'The Match' by Mark Frost

By: Bob Spiwak

To me, Mark Frost is the best golf writer going, maybe one the top five ever. "The Match" is the third of his books I've read, following "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and "The Grand Slam." Frankly, I found this the least enjoyable of the three, which is not to say I didn't like it. Perhaps it's because this book dealt mainly with four people, rather than one as in the former titles, and it lacked the depth of those. At the same time, comparing this with the others is like saying which Godiva chocolate is preferable.

The book is subtitled "The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever," which is more intriguing than the actual title. In short, it's the tale of a golf contest between two amateurs, Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi, against two professionals, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. Played at Cypress Point in 1956, it was arranged by two millionaires to determine whether two young amateurs could beat a pair of legendary retired pros. One of the millionaires was a guy named Eddie Lowery, whom you may remember as Francis Ouimet's 10-year-old caddie in the 1913 Open.

Having no familiarity with the match, I was anxious to find out who prevailed and what it had to do with changing the game of golf forever. Rather than spoil it for those of you who know nothing about it, I won't reveal the answers to these questions.

What makes Frost such a very special author is his ability to interweave history into a story. Tidbits like Nelson and Hogan facing off in a caddie championship when both were 15. (They never did become good friends.) Aside from the central characters, we learn the history of the Clambake, the first-ever pro-am that featured PGA Tour pros and celebrities. As Frost notes, Bing Crosby's annual event at Pebble Beach - in which all four protagonists were involved - has devolved into a long infomercial for CBS sitcom stars.

There are many other historical sidelights and excellent biographical portraits of the four who played the match, as well as of Eddie Lowery, a Lincoln Mercury dealer in California, with Venturi and Ward both working for him.

I would recommend reading the other two Frost books first, wherein he weaves not only person and golf history into their fabrics, but world history and global influences that affected golf. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is an excellent history of golf, and "The Grand Slam" will tell you things about Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts that reveals more than their posthumous reputations. Jones, for example, emerges with more "warts" in his personality than we might have guessed, and author Frost examines these with a dermatologist's skill.

"The Match," by Mark Frost; November, 2007; $24.95; Hyperion Books; 260 pages; ISBN-13:978-1-4013-0278-8

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.