World War II was a calamitous event that dramatically changed everything even the game of golf. John Strege's When War Played Through: Golf During World War II profiles golf's impact on the war effort and effectively catalogs the challenges the sport faced in maintaining its public profile during difficult times. Unlike major league baseball, which continued throughout the war, golf in the U.S. took a hiatus from 1942 through 1945. Through the efforts of the game's greats (Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson) and entertainers like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, golf became a key source of fund-raising and morale-boosting, and even a form of occupational therapy for wounded GIs (which helped spur the sport's postwar boom as a more plebeian pursuit).
Strege ranges widely over people, places (both home and abroad) and episodes great and small, recounting rubber shortages that affected the supply of golf balls; the untoward use of prestigious venues like Augusta National for military training and victory gardens; and even the strange occurrence of Allied POWs building a makeshift golf course at Stalag Luft III, site of "the great escape"of movie fame. He shares how Dwight Eisenhower's well-known affection for the game found more prominent exposure after he became U.S. president, and we even get a little history about the Bush clan in the person of Prescott Bush, the current president's grandfather, who was an avid, 2-handicap golfer, and who served as national campaign chairman of the USO during the war. (Another tidbit: golf's Walker Cup is named for the current president's maternal great-grandfather.)More poignantly, Strege relates the stories of promising young golfers (e.g., Georgetown University's John Burke) who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Concluding chapters offer an overview of the game's "return to normalcy," highlighted by the irrepressible Nelson's unprecedented 11 consecutive PGA victories and the surprise 1946 Masters victory of little-known Herman Keiser, a sailor who had served on the USS Cincinnati.