years is still there, even as he assesses the work of his contemporaries. All four authors rank courses they have seen or played, adding a much deeper dimension to the book, since it offers multiple—and varied—opinions of courses. It also allows for differing viewpoints and serves the purpose of reinforcing courses that are universally acknowledged as the best, such as Carnoustie and Royal Dornoch.

By way of example, Cruden Bay is still ranked very highly (by all four men), and its quirkiness is celebrated. And mercifully, it ranks higher than nearby Trump International, which the book rightly points out has, “…got a long way to go to be the best course in Aberdeen, before he [Trump] worries about conquering the world.” It is nice to see an objective voice which is distinctive from the we-love-every-course-in-the-world reviews that the golf magazines print. I am sure Martin Hawtree is not particularly thrilled with Tom’s comments pointing out certain design elements lacking in the new course, and I give him credit for having the guts to state his opinion and not water down the effort.

Other delightfully quirky aspects of the original books remain including the Gourmet’s Choice of favorite courses of each of the authors; the Gazetteer, an eclectic look at the best of whatever whimsical categories he chooses—including those with the biggest dunes, the most blind shots, schizophrenic courses, etc.

Rounding out the world, future editions will include: Vol. 2: The Americas, and will focus on winter destinations, essentially courses in the South that you can play during the colder months; Vol. 3: The Americas, covering summer destinations, or courses in the north; Vol. 4 will be dedicated to Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Vol. 5 will focus on Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Adding in Masa and Darius will no doubt give these latter important golfing regions more full coverage than they typically receive from golf books published in the United States.

The plan is to issue one new volume roughly every year. If the other four volumes are done with the same quality and care as this first volume, it will be worth the wait.

For the record, the book does contain one course that Tom assigns his dreaded zero rating to, which is, “A course so contrived and unmatched that it may poison your mind, which I cannot recommend under any circumstances.” In case you didn’t grasp that it is not a worthy course, the description of a zero continues, “Reserved for courses that wasted ridiculous sums of money in their construction, and probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place.” Strong stuff. Let the debate begin!

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