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Ireland, Entirely

With the publication seven years ago of Legendary Golf Clubs of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, Anthony Edgeworth, who took the pictures, and John de St. Jorre, who wrote the text, began to redefine what a great golf picture book could be. I remember opening that book (disclaimer: Edgeworth is an old friend) and exclaiming to myself: My goodness, what have we here!

What most provoked my surprise and excitement was a spread of pages devoted to Swinley Forest, an English club so exclusive (the Duke of York plays there) and discreet that genial gossip maintains that members have trouble finding the driveway. Even had the pictures been so-so and the text banal—and both were demonstrably neither—the mere fact that Edgeworth had been able to prevail on the membership of such a club to give him the run of its rooms and grounds with his camera proclaimed that this could be a very special addition to the literature and art of the greatest game on and of the earth.

That first volume was followed in 2003 by Legendary Golf Clubs of the American East, which swept the reader north from Seminole and Yeamans Hall to Pine Valley, Merion and Oakmont, the great courses of eastern Long Island (further disclaimer: I'm in a photo taken at one of these), through Boston and up farther into New England. This second volume confirmed as fact what I had largely inferred from its predecessor: Its authors were not only wise in the ways of clubs—their images and words truly captured and conveyed both the special pleasures these places deliver to members and visitors and the unique feeling of place that is the overwhelmingly distinctive feature of a fine golf venue—but they understood the game both socially and topographically, and therefore why people play golf, why they love it and how to put that across in pictures and words.

Now comes Legendary Golf Links of Ireland, and I have no hesitation in declaring it to be Edgeworth's and de St. Jorre's noblest effort yet, worthy of comparison in all significant artistic qualities with Bernard Darwin's and Harry Rountree's Golf Courses of the British Isles, published almost a century ago (1910), and equally entitled as the Darwin-Rountree classic to space in any golf library that claims to be serious.

The great links of Ireland, even more so than those of Scotland, suggest that if God had elected a profession other than deity, he could surely have made it as a golf architect. There is a magical, natural, divine aspect to these Irish courses that one feels as much as sees. Another factor, which Edgeworth's photographs perfectly get: In Ireland, one feels the nearness, the presence of the sea more dramatically—you might say viscerally—than on comparable Scottish or English links. It's always there, frequently ferocious, always breathtaking.

Edgeworth and de St. Jorre have caught the land and the water and the folk of Irish golf towns in all their variety. The famous places are here, of course: Newcastle (Royal County Down), Ballybunion, Lahinch, Portmarnock, Portrush (although not such newer layouts as Old Head). But I found myself returning over and over to the chapters on links I barely know of, like Carne and Ballyliffin, and wondering if I will some day get there—and finding unendurable the thought I may not ever participate in the kind of rhapsodic golfing happiness Edgeworth captures in the lilt of blown grasses, the seductive sulk of a rainy sky, the body language of golfers fighting the wind and loving every second of it. To be led, as one is by this volume, along a path that winds between the known and the unknown, between sweet recollection and exultant speculation, is a tremendous readerly experience.


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