Perhaps for the first time in its centuries-long history, golf has become, well, sexy. The recent exploits of Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam have brought the subtly challenging, grand old game into broader focus for American sports fans. Woods' otherworldly abilities on the green, along with his celebrity status, have boosted golf's TV ratings. Small wonder, then, that spring and summer have brought with them a bounty of new books offering insight into the culture and development of this fascinating pastime. Whether you play the sport or prefer to observe it from the sidelines, tee-up with one of the following titles and get a new angle on the game.
On the courseWorld-class sportswriter John Feinstein delivers the book with the broadest social scope, with his Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black (Little, Brown, $25.95, 416 pages, ISBN 0316170038), a wide-ranging account of the 2002 U. S. Open. Focusing on the efforts to bring this prestigious event, for the first time in its history, to a municipal golf course, Feinstein probes the personalities of a small but dedicated group who had long sought to transform Long Island's Bethpage public facility into a showplace for one of golf's signature tournaments. The 7,214-yard course was known to be an athletic challenge, but it took years to ready it for the Open, not only for the big-name players who would compete but also for the thousands of fans who would attend. From a security standpoint, these tasks were made even more difficult since the 2002 Open was the first to take place after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in nearby New York City. With characteristic insight and knowledge, Feinstein covers the various trails that lead his diverse cast of characters United States Golf Association executives, TV broadcasters, course officials, politicians to Bethpage, with interesting side trips to regional qualifiers and into the lives of the pros who would eventually endure what turned out to be a rain-plagued but ultimately successful Open. (Tiger won, by the way, and Bethpage is scheduled to host the tourney again in 2009.)Next up is Rick Reilly's Who's Your Caddy? Looping for the Great, Near Great, and Reprobates of Golf (Doubleday, $24.95, 272 pages, ISBN 0385488858). Reilly, one of Sports Illustrated's most popular writers, plays a pretty good round of golf. For journalistic purposes, he decided to take on the challenge of serving as caddy for a distinctly varied cross-section of the golf community. Experiencing more success as a note-taking writer than as bag-humping aide-de-camp, Reilly accompanies the very best (Jack Nicklaus), the occasionally very good (John Daly, David Duval) and the very female (statuesque, blond and sexy LPGA pro Jill McGill). He also "loops" for thoroughly nonprofessional players such as Donald Trump (who's actually pretty competent should we be surprised?), New Age sufi Deepak Chopra (who isn't see "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Double Bogey") and endearing comedian Bob Newhart. Reilly takes the time to delve into personalities here, but the discussion always humorously and lovingly comes back to golf. His tidbits on "caddy-speak" are also wryly amusing. A terrific book for both casual and serious fans.
Serious playA super volume for the devoted amateur is David Owen's Hit &and Hope: How the Rest of Us Play Golf (Simon &and Schuster, $22, 208 pages, ISBN 0743222377). Owen writes for The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly and is a contributing editor to Golf Digest. Not surprisingly, he adroitly blends both sober and tongue-in-cheek personal observations in this thoroughly readable collection of essays, recounting golf course travails and successes through his many years as a passionate weekend duffer. He also discusses the betting strategies employed among the members of his usual foursomes, tips from his favorite club pros, the vicissitudes of getting older, golf attire, equipment controversies and more. One particularly interesting chapter, "The Greenkeeper's Tale," profiles Bob Witkoski, the longtime course superintendent at the author's home club, whose esoteric but dedicated approach to his job has made him a legendary local figure. (Ol' Bob also holds the course record an eight-under-par 63.) Most of the individual pieces in the book are just a few pages long, perfect for reading in short bites.
Master mentoringFor the golfer looking to improve his game, nothing could be better than John Andrisani's The Nicklaus Way: An Analysis of the Unique Techniques and Strategies of Golf's Leading Major Championship Winner. Veteran golf journalist Andrisani has been a pretty good amateur player in his own right, yet long has he wondered about the great Nicklaus' uncanny winning style. This volume, replete with photos and drawings of the master at work, is bulwarked by detailed evaluations of Nicklaus' preparation, club selection, mechanics and shot-making, and incredible mental toughness. Nicklaus, according to Andrisani, is, until proven otherwise, the finest player who ever teed it up. As added proof, the author offers a chapter describing some of Nicklaus' most amazing shots in competition, how they were achieved, and how the reader might try to get the same sublime results.
For future prosFinally, with an eye toward golfers his own age, 13-year-old Drew Murray nephew of comedy great and avid golfer Bill Murray gives us Caddywhack! A Kid's-Eye View of Golf (Clock Tower Press, $14.95, 85 pages, ISBN 1932202005). Murray's peer-group focus aside, this lighthearted approach to the game provides legit information for all ages on golf basics such as rules, course etiquette, equipment and terminology. Silliness abounds here, but beginners will learn just enough about the game to leave them wanting to know more and hence move into more serious reading on the subject. Jeremy Sterling's "kiddie-style" drawings add to the fun. Martin Brady writes from Nashville.