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'The Kingdom of Golf in America by Richard Moss' and 'Golf in America by George Kirsch'

By: Dr. John Wagner


I am reviewing these two books together as they follow the same format. Both give a decent written history of golf in the Northeast part of the U.S. but don't cover the game's anywhere else. More on that later.

Of the two books, I enjoyed Kirsch's much more than Moss's. I liked how Kirsch used photos; there are none in the other book. I do not know how one can write about golf history without using pictures.

To me, Kirsch writes more like a historian, while Moss uses a lot of his personal opinions or observations that are irrelevant. For example, he writes on page 65 that caddies in 1910 learned from the men that they worked for and that they cheated at golf, business and on their wives. How does he know? Yet he writes how Francis Ouimet got his start in the golf world by caddying. It seems that the men of 1910 were somehow different than people of today.

I have played with many golfers and found them to be the nicest and most honest people I know. Moss spends a lot of book time at Pinehurst and its history as if that is the only course in America with a glorious heritage. He even tells of the day he played with three guests and how they used the back tees and couldn't even hit the ball to the forward tees - as if I really care. And what does this have to do with the history of golf? Maybe that's what it's like in his world.

Another statement is that Moss thinks no one loved golf more than the late instructor Harvey Penick. I know many people who love this game as much as Penick. How can he make that judgment call anyway? It's opinions like these that detract from a good history book of any kind.

Meanwhile, the Kirsch book is well-written from a historical standpoint and doesn't offer a lot of personal views. But both books cover only a small part of golf history in the U.S. and for this I feel neither author did much research. For example, no mention was made of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, which was founded in 1899 by the following clubs: Victoria Golf Club in Victoria, B.C., Spokane Golf Club, Seattle Golf Club, Waverely Golf Club in Portland, Tacoma Country & Golf Club, and Butte Golf Club in Montana.

All these clubs were founded in the 1890s. In fact, there's evidence the first golf course in North America was actually in Steilacoom, Wash., just south of Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open. There are many other clubs on the West Coast that started in the same decade, such as San Diego Golf Club.

The PNGA is the oldest active international golf association in the world. To write a history book and not include the whole U.S. is just not doing the research.

Another aspect of both these books is the lack of discussion on the Evans Foundation, which has graduated from college over 10,000 caddies with all their tuitions paid by golfers. The current CEO of John Deere is an Evans scholar. The program is terrific and neither book says much about its 85-year history, let alone its names, the great Chicago amateur, Chick Evans.

Another great thing happening now is the First Green Foundation, which I think will do more for golf and its future than any other program. It has been in the Pacific Northwest for 15 years, was started by superintendents and is now getting grants from the USGA as the program expands across North America. What a positive influence it has had in golf and the schools that bring students to conduct science experiments at courses. Many of the students are experiencing a golf course for the first time in their lives.

Neither book has much on state golf associations, with Moss writing that their history may put you to sleep. I have been involved for over 40 years in the WSGA, PNGA, USGA, WGA and PCGA. The people in these organizations give of themselves for the good of the game. They work with state legislatures, run dozens of tournaments, fund many golf programs and do a lot of community service. I am proud to know these people who give their time and money for the game and it's been a pleasure to be a volunteer.

With their help, and the contributions of their thousands of members, golf will always be here.

"The Kingdom of Golf in America," by Richard Moss, ISBN 978 0 8032 4482 5; "Golf in America," by George Kirsch, ISBN 978 0 252 03292 9.

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He's been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He's a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and a Trustee of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. A 7 handicap, John is currently a member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.