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'To Win & Die in Dixie' by Steve Eubanks

By: Dr. John Wagner


Some authors just write while others, like Steve Eubanks, really write. This is the biography of James Douglas Edgar, the father of the modern golf swing. I knew I was going to enjoy the book within the first five pages. It's one that you can read with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and just savor.

The story begins on the night of August 8, 1921, as Comer Howell, the 20-year-old son of Clark Howell - owner of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper - and a fledgling reporter, was riding in a car with two other newspaper people and came across a man lying in the road. They got out of the car to give assistance as they saw blood beside the man, who they eventually learned was Douglas Edgar, the victim of a hit-and-run. Edgar later died, and thus the tone is set for the book's subtitle: "The Birth of the Modern Golf Swing and the Mysterious Death of Its Creator."

As I read this passage, I thought, "Who is Douglas Edgar?" So begins a great tale of Edgar, during which I learned a lot about the early history of golf.

J. Douglas Edgar was raised in northeastern England. At age 13 he began caddying to make a little money but had no desire to play golf. One day, a gentleman asked if he had ever played and he replied "No," adding that he wanted something more challenging. So the person put a ball on a tuft of grass and said, "Hit it." Edgar proceeded to whiff the ball six times and, on the seventh try, dug into the dirt a foot behind the ball. Edgar was hooked, and golf became a passion for the rest of his life.

The book's subject went on to lead a very full life. Particularly interesting is how he ended up at Druid Hills CC in Atlanta. Edgar played against the best - Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray - and beat them all.

Jones said Edgar was the best golfer he had ever seen. One time Edgar bet $700 on himself to win the Southern Open against the best players in the world, and he did. That tidy sum was over a year's wages in those days.

Particularly surprising to me was that, while reading Eubank's book, how little I knew of Edgar, as none of the many golf history books I've perused mentioned him. So do yourself a favor and buy this book to learn about a dominant character in the early days of golf. Then settle into a nice chair and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy it.

"To Win & Die in Dixie," by Steve Eubanks, Published by ESPN Books, 256 pages, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-51081-5

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.