Books For Christmas: Golf - Qualities of a good read unspoilt

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE those who will argue that the millennium bash later this month is the biggest premature celebration since a bunch of American golfers, caddies and wives invaded the 17th green at the County Club in Brookline when Justin Leonard holed a putt that virtually won the Ryder Cup, but not quite. Apparently, there is a little more putting out to be done before the close of the second extra century -- golfers start counting again after 18 - at the end of next season but the clicking over of the calendar to such a special year as 2000 instinctively needs to be marked.

Should anyone remain sober enough long enough, it is also a time for reflection, a mood David and Patricia Davies hope to capture in Beyond the Fairways (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99). The subtitle is "The past, present and future of world golf", which is hugely ambitious but at least the temptation has been resisted to hype the book, in the manner of the latest space-age, wok-headed driver, as the "Greatest, biggest, most ultimate encyclopaedia of golf".

With a small but select group of contributors, including the late Peter Dobereiner, Beyond the Fairways is a cut above the average treatises of the game that appear in the impersonal large-scale format. Ironically, however, you cannot avoid the feeling that there is a coffee-table edition bursting to get out, if only - perhaps especially - to showcase better the drawings and illustrations of Harold Riley. Given the proper platform, Riley's contributions depicting the great courses and players could have made this book into something really special, rather than appearing as if as an afterthought.

Necessarily, some of the chapter subjects can be guessed, for where would any such book be without its contemplations of the origins of the game, the development of equipment and course architecture, the histories of the majors, the team competitions and the great players and courses? Certainly, the last passes the test employable at this time of year of curling up of a winter's evening and letting the words transport the mind to delights far-off, whether in distance or season.

Yet there are gems to be found, such as a section on cheating - the big no-no of this honourable game - Jerry Tarde on the "lure of the game" and Jeremy Chapman, whose weekly staking plans are essential reading for golf punters, on betting.

A thought-provoking chapter considers modern trends and the future of the game. Throughout, there are strident views expressed which will not surprise readers of David Davies in The Guardian. Here, Pine Valley, usually voted the best course in America, is denounced as "just too difficult for the common man. The penalty for playing a bad shot is out of all proportion. Golf, as we know, is not meant to be fair but it is not meant to be deliberately unfair either."

And as for mandatory buggies and cart paths, stand well back. "Concrete paths wind their way, like tapeworm, round the very guts of the game, serving the carts, which are themselves the condoms of golf, preventing full enjoyment of the act. Mark Twain might have considered golf to be a good walk spoiled but at least it was always a good walk."

According to Chris Plumridge, any enjoyment from golf is entirely of the masochistic variety. "If there is a game where Sod's Law plays a bigger role, I have yet to discover it," Plumridge writes in his introduction to It Can Only Happen to a Golfer (Queen Anne Press, pounds 8.99).

Plumridge's intention was to create a list of maxims which bring a wry, knowing or rueful smile to addicts of the game and he succeeds admirably. A random selection: "The newer the golf ball, the more likely you are to lose it"; "The shortest distance between the ball and the target is never a straight line"; and "Another name for golf is disappointment".

Golf's Strangest Rounds (Robson Books, pounds 8.99) is exactly what it says it is and the research of Andrew Ward, as with his similar works on cricket and football, has produced many intriguing and interesting stories.

A word of warning, however. Anyone with the hardback edition, published in 1992, will find only six new entries in this updated paperback version as well as the 100 originals. They include a sixth part of the saga of "Greg Norman's Novel Ways to Finish Second"; an account what happened when the US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Gerald Ford got together for a round, and David Duval's 59 in the Bob Hope Classic earlier this year.

It would not be Christmas without the ever optimistic John Jacobs trying to offer us and our golf game's some badly-needed advice. This year's vehicle rises to the occasion with his 50 Greatest Golf Lessons of the Century (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99). The tips are illustrated with references to one of the game's leading players over the last 100 years.

The 34 players are listed alphabetically from Seve Ballesteros to Tiger Woods. Taking the best from each of the greats might be the only way to beat Woods at present. There is a short profile of each player and the book is well laid out, a must for any instructional tome.

By comparison, Dave Pelz's Short Game Bible (Aurum Press, pounds 16.99) reads like a science textbook, which may not be surprising since Pelz was once a physicist with NASA. "He rules the short game collects the gold," Pelz says and has produced 429 pages on how to get the ball on the green from any tricky spot. Comprehensive, certainly, but not much use if you don't know your L-wedge from your X-wedge. To complete the degree course, a "Putting Bible" is due out next year.

Also received: Peter Alliss's Golf Uncovered (Andre Deutsch, pounds 9.99) and The Open Championship 1999 (Hazleton Publishing, pounds 14.99), an account of the never-to-be-forgotten drama at Carnoustie in July.