What is the most influential golf book ever published? For the last several years we have been compiling a list to find out; a bold undertaking, you might say.
Our approach is more eclectic than scientific, but we believe it yields some interesting insights. We have polled various learned members of the golf community, both living and deceased, to see which books mattered most. For those still in the present we asked a simple question, “What golf book has had the most influence on you?”
Among the twenty-five respondents, we have tried to include a cross-section of experts with a variety of disciplines in order to get a balanced view, including:
- Legends of the game – Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson
- Journalists – Lorne Rubenstein, Geoff Shackelford, John Derr
- Golf book authors – Jim Finegan, David Owen, Daniel Wexler, Bradley S. Klein
- Golf book publishers and editors – Brian Lewis, Darius Oliver, Robin McMillian
- Golf course architects – Donald Steel, Mike Hurdzan
- Museums – Michael Trostel, curator U.S.G.A. museum
- Instructors – Jim McLean, Hank Haney
For those no longer with us we scoured the literature and looked for mentions and references to books noted. We used quite an illustrious list including Bobby Jones, Herbert Warren Wind, Henry Longhurst, Joe Murdoch and John Updike.
Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons
The most influential book—one that received over twenty-five percent of unprompted mentions—was Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, which has been influential since it was published in 1957 and continues to be a useful reference even today (especially if you don’t want to hook the ball). Five Lessons received kudos from not only some of the best teachers in the game, but also from professionals and publishers alike. The most valuable and collectible golf books tend not to be instructional and are often times overlooked (by yours truly as well), so it was a bit of a surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have been based on the book’s longevity as an actively published title and its simple approach. It also isn’t surprising if you look at “self-help” books as a killer category today; if you still actually go into bricks-and-mortar book stores notice how much shelf space is devoted to them in all subject areas.
Hogan shares credit for the book with Herbert Warren Wind and Anthony Ravielli, who did the great illustrations. The book is an expanded version of a series of articles that first appeared in Sports Illustrated.
I bought a first edition of the book after compiling this list and read through it. Hogan states in the opening paragraph that one of the best shots he ever hit was the 2-iron in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion to get into a playoff. He says, “I didn’t hit that shot then – that late afternoon at Merion. I’d been practicing that shot since I was 12 years old.” Therein lies one of Ben’s secrets, which is to practice until it hurts. To emphasize the point he even includes an illustration of where your hands should develop calluses from practice!
In our world of instant gratification, where there is a desire for immediate results in all pursuits, how is it a 57-year-old book that encourages you to practice so hard you get calluses is perennially one of the best sellers in the golf category on Amazon? Because what makes the game so fascinating is the difficulty of mastering it and as the title states the fundamentals don’t change.
Five Lessons was published in both a standard trade edition (D & J H19690) and a deluxe edition with a protective slipcase (D & J H19660) by A.S. Barnes. Bolstering the case for Five Lessons being the most influential, Donovan & Jerris state that it had the largest first edition press run of any sports book ever published, with an impressive 200,000 copies in the initial printing.
There were eight additional books that were quite influential and we highlight them below.
Other influential books
Down the Fairway by Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler (1927) was mentioned by five respondents, given it the highest number of mentions among biographies, which will come as no surprise to my knowledgeable readers. Those mentioning Down the Fairway as having a big influence on them include Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Herbert Warren Wind.
Bobby Jones pictured in his auto-biography Down the Fairway
Of the fifty-nine different books mentioned, Herbert Warren Wind’s The Story of American Golf (1948) also had twenty percent of respondents—five—mentioning it, making it a very influential book, likely the most influential history. Wind also had the most overall mentions to his books, not surprising to me.
There were two books mentioned four times: a strong case can be made that Thomas’s Golf Architecture (1927) is the most influential book in the architecture category; and there is no disputing that C.B. Macdonald’s Scotland’s Gift (1928) made a major contribution to the game. There were four books mentioned three times and fifteen books mentioned twice. Five of the top eight books mentioned were published during the 1920s; not only was it the Golden Age of golf course architecture, it was also a Golden Age of golf writing.
Books receiving three mentions
- The Spirit of St. Andrews by Alister Mackenzie (1995)
- Golf Architecture by Alister Mackenzie (1920)
- Following Through by Herbert Warren Wind (1985)
- The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse (1922)
Among the more interesting responses was one from Gary Player, who mentioned The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peele, published in 1952, as the most influential book that has helped him at golf. I was intrigued by the selection and bought a copy to read, and I must say it was pretty inspirational with its very sunny faith-based outlook.
Respondents were not limited to one book and many mentioned more than one. To see the complete list of responses by individual you can look here: http://www.serious-collector.com/Influential_Golf_Books.html.
We will continue to poll various members of the golf world and update our website accordingly as responses are received. We would also like to hear your views on what you think the most influential golf book published was.