Golf is a broad-based activity in the United States, with millions of participants across a wide range of age, ethnicity, income, and gender categories – but the fact remains that Fathers Day and golf gifts go hand in hand. The association is strengthened by the fact that the U.S. Open, our nation’s championship, concludes on Fathers Day each year.
If you are a father and you play golf, you are almost certain to receive a dozen golf balls or a gift certificate for a round of golf at your favorite course on the third Sunday in June. If you are on the other end of Fathers Day gift-giving and are looking for other ideas for the golfing dad in your life, here are some tips that will get you (and your father, husband, or brother) out of the Fathers Day gift-giving rut:
In 1992 George Plimpton wrote an essay for the New York Times entitled The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature, in which he explains his “Small Ball Theory”:
“…there seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes – that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls.”
What this means is, if your golfing dad likes to read, you and he are in luck – you because there are a number of great new golf-related books that have come out recently that are excellent gift choices, and him because he is in for some great reading.
The writers Plimpton mentions as inhabiting the pantheon of great golf writing include Herbert Warren Wind, Bernard Darwin, John Updike, P.G. Wodehouse and Dan Jenkins. Nothing new has been penned by any of the first four in years, of course – they all being dead – but Dan Jenkins, the fifth writer inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the only one inducted, in his words, “while still vertical”, has recently hit the shelves with a new collection of columns entitled Unplayable Lies.
Comprising about 50% existing works and 50% new pieces, in the space of 40 chapters Jenkins covers the gamut of golf-related subjects, from the greatest rounds and greatest moments in golf, memories from the four major championships, and an incisive comparative examination of the careers of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods to new money vs. old money country clubs, your lunatic partner in the club member-guest tournament, and the modern trend toward remote, destination golf resorts.
From chapter to chapter Jenkins variously waxes nostalgic, pokes fun, and lays bare the hypocrisy still to be found in the game of golf. He is by turns entertaining, amusing, informative, and to those of a certain turn of mind, frequently infuriating – but never boring, and honest almost to a fault. I may be biased, because reading Dan Jenkins’ work over the years is what motivated me to try my hand at sportswriting, but I don’t think that you can go wrong with Jenkins’ latest as a gift for your golfing dad.
(If you missed out getting your golfing dad a copy of Jenkins’ autobiography, His Ownself, released in October 2014, for Christmas, now might be the time to correct that woeful oversight.)
Another notable recent print release is Men in Green, by Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Michael Bamberger. Men in Green documents an extended on-again/off-again road trip undertaken by Bamberger as he tracked down a personal list of 18 golf legends– by his own definition – of the mid-20th century, and ask them a few simple questions – “What was it like?”, “Who did you hang with?”, “How does then look to you now?” For golfers of a certain age; that is, old enough to remember dial telephones, three television networks, persimmon golf clubs and wound-core golf balls, Men in Green is a ramble down Nostalgia Lane; for the younger generation, it’s a history lesson.
From Arnold Palmer, Ken Venturi (before his death in 2013), and Jack Nicklaus, to some characters you may never have heard of (including his companion on many of the jaunts, Mike Donald, who was one of the nine “secret legends” on the list) Bamberger uncovers some interesting revelations about the world of golf in the post–World War II to post–Vietnam War era. This is a book which I cannot recommend highly enough.
Next stop on the list of recent releases is The Secret of Golf, a fascinating look at the careers, professional rivalry, and friendship of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, penned by noted sportswriter Joe Posnanski.
More than just a nostalgic look back at the intertwined careers of Watson and Nicklaus, The Secret of Golf opens with a chapter on the great Ben Hogan, the golfer most admired by a young Tom Watson, who emulated Hogan’s famous obsession with practicing his golf game. No examination of Hogan is complete without mentioning his famous “secret”—the basis for the title of the book—and that concept’s influence on the career of Tom Watson is a recurring theme throughout the book.
Watson and Nicklaus are very different men in quite essential ways, which renders all the more remarkable the relationship they have forged over the years, and Posnanski’s examination of their rivalry and friendship makes for fascinating reading. Comparing and contrasting the differing playing styles of Nicklaus and Watson, Posnanski inserts short chapters containing succinct lessons on various aspects of the game between the narrative sections.
Based on key principles which Watson has learned and taught over his career, from “Perfect The Grip” to “Study Better Players” and “Play With Purpose”, these brief instructional chapters relate elements of the game that Watson himself put into practice and recommends to all who take the game seriously. The unique combination of narrative and lesson sections, especially when the subjects of the book are two of golf’s most important and fascinating men, make this book a must-read.
For a look into the more recent history of PGA Tour golf, Slaying the Tiger, the controversial new book by Shane Ryan, will certainly fascinate dads who follow the PGA Tour with interest. A wide-ranging and in-depth look at the new generation of “young guns” who are stepping up to fill the void left by the downward career spiral of Tiger Woods, Slaying the Tiger is something of a 20-years-on successor to John Feinstein’s A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, which was a ground-breaking behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional golf 20 years ago (pre-Tiger.)
Slaying the Tiger profiles a wide range of the hottest young players on the PGA Tour, some, like Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy well-known to even non-golf-fans; others, such as Matt Every and Derek Ernst, names that only a dedicated PGA Tour fan will recognize more than vaguely.
Ryan, something of a young gun himself, with writing credits for ESPN the Magazine, Golf Digest, Deadspin and Grantland on his resumé, did not shy away from controversy when digging into the back stories of the 20- and 30-somethings who will be assuming the mantle of the golf world as the Woods era fades away. Portions of the book revealing allegations of cheating, theft, and a serious family rift involving 2014 Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed were leaked prior to publication, and Reed’s management team tried to get them quashed – to no avail. The publicity has generated tremendous buzz about this book, but there’s more to it than the buzz around a few controversial paragraphs.
Ryan’s profiles of a wide-range of players paints a comprehensive picture of the men who are the present and future of professional golf, and is sure to be a welcome gift for Dad.
If you’re willing to take a chance on first-time authors and self-published books, take a look at Sweetspot: Confessions of a Golfaholic, by John O’Hern. It’s a slapstick look at a salesman who takes up golf at the behest of his boss/father-in-law, and flips from golf-hater to golfaholic. A little unpolished and a bit bawdy in parts, Sweetspot might be just the ticket for that Happy Gilmore fan on your Fathers Day gift list.
In self-published non-fiction with a golf bent, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In offers an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of the Golf Channel from the point of view of one of the network’s earliest employees. Cover Me Boys was written by Keith Hirshland, a 30-year broadcast veteran whose father started KTVN in Reno, Nevada – so Keith literally grew up in TV. With a background in local and network affiliate TV in Reno before moving on to ESPN and Golf Channel, Hirshland has fascinating stories to tell about the television network which has come to dominate golf coverage worldwide. The book is essentially an autobiography, but Hirshland’s insights into the backstory of the Golf Channel won’t be found anywhere else.