How many golf writers get dust jacket blurbs from two U.S. Presidents? Both Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower endorsed Joe Kirkwood’s biography The Links of Life. Eisenhower says, “My golf game shows the benefit of his magic touch.” Kirkwood’s story was published in 1973 and written by Barbara Fey (Donovan & Jerris K7210).
Kirkwood was one of golf’s more interesting characters. Best know as a trick-shot artist who toured the world with Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, Kirkwood was born in Australia in 1897. Kirkwood started entertaining injured soldiers after World War I. He says that he learned to hit trick shots with the use of just one arm or leg to offer encouragement to injured soldiers who were missing limbs.
Kirkwood won both the Australian and New Zealand Opens in 1920 and finished in the top ten in the Open Championship four times. Shortly after emigrating to the U.S. he played in the North-South Open, which was a very prestigious tournament at that time and still played on sand greens. As luck would have it, he was paired with Walter Hagen, thus beginning one of golf’s great partnerships.
Kirkwood traveled widely and the book recounts visits to exotic lands such as Singapore, South Africa, India, Ceylon, Rangoon, Java, Burma, Japan and China. In an impressive feat of stamina Kirkwood did 105 exhibitions in 109 days. In the days before big money purses on the tour it was a good source of income. Kirkwood was one of the most widely traveled golfers of all time and he states in the book that he played over 8,000 courses around the globe.
The centerpiece and one of the most interesting parts of the book is a 36 page black and white photo spread showing Kirkwood all over the world. Below is a photo of Kirkwood hitting a golf ball that is teed up in a woman’s mouth.
He apparently also had a penchant for topless women. There are six shots in the book of women without tops on taken in Bali and Africa. In one of them, Kirkwood is giving a lesson and has his hands all over the woman! As he describes it, “To say that it was hard to concentrate would be putting it mildly. Her gorgeous body gleamed in the sunlight, and watching her put to use my instruction was a study in anatomy – hers and mine.”
In 1930, Joe Kirkwood and Walter Hagen went to Japan at the invitation of the Japan Golf Association and played ten exhibition matches. After their visit, golf started to take off there, with thirty courses built in the next few years. One of the best pictures in the book is one of Kirkwood and Hagen in Japan in 1930 with Japanese woman standing behind them in traditional clothing and umbrellas. Kirkwood is seen below with Walter Hagen outside a hotel in Japan.
The book includes some fabulous pictures of Kirkwood and Hagen racing around the pyramids in Egypt in 1937 riding camels. Kirkwood was quite a celebrity in his day and did exhibitions for the Prime Minister of Australia, the Emperor of Japan in the Imperial Garden and for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Links of Life is a quirky and very interesting biography, I imagine, just like the man.