22 MY USUAL GAME by David Owen (1995)
Owen first roasts the game ("Golf is to sports as dentistry is to medicine"), then rescues it, introducing his eighteen "objective virtues" of golf: "I will list them, so that the thoughtful golfer can refer to them easily, perhaps while arguing with his wife." Among other places, Owen takes you to Myrtle Beach, where "obsessive viewing of the Weather Channel is the closest thing . . . to an organized religion." His profile of Ping founder Karsten Solheim is perhaps the best ever written. (Main Street Books, $19)
23 HOGAN by Curt Sampson (1996)
Ben Hogan's mystique fed on a piercing stare that earned him the nickname "Hawk"; a bristly attitude toward the press; and a walled-off intensity on the practice tee. "If you must know Ben Hogan," writes Sampson, a fellow Texan, "you have to get your knowledge the way he got his—dig it out of the ground." And dig he did. Especially rich is Sampson on Hogan's early years. The boy known as Bennie was nine when his father, Chester, a blacksmith, shot and killed himself. Bennie found he could earn sixty-five cents toting a golf bag, and Sampson makes you feel how deeply the taut, taciturn Hogan must have burned to beat one of the other caddies in the yard—a tall, perpetually sunny fellow named Byron Nelson. Hogan shows why the Hogan mystique endures. (Pocket Books, $25)
24 THE GAME WITH THE HOLE IN IT by Peter Dobereiner (1973)
Within this hard-to-find volume are chapters titled "Our Mother, That Sad Old Bitch" (a reference to—gasp!—the Old Course, in a survey of architecture), "Golf Clubs and How Not to Throw Them" (a critique of the mumbo jumbo of manufacturers' equipment claims) and "Trembling on the Lip" (putting and its discontents). Dobereiner's dry wit was always ready to flare like a match to his pipe. In "March of the Gladiators," a chapter on the nature of tournament pressure, he declares, "Golf is the loneliest of all games, not excluding postal chess." (Out of print; try alibris.com)
25 THE CLUBMAKER'S ART: ANTIQUE GOLF CLUBS AND THEIR HISTORY by Jeffery B. Ellis (1997)
The heavyweight champion of illustrated golf books—literally. At 576 pages, immaculately printed, Ellis's self-published ten-year "labor of love" weighs in at more than eight pounds. Only 4,900 copies were produced. (One was recently offered on amazon.com, used, for four hundred dollars.) The book's eight hundred color photographs vividly display the imagination and finesse of the old golf-club artisans, who turned hickory, leather, brass and glue into objects that were, as Rand Jerris says, at once "exquisitely wrought works of sculpture and splendid instruments."
Can't find it?Last year Ellis came out with The Golf Club. It too is stunningly photographed, and extends the survey into the metal-shaft era. (Zephyr Productions, $45)
COFFEE TABLE CLASSICS
• The Golden Age of Golf Design by Geoff Shackelford (1999) Vintage photographs argue for the supremacy of the 1910-1937 period. (Sleeping Bear Press, $65)
• Golf by Design by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1993) How to play better by thinking like an architect. (Little Brown, $40)
• Golf Course Designs by Tom Fazio with Cal Brown (2000) The supreme aesthetician's work. (Abrams, $45)
• The Great Golf Courses of America by John Gordon and Michael French (1997) Exquisite photos. (Firefly, $30)
• Selected Golf Courses, Volume 1 by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry (2003) Panoramic photos. (Hurdzan/Fry, $75)
• The Ultimate Golf Book edited by Charles McGrath and David McCormick (2002) A big title to justify, but it delivers. (Houghton Mifflin, $40)
• Uneven Lies by Pete McDaniel (2000) An essential history of African-Americans and golf. (The American Golfer, $50)
• Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella with Bob Cullen (1995) The Rotella franchise began here with patient counsel on the sources of confidence and concentration, the bugaboo of self-consciousness and the all-important need to transcend misfortune by embracing it. (Simon & Schuster, $22)
• The Golf Swing by David Leadbetter (1990) His first book, still the definitive guide to the full swing. If you set up and load the way Leadbetter recommends, you'll be rewarded with the true sensation of the dog wagging the tail. (Dutton, $30)
• How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time by Tommy Armour (1953) The Silver Scot won three majors, but he is best remembered as a teacher. His clear and simple instructions helped countless golfers. (Classics of Golf, $29)
• How to Play Links Golf by Martin Davis, Colin Montgomerie and Donald Steel (2001) Worth getting just for the color photo sequences of Monty at Turnberry demonstrating an arsenal of chips, punches and bunker escapes. (The American Golfer, $50)
• The Rules of the Green: A History of the Rules of Golf by Kenneth G. Chapman (1997) By examining why and how golf's rules evolved, Chapman opens up a whole new way to understand and appreciate the game. (Triumph Books, $35)
GEORGE PLIMPTON, 1927-2003
Last September 25, George Plimpton, who had agreed to be on our panel, gave me a call. He couldn't download the master list I had e-mailed him, or, as he put it, "My ancient machine has balked at the attachment." Alas, we never got his thoughts—he died later that day. But as with most sporting propositions, the author of Paper Lion, Shadow Box and The Bogey Man (number eleven on our list) had been up for it: "It's odd that you called," he said when I first contacted him. "I was just rereading a story I wrote twenty-odd years ago about Bernard Darwin. Did you know Darwin got himself booted from the Cambridge College newspaper for 'gross partiality' in his, of course, incredibly unbiased coverage of the Cambridge/Oxford golf competitions?" No, George, I didn't. But thanks for that, and for so much more. Sportswriting will never be the same.
• Peter Alliss won three British PGA Championships and played on eight Ryder Cup teams. He has designed more than fifty courses and is the author of twenty books, most recently Golf Heroes.
• Michael Bamberger, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, has caddied on the pro Tour on both sides of the Atlantic and is the author of To the Linksland: A Golfing Adventure (number twelve on the list).
• Brad Faxon had his best earnings year on the Tour in 2003, winning $2,718,445 (tenth place), with eight top-ten finishes. Faxon is also an avid reader and collector of golf books.
• Dr. Michael Hurdzan has designed 250 courses in North America. A collector of vintage golf clubs, Hurdzan also has one of the world's largest golf libraries.
• Rand Jerris is director of the USGA Museum and archives at Golf House in Far Hills, New Jersey, which stores virtually every golf book ever published.
• Stephen Kay, one of America's top golf architects, teaches at the Turfgrass Management Program at Rutgers University.
• Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harper's for more than twenty-five years, is the author of numerous books of essays, including, most recently, 30 Satires.
• Charles McGrath is a former editor of the New York Times Book Review (1995 to 2003) and is now a writer at large for the paper. McGrath is also the co-editor of The Ultimate Golf Book.
• John Paul Newport is T+L GOLF's senior contributing editor and the author of The Fine Green Line: My Year of Adventure on the Pro-Golf Mini-Tours.