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The 25 Best Golf Books Ever

12 TO THE LINKSLAND: A GOLFING ADVENTURE by Michael Bamberger (1992)
Bamberger's quest for the ancient soul of golf reaches its apex on the southwest coast of Scotland, in a speck of a village called Machrihanish. There "the links were sweet with the scent of wild orchids and thyme, commingling with the brackish breath of the ocean and the sweat of a golfer trying to conquer himself." You may feel an urge to book the next flight to Scotland and stay there for several months, as Bamberger and his wife did in 1991. The book's first part describes Bamberger's experience caddying for a resilient journeyman on the European Tour known for his double-follow-through swing, a.k.a. the Whiplash. Then the writer sets off for Scotland, where he learns to hit shots using sound alone, subordinating mechanics to the spiritual pursuit of the perfect whoosh and click. Bamberger is a natural storyteller. The whole book goes whoosh and click. (Out of print; try web sites such as amazon.com and alibris.com)

13 HARVEY PENICK'S LITTLE RED BOOK by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake (1992)
It's tempting to think of Penick, the legendary Austin, Texas, instructor, as the Yoda of golf. Every word that fell from his lips seemed to float directly into the minds of his pupils, who ranged from rank beginners to Lone Star all-stars like Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw. Penick kept things simple and favored metaphors and maxims ("Take dead aim" being the most famous). Meanwhile, during a teaching career that spanned much of the twentieth century, he would jot down in a little red notebook the words and images that seemed to work. He never shared them with anyone except his son, Tinsley, also a teaching pro, until at the age of eighty-seven he decided that that might be a little selfish. Within the 175 plainspoken pages of what became the best-selling sports book of its time can be found, as Dr. Michael Hurdzan says, "every important thing you need to know about the golf swing." Even a proven winner such as Brad Faxon returns to "read it page by page or pick it up, put it down, pick it up again," he says. "Every golfer can learn something from it." (Simon & Schuster, $21)

14 THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED by Mark Frost (2002)
Francis Ouimet's victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club remains the most astonishing upset in sports history. Ouimet, the working-class kid who lived across the street, tied the two great professionals on the seventeenth green of the final round and beat them handily in an eighteen-hole playoff the next day. Frost, a novelist and screenwriter, moves his characters cinematically toward their showdown, bringing an entire era to life and imbuing every detail with a sense of destiny. (Hyperion Press, $30)

15 THE CONFIDENTIAL GUIDE TO GOLF COURSES by Tom Doak (1996)
Doak, a brash Cornell-educated golf architect, shook up a genteel genre with his succinct, irreverent and sometimes withering critiques of 854 courses around the world that he had played or visited (and unabashedly rated on a scale of one to ten). Faxon calls it "one of the most ballsy books ever written." It does take a hefty set of dimples to dismiss a Tom Fazio layout as "absolutely vapid" (White Columns, outside Atlanta) or to take Jack Nicklaus to task for passing off "a fantasyland course on unpromising terrain" as "Scottish-style" (Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista, Florida).

Doak may be grouchy, but he is rarely gratuitous. The Guide, as informative as it is entertaining, contains much more praise than ridicule. Doak quite obviously prefers the traditional yet can acknowledge a course like Tom Fazio's Shadow Creek in Las Vegas as "one of the great man-made wonders of the golfing world." (Sleeping Bear Press, $45)

16 THE BEST OF HENRY LONGHURST by Henry Longhurst, edited by Mark Wilson and Ken Bowden (1978)
Americans who watched the Masters on TV in the '60s and '70s know Henry Longhurst as the wry, frank commentator with the British accent at the sixteenth hole. Americans, however, rarely got to read Longhurst, who wrote a long-running and avidly followed weekly column in the Sunday Times of London. "When it came to writing a thousand fascinating words about golf week after week for years and years, Longhurst was in a class by himself," attested Herbert Warren Wind. Longhurst loved America, American golf and American characters like the devil-may-care Walter Hagen. In a 1949 article, Longhurst recalled sitting in the lounge of a Carnoustie hotel during the 1937 British Open when, at 1:30 in the morning, Hagen walked in with a creel of trout under his arm. "He was lying well up in the championship," Longhurst relates, "but that had not stopped him driving seventy miles for an evening's fishing. He took the fish down to the kitchen, gutted them and solemnly cooked them for his supper." (Out of print; try web sites such as amazon.com and alibris.com)

17 THE DOGGED VICTIMS OF INEXORABLE FATE by Dan Jenkins (1970)
Jenkins can crack you up at any moment on any page with these amazing but true stories about golf and golfers past and present—the present being the 1960s, when Jenkins wrote these pioneering pieces for Sports Illustrated. As Bamberger succinctly puts it, "he was the first American writer to write golf funny, but still seriously." Jenkins tells you things others either don't or won't. With the lightest touch, he can tweak a literary reference—the book's title comes from Bobby Jones—or skewer a sacred cow—"You would like to gather up several holes from Prestwick and mail them to your top ten enemies." (Classics of Golf, $29)

18 THE BADMINTON LIBRARY: GOLF by Horace G. Hutchinson et al (1890)
Long before airplanes and "golf packages," Hutchinson chided the average golfer for barely touching a club between what we would call vacations, then going flat out from dawn to dusk. "Then they launch out into lamentations because they 'cannot get into their game,'" he writes. "Yet what can they expect?" Hutchinson was not only the first Englishman to win the Amateur championship, in 1886, but one of the first great golf writers. ("Badminton" refers to the ancestral home of the Duke of Beaufort, who put out the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes.) Open anywhere and you'll find something handy for the nineteenth hole. (Classics of Golf, $29)

19 GOLFERS' GOLD by Tony Lema with Gwilym S. Brown (1964)
There was nothing bubbly about the boyhood of the future "Champagne" Tony Lema. His father died when he was three, leaving his mother to raise four kids in a gritty part of Oakland, California. This book is the plainspoken history of one talented but tempestuous young man's ascent into the pro ranks. It is also a detailed picture of life on the Tour in the late '50s and early '60s: the pecking order, the psychology, the ease with which a golfer could sink into debt while his agent turned a profit, and much else. Looming over the book, which concludes with the '63 season, is the reader's knowledge of what lay ahead for Lema. He began to win more—four tournaments in 1964, including the British Open at St. Andrews, two more in '65—before dying at thirty-two in a chartered plane, which crashed and burned on the seventh hole of a golf course in Indiana. (Classics of Golf, $29)

20 THE SPIRIT OF ST. ANDREWS by Dr. Alister MacKenzie (1995)
MacKenzie, the mastermind behind Cypress Point and Augusta National, wrote this volume in 1933, the year before his death. Though it wasn't published until 1995, the wait was worth it. "Alister codified the basic principles of course design," says Hurdzan, no slouch on the subject. MacKenzie also discusses shot making, players such as Jones and Hagen, and why he gave up medicine for golf: "How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorstep to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting room again." Amen. (Sleeping Bear Press, $25)

21 GOLF MY WAY by Jack Nicklaus (1974)
Think of this as Jack's PhD dissertation on every shot in his repertoire. It's definitely golf his way—the upright plane, the powerful leg drive, the high controlled fade—but Nicklaus acknowledges that his style isn't for everybody, and his explications are so lucid (give credit to co-author Ken Bowden) that you learn a great deal whether you choose to emulate him or not. He also re-creates crucial shots of his career and perceptively analyzes the swings of his predecessors and opponents. (Fireside, $15)

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