The worldwide search for a mythical golfer

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The Kingdom of Shivas Irons By Michael Murphy (Mainstream, pounds 14.99)

SEQUELS always have the problem of living up to the original. With The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, it is essential to have read the original. That appeared 26 years ago and became a cult success.

The long awaited follow-up takes up the search for the mythical Scottish golf professional whom the author, Michael Murphy, met in 1956. The story of their round together, a moment of epiphany for the young philosopher, and their late-night, whisky-induced attempts to find Irons' teacher, Seamus MacDuff, forms the brilliant first half of Golf in the Kingdom.

The kingdom in question is Fife and the course where their encounter takes place is the Burningbush Links, otherwise recognisable as the Old Course at St Andrews. Murphy went on to explore the writings of Irons in the inward half of his book. A daunting combination of philosophy, metaphysics and psychology, Murphy's followers include Tom Watson and Davis Love.

Zen and the art of golf, it could have been called except that golf and the "inner game of golf" are two entirely different things. Perhaps it is all the time spent looking for balls in the rough, or waiting for groups ahead to play, that induces such musings on the game rather than getting on with the taxing enough procedure of finding the ball that has just been hit into an area totally unrelated to the line of aim.

Murphy founded the Ensalen Institute for human awakening in 1962 on the Californian coast. On the back of the success of his first book, he has run Golf in the Kingdom workshops for many years. A golf course in the grounds of the estate has some unusual hazards, such as a pool at the fifth hole where a naked woman can be found swimming laps.

The Kingdom of Shivas Irons is Murphy's search for the mysterious golf professional and his teacher. The journey takes him back to Scotland and around the world, including Russia, to Pebble Beach. Though involving golf, this is not really a golf book. Fact merges with fiction, just like in the original, which the sequel sets out to glorify further.

Murphy "collected data in several countries from religious scholars, research librarians, anthropologists, and other people that, when assembled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, suggested that Shivas Irons and his teacher, Seamus MacDuff, were involved in a momentous transformation. Taken as a whole, the findings indicated that the two men might be realising a new condition of body and soul, an unexpected power and beatitude that points the way to a greater life for those of us willing to follow."


Andy Farrell