Nine More Must Read Golf Books

By Tom Abts

I started the year off with a Tee Time column of nine must read golf books. Well, that was the front nine. Here’s the back nine – of nine must read golf books:

* PURE GOLF by Johnny Miller
* THE MATCH by Mark Frost
* THE LITTLE RED BOOK by Harvey Pennick
* SIR WALTER by Tom Clavin
* THE SPIRIT OF ST. ANDREWS by Alister MacKenzie
* IT’S ONLY A GAME by Jackie Burke
* A GOOD WALK SPOILED by John Feinstein

We have to start with “The Greatest Game Ever Played” by Mark Frost. Frost has two books in this list – and they’re both must read. But this book is the story of young Francis Ouimet, a 20 year old caddie from the wrong side of the tracks in Boston, who beats superstar golf professional Harry Vardon to win the US Open. It’s a real life “Rocky” story and it changed golf in America. The movie is good but the book is better.

As much as Francis Ouimet did for American golf, Walter Hagen did even more. “Sir Walter” by Tom Clavin captures the personality that changed the image of the American Golf Professional. Hagen should be the Patron Saint of the PGA – club pros and tour pros. A little known fun fact – Hagen almost won the Open that Ouimet did and his victory would have been almost as shocking.

Sir Walter played exhibitions against Bobby Jones – as was romantically portrayed in the movie “Bagger Vance”. They were two different cats, but both very good players and very good for golf. Their match in Florida in 1926 was the equivalent of a heavy weight boxing championship. Jones retired from golf after winning the Grand Slam in 1930, and devoted his life to the Augusta National Golf Club. But, the man who really ran Augusta National was Clifford Roberts. Roberts tells all about it in “The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club”. From the first Masters in 1934 until today – the Masters is why Augusta National exists. The story behind the club and the Masters is necessary for an understanding of the American golf scene.

The golf course architect of Augusta National was Alister MacKenzie. MacKenzie is the author of “The Spirit of St. Andrews”. MacKenzie was a medical doctor who believed that he could do more good for people designing golf courses than in his medical practice. This book is really a treat for those who love history and the root of things. MacKenzie has chapters on The Evolution of Golf, and Ideal Holes and Golf Courses. His final chapter – Some Thoughts on Golf – is gold to those of us who share his worldview. Here are some of his thoughts “The only reason for the existence of golf and other games is that they promote the health, pleasure and even the prosperity of the community.” and “Health and happiness are everything in this world. Money grubbing, so-called business, except insofar as it helps to attain this, is of minor importance.”

An American who shared much of the same attitudes as the Scotsman MacKenzie, was Harvey Penick. His book “The Little Red Book” is the best selling golf instruction book of all time. It features a blend of simple wisdom, sound golf instruction, and good common sense. A must read.

Another Texas golf legend – Jackie Burke, Jr – wrote “It’s Only a Game”. The title is misleading – golf has been Burke’s life. At 92, he’s still at Champions Golf Club in Houston almost every day – the club that he and Jimmy Demaret founded in 1954. Burke was a great player – a Master’s champion – and a great teacher. In fact, he reiterates Harvey Penick’s famous line of “Take dead aim” when about to hit a golf shot.

Another all-around golf legend is Johnny Miller. Miller has been the best television golf commentator for the past few decades. Many people don’t know that Miller was a fantastic player – his final round 63 to win the US Open at Oakmont might be the best round ever played. He also has unbelievable knowledge and insight into the golf swing. His book “Pure Golf” is straightforward and genius. I can’t believe how it flies under the radar.

The PGA Tour basically started with Walter Hagen, then grew with Hogan and Snead and Nelson … but really took off with Arnold Palmer and television. John Feinstein spent more than a year on the PGA Tour and helps you understand the complex mix of psychology, group dynamics, and political pressures that make athletes tick. He’s a great storyteller that gets you into the heads and hearts of the champions and strugglers. Though Mark Twain’s famous assessment of golf rings true “A Good Walk Spoiled” is a book that even Twain would enjoy.

I started this review with a book by Mark Frost and am ending it with a book by Mark Frost – “The Match”. The match the book refers to is between professional golfers Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson versus amateur golfers Ken Venturi and Harvey Ward. Unlike the Hagen – Jones matches, this match was held under the radar. But the significance was almost as important as Hagen vs. Jones.

All of these books deal with the magic of golf – amateur or professional, teacher or historian, club manager or tournament chairman. They all capture the unique charm and magic that is golf.