Great players, founding fathers, island hopping and a treasure trove of trivia on the golf lover's wish list

Sports books for Christmas

Scratching your head for a Christmas gift idea? Let The Sports Bookshelf guide you through the maze of possibilities to make the right choice. Here's our selection of golf books published this year: 

The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers, by Andy Farrell (Elliott & Thompson)

Golf writer Andy Farrell afforded himself a self-congratulatory Tweet after Tiger Woods followed Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood in taking the weekend headlines with their tournament wins in California, Hong Kong and South Africa.

All three figure in Farrell’s choices for The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers, a fascinating book that serves not only as a celebration of the finest exponents of the game since the first Open Championship in 1860 but also provides a bite-sized history of championship golf.

Farrell, formerly golf correspondent for the Independent and Independent on Sunday titles and now freelance, has written profiles for each of the 100 players, in which he nicely balances facts and figures with the colour of an appropriate anecdote or two.  But rather than assemble them alphabetically or attempt any sort of order of merit, he has grouped them within eight different time periods, beginning with the pioneer age, between 1860 and the turn of the century, of Allan Robertson and the other forefathers of golf, and ending with the ‘Tiger Era’, beginning in 1995.  The last two entries are the two British major winners of 2011, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy.

In defining what makes for a great golfer, Farrell has looked beyond what each of the 80 men and 20 women of his choice actually won into how they played the game, perhaps with the dedication and commitment of a Padraig Harrington, who contributed a foreword, or with the flair and personality of an Arnold Palmer, whose endorsement of the author’s quest appears on the dust jacket.  The golfers to which crowds flock at the major championships are not always the most successful; sometimes it is the emotions they stir or their capacity to inspire that sets them apart,

Of course, any such list is subjective and Farrell does not suggest that his selection should be seen as definitive, rather as an invitation for debate when golfers gather at the ‘19th hole’.  Indeed, while he believes as many as 70 per cent of the names he settled for would make it into the top 100 among most aficionados, the other 30 would divide opinions.

So, who is the best of all, the greatest golfer of all time?  In conclusion, Farrell offers his own opinion on who should carry that mantle, or at least which two would be last to tee off in some mythical, magical tournament to determine who most deserves the accolade.

He leaves it up to the reader, however, to reach his or her own verdict, having first spent some enjoyable hours in the company of the contenders.

Tommy's Honour: The Extraordinary Story of Golf's Founding Father and Son, by Kevin Cook (HarperSport)

There was a welcome appearance among the golf titles of 2011 of a paperback edition of Tommy’s Honour, which earned author Kevin Cook a place on the shortlist for the 2007 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award when it was published in hardback.

New York-based Cook was commended for telling the story of the two Tom Morrises, father and son, both supremely talented golfers but utterly different in character, who made up a record-breaking golf dynasty.

Old Tom, the father, who grew up a stone's throw away from golf's ancestral home at St Andrews, was a wonderful 19th century character who became an Open Champion three times before running the Royal & Ancient, then the sole governing body of the game. His son, Young Tom, was blessed with a talent even more prodigious than his father, a golfing genius who could be described as the Tiger Woods of his era, and who remains the youngest player to win the Open Championship, having done so at 17 years old. He went on to win it four times in a row, on one occasion after fighting it out with his father at the last hole.

It is at once the story of the birth of the modern game of golf, in which Old Tom was such an influential figure, but also of a complex father-and-son relationship that ended in tragedy with the death of Young Tom at the age of 24, broken by the death in labour of his wife, Meg, and their unborn child.

It is a story told ‘with great tenderness and no little humour‘ according to the Daily Telegraph, while The Guardian said that 'Cook's idiosyncratic history of the early days of professional golf is detailed, loving, and almost novelistic. He captures the incestuous, money-obesessed, sometimes small-minded world of Scottish golf, delightfully.'

The Golf Miscellany, by John D T White (Carlton Books)

Obsessive types always attract odd looks and John White will have had his fair share after religiously devoting a life's worth of spare time to compiling a vast database of facts, figures and quirky stories from the world of sport.

But the Ulster-born sports nut has turned his fanaticism into something of a cottage industry, drawing on his ever-expanding library of the trivial and not-so-trivial to create an impressive catalogue of books that now stands at more than 30.

He is the author of all the titles in Carlton’s ‘Miscellany’ series, covering a range of sports from football and cricket to boxing, Formula One, horse racing and Six Nations rugby, as well as a number specific to one football club or another.

His study of Manchester United’s long history of Irish-born players -- entitled Irish Devils -- enjoyed a particularly warm reception when it was published last month by Simon & Schuster, with the official endorsement of the Old Trafford club.

His just-published and updated Golf Miscellany offers an engaging read for golf fans, assembling a host of fascinating material on topics from players and tournaments to the great golf courses. With the entries pulled together in random order, the book has the dip-in-and-out appeal so popular in Christmas gift ideas but White’s painstaking research should not be underestimated nonetheless.

While not at his computer inputting more facts and figures, John is the founding member of Carryduff Manchester United Supporters' Club in County Down, the largest official supporters club in Ireland. He has been a season ticket holder at Old Trafford for more than 20 years.

Golf on the Rocks: A Journey Round Scotland's Island Courses, by Gary Sutherland (Hachette Scotland)

Think Scottish golf courses and images of the manicured greens and sculpted fairways of St Andrews, Carnoustie, Turnberry come to mind.  Challenging courses, but aesthetically superb. Regally magnificent, as you might expect from the proud home of golf.

But they aren’t all like that, as Gary Sutherland discovered after he set out to play 18 holes on each of 18 courses on 18 Scottish islands, in honour of his late father, a ship’s captain who never sailed anywhere without his golf clubs and, when he wasn't at sea, was generally to be found on the nearest course.

In his father’s footsteps, Sutherland’s journey took him to golf courses with names such as Askernish, Machrie, Shiskine, Scarista and Balivanich, none of which has or is ever likely to host an Open Championship, courses where the hazards tend to go beyond mere water and sand traps to cows on the fairways and greens bordered by electric fences, and where locating the tee can be as difficult as finding the hole.  In one instance, the author was unable to locate even the course he was looking for, despite being absolutely certain of his bearings, and was forced to conclude it had been ploughed up to grow crops.

There is little in the rich history of golf in Scotland that has not been written about many times but the island courses have been strangely neglected, which seems odd when you learn that Askernish, on the island of South Uist, was allegedly designed by Old Tom Morris, one of the founding fathers of the sport.

Sutherland makes no claim to have written a comprehensive guidebook but Golf on the Rocks has been well received as a thoroughly entertaining read that at least goes some way towards filling the gap.

More books by Andy Farrell
More books by Kevin Cook
More books by John D T White
More books by Gary Sutherland

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