Pre-1900 Golf Books published in the U.S.

Originally published November 2007 

Last month’s newsletter on The Golfer’s Alphabet got us thinking about golf books that were published in the United States prior to 1900. This month, we survey the field of golfing literature and focus on these rare books. To put the game in the U.S. in the proper historical context, it is important to remember that the U.S.G.A. was formed in 1894 and the game was only in its infancy here.

We began our survey by referring back to Donovan & Murdoch’s The Game of Golf and The Printed Word, which organizes its listing of golf books into, let us say, quirky time periods. For our purposes this proved quite useful, since we focused our efforts on The Gutta Percha Period, which was from 1851-1900.

As it turns out, only a dozen golf books were published in the United States prior to 1900.

Year Book Author D&M #
1893 Spalding’s Athletic Library: Golf Balfour, J. Stuart 580
1895 Golf in AmericaGolf and Golfing (2nd edition) Lee, James P 3350 & 3360
c1895 Golf: A Handbook for Beginners Dwight, James 1090
1897 How to Play Golf Whigham, H.J. 4600
1898 The Golfer’s Alphabet Sutphen, William 4450
1898 The Golficide and other Tales of the Fair Green Sutphen, William 4470
1898 An A.B.C. of Golf Falls, D.W.C. 4560
1898 The Amateur Championship Golf Competition at the Morris County Golf Club Kip, Charles A. 3250
1898 Through the Greens and Golfer’s Year Book, Philadelphia Section; containing the field maps and official data of the prominent golf clubs and association for 1898, with supplementary map of the Morris County Links Senat, Prosper 3840
1898 Keep Your Eye on the Ball and Your Right Knee Stiff…A Short and concise treatise on Golf Sweny, H.R. 4500
1899 The Golf Girl Peck, Samuel 3710
1899 Drives and Puts Camp, Walter and Brooks, Lillian 780

 Why is it that Lee’s Golf in America is generally recognized as the first golf book published in America? Technically, it is; with two caveats. Hutchinson’s Golf: The Badminton Library was first published in Great Britain by Longmans, Green. The U.S. Edition, issued by Little Brown in 1890, five years before Golf in America, arguably, is a reprint of a non-U.S. title and therefore not an American book. The second caveat would be with regard to two earlier titles published in wrappers. Spalding’s Athletic Library, which predates Golf in America by two years is 24. James Dwight’s Golf: A Handbook For Beginners, was published without a date, but Donovan & Murdoch give a circa 1895 date. This publication is 82 pages. Since these two books were printed in wrappers and Lee’s is a hardbound book, it is generally recognized as the first true American golf book published.                                                            

For the record, there were three editions of books published in the United Kingdom prior to 1900 that also printed editions for the U.S: 

1890 Golf: The Badminton Library Hutchinson, Horace 2990
1898 Golf Smith, Garden 3930
1898 A Golfing Pilgrim on Many Links Hutchinson, Horace 2920

Morris Country Golf Club 

It’s interesting that two of the pre-1900 books published reference the Morris Country Golf Club, located in Morristown, New Jersey, a stone’s throw from the U.S.G.A. headquarters.

The Amateur Championship Golf Competition at the Morris County Golf Club is a rare bird indeed. Donovan and Murdoch indicate that it was printed in a limited edition of 100 copies and it is a hardcover, has 58 pages, with the preface written by Van Tassel Sutphen. We could find no auction records or record of a previous sale, nor could we find a copy in the U.S.G.A. Library.

 The 1898 Philadelphia Section Through the Greens, contains a supplement (actually the supplement is the frontispiece) featuring Morris County, is also exceedingly rare. When Joseph Murdoch auctioned off his golf library in 1998, this book sold for $4,600. The same copy of the book, put up for auction again ten years later, fetched $16,100. Is it one of a kind? 

Instructional Advice 

How to Play Golf by H.J. Whigham was the first instructional book published in the U.S.  It proved very popular, was printed in several editions and is the most ubiquitous of all the pre-1900 books published. 




 Next time you go out to play, try the advice given by H.R. Sweny in his 1898 book, which was privately printed in Albany, New York. Keep Your Eye on the Ball and Your Right Knee Stiff and let us know how you make out. Our bet is, his advice will be of little help, however, if you can get your hands on a copy of the book, it’s also very rare. The last copy seen sold at auction (pba galleries image above), ten years ago, went for $2,300.

Valuable Book Group’s website

About valuablebook

Valuable Book Group specializes in rare, collectible and valuable golf books. We are avid collectors ourselves obsessed not only with playing the game, but also its history and the literature of the game.

One comment

  1. Hello,

    I am hoping someone here can offer some help. I am currently writing a book about the history of a significant tract of land in Mendham, NJ. One of the early owners of the property was Mr. Richard H. Williams who would be listed on the Greens Committee for the 1898 yearbook for the Morris County, NJ Golf Club. I have searched high and low for a photo of this man with no success to date. I am hopeful someone here can perhaps steer me in the right direction. Thank you very much!

    Rick Pressl

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