Book Review Roundup

By: Jeff Shelley

Let's take a gander at a few golf books that recently crossed my ever-crowded desk. This threesome is a representative sampling of the esoteric tomes being created by golf writers from around the world.

"Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland: 2007 - 2008" by Keith Baxter

This beautifully illustrated book nicely fulfills its title, offering two pages of commentary and color images for each of GB&I's most outstanding courses.

The placement of a course in a "top-100" pantheon didn't come easily for the author. Baxter worked with a statistician at England's Cambridge University to build a comprehensive database that "contains historical ranking information from golf magazines and other publications, then (has) applied a series of rules and weightings favoring the world rankings, the most recent rankings and the frequency that courses appear on ranking lists." Baxter concludes that his system "is perhaps best described as the consensus of the consensuses."

Regardless, many of the golf courses in his 224-page book are imminently recognizable; indeed, many are seminal. The rankings alongside each course name are readily ascertained, with six golf balls signifying an Albatross - Excellent; five balls an Eagle - Very Food; four a Birdie - Good; three a Par - Average; two a Bogey - Poor; and one ball a dreaded Double-Bogey - Very Poor. Needless to say, this tome only contains the best of the best, with only a few given Birdie scores.

In addition to Baxter's cogent comments, each of the 100 courses covered within these glossy pages receives supporting photographs taken by such masters as Aidan Bradley, Kevin Murray and other skilled cameramen. Also provided is an "insight inset" by the head pro, club secretary, superintendent (greenkeeper), architect, a notable member, or a local expert.

The book contains a list of the courses - in order of their current ranking and where they were placed in an earlier edition - and an index, always a plus in this type of compendium.

In all, Baxter's "Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland: 2007 - 2008" is a crucial reference for those of us wanting to visit this golf-rich part of the world, or those lucky enough to live there.

"Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland: 2007 - 2008," Keith Baxter, 2007, ISBN 9-780955-495601, Published by Top 100 Golf Courses Limited and Stone Farm. To order, visit (Note: This excellent website also contains a vast database of top-rated courses around the world.)

"Twice Dead - A Caper" by William Jordan

Bill Jordan is an architect by trade and this is his first-ever novel, a fictional account revolving around a private club in 1948 New England. Like a practical tradesman versed in all aspects of a job from design through construction, Jordan's story is meticulously built from the ground up, with every step in a complicated project thoroughly - and sometimes tediously - revealed.

The story is centered on two founding members of Brookside Country Club discovering a fellow member dead in a bathroom stall after the course is closed for the day. Instead of calling the police and ending the incident right then and there, Sydney and Toby, in an attempt to spare the club and themselves public embarrassment, drag the deceased man onto the golf course and anonymously notify the local heat they found a body. That decision sets in motion a series of events which serve as the backbone of the book.

This foundation is laid within the first 30 or so pages, with the remaining 200 pages an exercise in reporting the evasive activities of the protagonists. This slavish attention to Sydney and Toby - who otherwise lead pretty boring lives - soon becomes laborious.

Such fine eye for minutia is needed for a non-fictional account of a historical figure whose life has been buried under years of conjecture. But not for a mystery novel which needs to quickly establish interesting lead characters that elicit good or bad reactions, and then take readers on an imaginary and entertaining ride with page-turning twists and turns throughout the rest of the book.

Jordan is a serviceable writer who takes great care with dialog, one of the hardest areas for a first-time novelist. Not surprisingly, he's also adept at detailing tangible things such as homes, clothing, personal mannerisms and places.

Because of his architectural background, Jordan provides expert analysis of Brookside's clubhouse:

"The exterior was a layer cake of architectural styles and historical periods starting with its Romanesque limestone arches on the first floor. The second floor, reminiscent of the Greek Revival period, was crowned by a steep-pitched slate roof interrupted by a series of dormers punctuated by gargoyles. Soaring above this cake was an imposing medieval turret anchoring the south end of the clubhouse. There, Sydney often took refuge to relish his masterpiece and take pleasure in what he had spawned. Brookside, in a sense, had become his surrogate child filling a much-needed void in his life. No less than five prominent and enthusiastic architects were engaged in the project. In the end, all had fled, except one, who refused to be named as the architect of record."

