Mark Twain once famously remarked that "Golf is a good walk spoiled." Harsh words perhaps, but there's no denying that, as sports go, this one is singularly exasperating. Nevertheless, each day people travel to their local greens in search of new adventures. According to the National Golf Foundation, over 26 million players took to nearly 17,000 courses last year. Instead of Mike, many people would rather "be like Tiger."
At the end of a vigorous round, golfers like nothing better than to gather at the clubhouse, the 19th hole, to regale each other with stories of their exploits on the course. Like fishermen, they compare gear, swap tall tales and continually try to one-up each other. If your favorite golfer needs material for these clubhouse confabs, the season's best golf books offer many gift-giving possibilities.
At the top of every golfer's wish list is the blockbuster golf book of the year, Tiger Woods' How I Play Golf. With help from the editors of Golf Digest, Woods has compiled a thorough treatise on the basic aspects of the game, from putting to smoking the driver. As all duffers know, half the game is mental, so Woods also offers tips on how to handle problems, how to stay in control and how to practice winning psychology. Woods is known for his tireless approach to training, and he shares insights on that subject as well. The volume is loaded with helpful step-by-step color photographs of Tiger's techniques and text that is neither too technical nor too patronizing.
The problem with books written by sports superstars is the false expectation that reading them might actually make one as good as the author. But keeping the title in mind how Tiger plays golf will help maintain a sense of perspective about the benefits of reading this excellent guide.
A different kind of instruction can be found in The Golfer's Guide to the Meaning of Life: Lessons I've Learned from My Life on the Links by Gary Player. Rather than micro-managing your game by telling you how to stand or grip the clubs, Player, one of the troika of golf greats that included Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, discusses issues that usually receive less consideration: success, gratitude, fear, sportsmanship, motivation, goals and change.
Player is a firm believer in doing things the right way. He recalls a time when he could have gotten away with a minor rules infraction. Instead, he reported his innocent error and was disqualified from a tournament he easily could have won. "If I had not turned myself in, I would have had to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that I had cheated. . . . Much better is the feeling I have today that even though I left a trophy and check behind . . . I still have my dignity and honor."
Player's focus isn't on learning the techniques of the game, but rather on what the game has taught him about life. "[Golf] leaves us no choice but to accept the good with the bad and to move on to the next shot. . . . That's the way life is, and the grand old game of golf will never let you forget it."
While Player has been around the course a time or two, Darren Kilfara is a relative rookie. A student at Harvard, he somehow convinced the history department that a year in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, would be beneficial to his studies. They fell for it, and Kilfara was off to St. Andrews. His sports-driven coming-of-age story is told with appealing style and insight in A Golfer's Education.
It's easy to see how readers might find themselves a bit jealous of Kilfara, who uses his year abroad to play as much golf as he can while earning academic credit. Along the way he manages to learn life lessons from the everyday people he meets in the quaint towns of Scotland (including a new love interest). Part travelogue and part memoir, Kilfara's book paints such a charming picture of his temporary home that some readers might be tempted to book their own passage to play a few rounds on the bonnie shores.
Ron Kaplan is a freelance writer who lives a good "drive" away from the Montclair Country Club in New Jersey.