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Giant Golf Books

By: Jeff Shelley


I get quite a few golf books from publishers to review for Cybergolf. They come in all shapes and sizes, from pocket guides to full-on, four-color coffee-table tomes.

This latest batch, however, is the biggest of them all. Apparently seeking to keep printers in business and pulp mills from going out of business, three books arrived in the mail that, combined (I put them on a scale for verification), weigh 13.3 pounds. Here are my reviews of them.

First up is "The Golf Book" by Sports Illustrated. With a Foreword by the inimitable Roy Blount Jr., this mighty anthology contains essays and photos written and shot by some of the magazine's - and other - leading lights. It features action pix of the game's greatest players, as well as some for comic relief: the idiosyncratic Wayne Grady up to his hips in the ocean swinging a club, as just one example.

The writers are some of most illustrious in sport and golf: Herbert Warren Wind, Jim Murray, Bernard Darwin, Bobby Jones, Rick Reilly, Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford, George Plimpton, Edwin "Bud" Shrake and Grantland Rice, along with SI's stable of exceptional scribes.

But perhaps the most enduring asset of "The Golf Book" is the large-format photography. Even though I'm familiar with many of them, these iconic images in such glorious reproduction are pure pleasure. And with a price tag of just under $30, this is a fine Christmas present for any member of your regular foursome.

"The Golf Book" by Sports Illustrated, 2009, 296 pages, Time Inc. Home Entertainment, ISBN 1-60320-085-1, $29.95.

Next to be lifted off the scale is "Golf's Dream 18s" by David Barrett. The subtitle reads: "Fantasy Courses Comprised of over 300 Holes from Around the World."

In his own words, Barrett's assignment was to use "fully formed holes as my building blocks for mythical layouts." He "designed" 18 "Dream 18s" as part of the effort, cobbling together "courses" with pars ranging from 70 to 73.

The course categories are intriguing. Mostly self-explanatory, they include layouts comprised of "Scenic Holes," "Historic Holes," "Exclusive Holes" (from difficult-to-get-on private courses), "Holes Anyone Can Play," "Short Holes," "Long Holes," "Hard Holes," "Water Holes," "Strategic Holes," "Well-Bunkered Holes," "Bunkerless Holes," "Mountain Holes," "Links Holes," "Modern Holes," "Classic Holes," "Continental Europe Holes," "Australia/New Zealand Holes," and "The Ultimate Dream 18."

For each of his "courses" Barrett provides explanations for why he picked a certain hole in its corresponding category, with vibrant color photos illustrating the reasons for inclusion. Though Barrett makes valid arguments for his various lists - backed by personal insight and historical references, I'm sure golf-architecture nerds and the aficionados of www.golfclubatlas.com will have plenty of grist for their mills with Barrett's final selections.

And that's part of the charm of this excellent book, which has plenty of crackerjack photos by some of golf's top shooters. If you're looking to really impress that golfing friend of yours, here's another one to wrap up for Santa's day.

"Golf's Dream 18s" by David Barrett, 2009, Abrams, ISBN 978-0-8109-4982-9, $50.

Another oversized book is "Planet Golf USA" by Darius Oliver. Its promising subtitle is: "The Definitive Reference to Great Golf Courses in America," and it has a Foreword penned by Ben Crenshaw. Oliver gained cachet with his original "Planet Golf" book, which chronicled his travels to over 600 golf courses in 41 countries around the world.

For this second effort, Oliver, an Australian, utilized the course ratings published annually by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine and then set off to review them along with more than a dozen other layouts overlooked by these publications. He ended up traveling 22,000 miles, passing through 41 states en route to visiting 230 courses, about 20% of which in the book are open to the public.

The book is organized by region - West Coast and Hawaii, the Midwest & Rocky Mountains, the South and the Northeast. All of the usual suspects found on the magazines' top-100 lists are here: Crystal Downs, Prairie Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Chambers Bay, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Kiawah Island, Augusta National, Pine Valley, Bethpage Black, Yale University, and so on.

The characteristics of each course are explained in detail, with the boilerplate for each entry revealing the date the course was opened, its architect and the rating given it by the magazines.

It's obvious Oliver has a tremendous fondness for his subjects as I found few disparaging words amidst otherwise lavish praise for each course in the 348-page book. (In seeking the authenticity of a writer of golf-travel books, I always check out those in the remote Pacific Northwest, where I live. One oddity in the Eugene Country Club entry was this statement: "The club [Eugene] has unquestionably benefited from the popularity of Bandon Dunes, as Eugene is conveniently located midway between Portland and the resort." The latter phrase is true, but Eugene is a private club and anyone seeking to play it en route to Bandon will find that difficult and expensive. So I'm not quite sure if that relationship to Bandon holds water.)

Perhaps what lacking is that there's a picture-postcardness to the book - both in prose and photos - that makes it seem like an overwrought, overweight brochure.

Oliver's descriptions - virtually bereft of any quotes in the explanations, though the architect says a few words as an introduction to each course - are too canned for me, thus homogenizing the literary whole. I'd much rather see personal insights by those familiar with a particular course - besides the occasional self-aggrandizing architect - such as that found in Joel Zuckerman's wonderful "Pete Dye Golf Courses," where anyone from the developer to the superintendent to a member to the builder has a comment about Dye's work to give each work a distinct personality.

Admittedly, that's not possible for a course built in the early 1900s. Nevertheless, I think the author missed many chances to jot down a personal viewpoint into the golf courses, some of which rely on their status as a "top-100 facility" for prestige and marketing power.

Still, this is a lovely book with plenty of pretty pictures, mostly broad panoramas spread across the full recto page opposite the text.

"Planet Golf USA" by Darius Oliver, 2009, Abrams, ISBN 978-0-8109-1437-7, $60.

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