In another part Jordan serves up the signature holes of a golf course where a pivotal betting game is played, almost step by step covering the round: "Sydney, farthest away, was the first to play. He tiptoed into the sand trap delicately, careful not to ground his club and incur a penalty. Oliver removed the rake from the trap. From where his ball came to rest, Sydney could barely see over the edge of the trap to the green beyond. He addressed the ball and took a healthy swing, hitting the ball about four inches behind the ball. Sand flew onto the green but the ball didn't . . ."

Jordan occasionally exhibits acerbic wit. When entering a place with a sign that says: "Stoney Creek Rod & Gun Club. Trespassers will be shot," Sydney responds, "What is this, a fish camp or a prison camp?"

But the prim and stereotypical blue-blood New England lead characters - and many of their support staff - lack depth and surprise, a problem that ultimately undermines sustained interest. Too soon, despite my best efforts, I found myself saying, "I just don't care about these people."

That said, I'm sure many readers will find Jordan's "cozy murder mystery and humorous caper" engaging and his unerring eye for detail appealing.

"Twice Dead - A Caper," by William Jordan, 232 pages, 2008, Xlibris Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4363-4339-8.

"I Golf, Therefore I Am - Nuts!" by George Fuller

Fuller, currently the publisher and editor in chief for the new Southern California-based golf magazine, "Tee It Up," released this happy-go-lucky take on his lengthy career in golf in summer 2008. The author of eight books, including the definitive "California Golf: The Complete Guide" and "Discover Hawaii's Best Golf," has been around the proverbial block, once serving as the editor of "Links - the Best of Golf" magazine.

George, a friend and a contributor to Cybergolf, boasts a wonderful sense of humor that's apparent throughout his newest release. Nowhere is that more on display than in the fanciful titles of its 45 chapters. Some samples:

"Any Way You Slice It, Golf is a Beautiful Game" (Chapter 2); "Practice Schmactice" (13); "Weapons of Mass Instruction" (18); "Golf or a Lime Exfoliation" (25); "March of the Haggis" (26); "A Babe in Mastersland" (33); and "Beam Me Out of the Woods, Scotty" (45).

Each chapter is a vignette of an experience Fuller endured - or savored - while covering or playing the game. Many of his excursions are comical, while a few are a bit self-indulgent. But that latter element is inherent in autobiographies and, frankly, he doesn't seem to care. This book is, after all, an outlet for the author's feelings, cherished memories and reflections of what all those fairway divots mean to him.

Fuller starts his recollections as a youngster in Pacific Palisades, Calif., where he and his brother would hide in the bushes beside a green at the local golf course. When a ball landed near where they were in hiding, they'd take turns "scurrying through a small hole we'd dug under the chain link fence, running onto the green and stealing the ball." Upon finding his ball missing, the victim would yell at and chase after the fleeing kids before stomping off to an inevitable bogey. How many of us began our golf "careers" in such a mischievous manner? Probably more than some of us would care to admit.

George has other tales to tell, many from frequent travels that took him on writing and photographic assignments around the world. Assisting Fuller in his ramblings are the illustrations of Joe Jahraus, a former creative director at Hallmark Cards for the company's line of humorous greeting cards.

Fuller explores especially memorable rounds, playing partners, fellow writers, goofy golf gadgets, ideas for improving the PGA Tour, fashion, and other lore. George is a fine writer, one with cogent, witty thoughts and an unerring love of the game. He may play golf, but he's certainly not nuts.

"I Golf, Therefore I Am - Nuts!" by George Fuller; Published by Human Kinetics; ISBN 13: 978-0-7360-7528-2; 227 pages; $15.95.

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