'Around the World in 80 Rounds' by David Wood

By: Jeff Shelley

I probably should excuse myself from reviewing this book, seeing that its author, David Wood, is a buddy and regular contributor to Cybergolf. But the publisher, St. Martin's Press, sent me an "advanced uncorrected proofs" copy and, by God, I'm going to give it a go.

Wood, now 47, is a kindred spirit who, like me, got the urge to let him take his golfing Jones on a far-flung trek. But my book and its three editions, "Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest," was restricted to the 550 courses defined by its title. Wood, on the other hand, had the entire world at his disposal after selling his home, placing his belongings in storage and setting off to the most far-flung places on the planet.

The book's subtitle, "Chasing a Golf Ball from Tierra del Fuego to the Land of the Midnight Sun," doesn't quite do justice to the actual area he covered in "researching" this 282-page tome. Wood's visits also took him to such exotic locales as Russia, Vietnam, China, India, Nepal, Hungary, Egypt, Uruguay, New Zealand and Norway. In other words, this isn't your typical golf guide.

Sprinkled with Wood's spot-on wit, his stories take on a life of their own as he becomes immersed in golf as well as the wildly different scenery and local characters. (For some of the book's excerpts, visit Cybergolf's Writers Corner). The former stand-up comic, who has appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" and is a noted public speaker, knows how to hold an audience, and Wood has done that with this enthralling book.After a droll take on the origins of golf in the first part of the Introduction, the author recounts how he began this crazy odyssey. As he sought a way to overcome a writer's block on a travel piece about Venice, the Seattle-based Wood let his mind wander before arriving at an epiphany:

"I struggled to stay focused, trying to conjure up in my mind's eye the dreamlike Grand Canal, but as I gazed out onto the gray shimmering surface of Lake Washington from my second-floor office window, all I could think about was the game that took up 99 percent of my nonsexual thoughts - golf."

From there, he reaffirms a love for out-of-the-way courses, particularly those in Ireland and Scotland. He began Googleing places around the world that he thought the least likely to have golf. Nepal came to mind, and he found the sky-scraping country in the Himalayas had two courses. He continued seeking the most unnoticed and out of the way. Wood soon unearthed the world's southernmost golf course, Ushuaia Golf Club in Ushuaia, Argentina, at 54.8 degrees south, just above Antarctica. He then found the northernmost links, in the Norwegian town of Tromso.

Naturally, he posed the next most illogical question: "What if some idiot was to travel to the world's southernmost country to the northernmost? . . . What if that same idiot decided to play in as many obscure countries and courses en route as he could? And what if that person was a forty-seven-year-old bachelor with no real commitments or anything else to hold him back?"

Bingo, the light came on and, after taking care of his possessions, inoculations and passport, David Wood, like a knight in shining golf gear, initiated his honorable quest. That search, accompanied by an insatiable desire to find and play the most remote and heretofore undiscovered golf courses on the planet, began.

The chronicles of that quest are found within the pages of this book. And what a trip it is! David Wood has managed to fulfill the dreams and wishes of every golfer who really loves the game, regardless - and despite - of where it's played.

"Around the World in 80 Rounds" is as much a life-affirming tale as it is a guidebook for the hearty. It's a wonderfully personal travelogue that is both ingratiating and entertaining. As Wood ventures into one exotic country after another, golf is the root that holds his keen personal observations about the local politics, economies, and, especially, their people. This is hands-down one of the best golf books I've ever read. And it's a pleasure to know and cherish my friendship with its quixotic author.

"Around the World in 80 Rounds" by David Wood, St. Martin's Press, $24.95, 284 pages, ISBN 13: 978-0-312-37577-5. (Note: This book will be available March 2008.)