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.

Kings Library Buckingham-001

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


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.


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.

18th fwy back
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.

mair muirfield

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.

muirfield pottinger

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.

mair hceg

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.


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.

first golf in the kingdom

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).

Golf in the Kingdom

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.


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.”


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.


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


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.

Royal North Devon


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.



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.



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.

velvet touch

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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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