‘Shanks for Nothing’ by Rick Reilly

By: Bob Spiwak

This book is 253 pages of laughs and, for me, a real page-turner. There is more than a hint of Dan Jenkins, but Reilly’s preposterously funny novel is far more palatable. Without a tinge of mean spiritedness and deliberate attacks on gender, race or physical attributes that characterize Jenkins, Reilly has created a bunch of weird characters who blend into an equally weird plot.

The action takes place at Ponkaquogue Municipal Golf Links and Deli and features people named Cementhead, Two Down, Hoover, Blind Bob, “Stick” Hart (our hero) and his wife, Danni. Hart is a plus handicap golfer who has been urged most of his life to join the tour by his overbearing father. Stick has no interest in the big show, preferring to hang out and play with his buddies at Ponky, the worst golf course in America. As the jacket blurb notes, “You have to hook the ball past the toxic waste dump on No. 1 and under the billboard at No. 8.”

Juxtaposed and adjoining Ponky is the ultra-snobby and blue-blooded Mayflower Club that rents Ponkaquogue as a parking lot for its tournaments, and plans to buy it to create a real paved parking lot.

The group of misfits treasures their course, and are aghast when the owner decides to sell to Mayflower, unless the Ponky members can raise the money themselves. Their efforts lead to high-stakes wagers with a foursome who turn out to be members of the Russian Mafia, and who play “Gamblers’ Rules.” These encounters bring even more disaster and personal discomfiture (to say the least) to the Ponky players as they try to raise the money. My favorite character is Blind Bob, a player who is legally without sight and has to have the ball teed up with his body pointed by another player so he can hit the ball. He nonetheless possesses a keen sense of hearing and sense of place, and figures in some of the action.

Then there is confrontation when Stick’s wife Danni thinks he is fooling around with the new girl working at Ponky. Danni is putting pressure on him, his hated father is likewise pushing on him to join the Tour, and finally he and his friends realize the only way to get the bucks to save the course is to become a pro and win the British Open.

The book has plenty of fun and games and a guaranteed re-read. I’m eager to grab a couple of other Reilly books, including the precursor to this one, “Missing Links,” and “Who’s Your Caddy.”

“Shanks for Nothing,” by Rick Reilly, Doubleday, 2006, $24.95, 253 pages, ISBN 0-385-50111-0.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.