Walton Heath's history reveals treasure trove of characters

Christmas Books: History of famous golf course stands out
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The Independent Online

The rash of clubs celebrating centenaries over the last decade or so recalls an important period in the evolution of golf. Usually the celebrations have included producing a history of the particular club but not all of them have much to recommend them to the outside world. A very definite exception is Heather and Heaven - Walton Heath Golf Club 1903-2003 (limited edition, available directly from the club).

Simply put, it is a thing of beauty. A treasure trove of anecdotes, pictures, cartoons and illustrations, it rewards repeated lingering during these long winter nights. It has been loving put together by Phil Pilley, whose text brings to life the many colourful characters of the club's history, and Philip Truett, the club's archivist and chief research assistant for the project.

It all started with Cosmo Bonsor, a brewing millionaire who was also involved with banking, insurance, property and the railways. He brought in Herbert Fowler, a "huntin', shootin' and cricketin' man" who had never designed a course before but happened to be Bonsor's brother-in-law. Two of the best courses in the country - the "New" arrived in 1907 - were created on Surrey heathland tucked just inside what is now the M25.

Bizarrely, it only became a members' club in 1970 after Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World and decided he had no need of a golf club. Previously, Lord Riddell and Sir Emsley Carr, respectively chairman and editor of that newspaper, had been among the chairmen who ruled the club.

Royal and political associations were always strong. Edward, Prince of Wales, became the club's first captain in 1935 and was still in the position the following year when he became King Edward VIII and then abdicated. In 1933, one of the club's most celebrated matches - and it was to stage the Ryder Cup in 1981 as well as many professional tournaments - came in the semi-finals of the Parliamentary Handicap when the then Prince of Wales played Lady Astor, the first woman MP, and won only 2 and 1.

Four Prime Ministers were members of the club: Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Bonar Law and Arthur Balfour, while in 1913 the club's committee contained four cabinet ministers. During World War I, it was often said that, "the war is being conducted from Walton".

Remarkably, the club has only had three professionals: James Braid, the five-times Open champion; Harry Busson, a master clubmaker; and Ken Macpherson, who has been in the post since 1977. Few clubs can boost such a rich heritage; few club histories' have been so enjoyably told.

When it comes to modern professional golf one man dominates. But in the age of instant reporting and comment, to tell the story of Tiger Woods, and his impact on the game and his opponents, requires the highest analytical skills.

Fortunately, Tom Callahan, who has written for Time and Golf Digest, is from the highest echelon of American sports writing. Pertinent insight, combined with a light and straightforward style, make In Search of Tiger (Mainstream, £15.99) a refreshing study of the world's most famous golfer.

Woods, already, appears in Golf's Greatest Eighteen (McGraw-Hill, £18.99), which presents a whole roundful of essays on the game's best players. The qualification is by "new money", a painstaking re-evaluation of every player's career earnings taking into account inflation. Tiger is not top of the pile, yet. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros are Europe's representatives.

There are not too many surprises in Sam (BBC Books, £18.99) but, with the help of Alan Fraser, Sam Torrance tells the story of his rise from being the son of a coach from Largs to Ryder Cup winning captain. "I'm no saint," Sam admits but mainly this is a chance to wallow in those Ryder Cup successes, from holing the winning putt in 1985 to masterminding the victory back at The Belfry last year.

And, why not? He is an emotional old so and so, and that is what shines through. Of course, with his son, Daniel, showing a talent for the game there could still be more chapters to add to the Torrance story.

A fellow Scot, Colin Montgomerie, came out with his autobiography last year. This Christmas comes his version of a coaching manual. No one has ever accused Monty of being obsessed with technique and practising every hour God gave. But the clue is in the title: The Thinking Man's Guide to Golf (Orion, £20).

The basics are covered but Montgomerie is keen on is improving the amateur's game by getting us to take a more common sense approach on the course. This is no easy task but Monty reckons he could save an average golfer around six or eight shots a round by caddieing for them and probably comes about after playing in pro-ams with many otherwise intelligent and sensible businessmen who are anything but with a club in their hands.

Two hardy annuals again make welcome appearances. The European Tour Yearbook 2004 (European Tour, £25) relives the stories and characters of the 2003 tour (which started in 2002, of course), while The Open (Hazleton, £17.99) tries to explain how the words "Royal St George's, 2003", "Ben Curtis" and "Champion Golfer of the Year" all ended up in the same sentence. Could be a big seller in Kent - Kent, Ohio, that is.

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