ONE of the best things about golf is the unmatched and undoubted quality of the literature that surrounds it. Quite apart from this column - stop giggling at the back - our national sport has provoked and provided more erudition than football, cricket and rugby put together. The bigger the ball, the smaller is the library.
Times are admittedly not what they were, but the work penned by the likes of Henry Longhurst, Bernard Darwin, Charles Price and Pat Ward-Thomas continues to resonate today alongside the more contemporary words of Dan Jenkins, Dai Davies, Norman Mair and my own particular favourite, Tom Callahan of Golf Digest.
Four more recently published books can be added to that list of recommended reads.
Golfing Days by Phil Sheldon: While it is almost certain that there are golf photographers out there who are as good as the vastly experienced Sheldon, it says here that there are none better. The evidence is in this beautifully presented volume of the great man’s work over the last three decades or so.
There are ten chapters, each packed with memorable, eye-catching examples of his craft. The best, I think, is on the Ryder Cup. No surprise there. The biennial contest between Europe and the US routinely puts on public display almost every possible human emotion. In other words, it is photographer’s heaven.
The great moments are all here, of course. Sam Torrance’s ‘V-sign’ to the world after holing the winning putt in 1985; Paul McGinley’s record vertical leap, - surely a world record - after his own winning putt, 18 years later; and Bernhard Langer missing that putt to tie the matches in 1991 at Kiawah Island.
But Sheldon does more than merely record history. He has the eye for the unusual, the humorous and the sad, all of which the Ryder Cup has in abundance. This is a great record of some great work.
Life Swings - the autobiography by Nick Faldo: Whatever you think of him - and every golfer has an opinion - there is little doubt that the six-time major champion and surely Britain’s best-ever player is interesting. Not in the way Steve Davis is interesting/dull, but absorbing for the connoisseur and neophyte alike.
All of which makes this supposed account of the Faldo life and times on and off the fairways a sure-fire bestseller. For the hardcore golfer there are all those shots struck at the most important times in all the world’s top events. And for the more prurient amongst you there is the Faldo side of all those controversial moments involving other players, the ever-present press and more than a few women and wives.
Well, that last bit may be going a bit far. Disappointingly for those of a tabloid persuasion, this volume seems to have been ‘lawyered’ almost to the point of extinction. While Faldo may just be using discretion as a means of protecting both himself and the innocent, for whatever reason much of what has provoked his more salacious banner headlines over the years receives short shrift in these pages.
As you’d expect, the great man is more comfortable when the talk is of the golf and nothing but the golf. And he does manage to strike one moment of long overdue correctness when he apologises to David Gilford, the foursome partner he barely acknowledged during the ’91 matches at Kiawah Island. For all that though, a true picture of Nick Faldo has yet to be penned. And probably never will be, given the laws of libel in this country.
My Life by Peter Alliss: An admission here: I like Peter Alliss. I like his commentary style too. I don’t want facts and numbers from all of my men in the booth. Golf isn’t just about stats despite what the Americans may say. (Hands up all of you who know that Scott Verplank led the PGA Tour this year in ‘left rough tendency’. Thought so). For me, the Alliss flights of fancy are much more in keeping with the naturally slow rhythm of the game. Golf gives you time to mentally wander and no-one wanders mentally better than an inveterate yipper - hence his car number plate: PUT 3.
This book is written in the same disarming style that has seen Alliss make the transition from near-great player - but for his consistently bloody awful putting - to great commentator. It rambles rather like a Ronnie Corbett monologue and is none the less charming for it.
There are serious moments too. Alliss writes movingly - with brutal honestly - about the trauma he and his wife suffered when their daughter Victoria was born mentally handicapped. Alliss did not react well to such misfortune and does not spare himself in the telling of the saddest chapter of his endlessly eventful life.
The Pocket Guide to golf courses in Spain and Portugal: There have been many of these books written over the years and almost every one has contained nothing more than what Peter Alliss would call ‘bollocks’. All too often the author has been treated to a series of freebie trips to whatever exotic locale is on the cover and basically been bribed to pen the most outrageous nonsense about what invariably turns out to be the most appalling goat tracks.
This book is different. For one, the most famous of the three authors is former European Tour pro Greg Turner, a man for whom the subject of golf course architecture is almost a crusade. As an example of his passion, he once walked off the truly dreadful Celtic Manor course near Newport after only a few holes of his opening practice round and withdrew from the upcoming Wales Open. He did not cite a fictitious injury in order to avoid the inevitable fine; instead he told a truth that cost him 250.
That same capacity for veracity is obvious in this first of what will be a series of books (Ireland is next, followed by Scotland). Not only is each course rated, so is every hole, using a traffic light system where red is weak, yellow is average and green is strong. The only exception is a ‘gold’ hole, one so good it is worth visiting the course just to play it.
The same can be said for this book; if the blunt truth rather than bland marketing jargon is what you are after, it is definitely a gold.