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9 More Must Read Golf Books

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Greetings Golfers,

Last week I wrote about “9 Must Read Golf Books” … let’s call them the “Front Nine”. Well, here’s the “Back Nine” … also “9 Must Read Golf Books”.

* DOWN THE FAIRWAY by Bobby Jones
* DR. GOLF by William Price Fox
* GOLF IN THE KINGDOM by Michael Murphy
* ON LEARNING GOLF by Percy Boomer
* POWER GOLF by Ben Hogan
* SWING THE CLUBHEAD by Ernest Jones

These books are a combination of history, humor, instruction, and biography. Why so many instructional books on the list? Because the golf swing is probably golf’s greatest mystery. The instructional books here are not new, but all of modern golf instruction comes from these four books.

Who is the greatest player of all time? We could never settle that argument. But the greatest writer of golf who was also a golf champion is Bobby Jones … so let’s start with his book DOWN THE FAIRWAY.

Jones wrote DOWN THE FAIRWAY when he was only 25. He had just finished winning the US Open and the British Open in the same year and wanted to write while he thought he was at the pinnacle of his career. It’s shocking to read how insightful and humble he was at such a young age. Jones makes it clear that he wasn’t always on his A game, and that some days the game felt impossible – even to him. Jones had a nervous temperament and tournament golf was very hard on him. He gives the reader an inside look at the mind and emotions of one of golf’s all time greats.

Though Bobby Jones was from money and was an old school golfer, he was not a snob. That can not be said about Dr. Golf. William Price Fox makes fun of the blue-blooded types that epitomized golf about 100 years ago in his book DOCTOR GOLF. Is it funny? Yes, if you enjoy absurd humor. This doctor is the owner of the fictional golf sanctuary Eagle Ho, and answers golf questions in the form of “Dear Abby”. The game of golf has had to wrestle with being perceived as as hotbed of exclusion and snobbery since it came to America. Doctor Golf does everything he can to portray that attitude. One frustrated writer says it best “Is there always this almost unbearable attitude of superiority in your messages?”

On a totally different wave-length is the mystical, magical GOLF IN THE KINGDOM by Michael Murphy. Murphy’s semi-autobiographical account of a young American philosophy student on his way to India via a stopover in Scotland where he meets Shivas Irons. Shivas loves the heart and soul of golf in a way that Dr. Golf pretends to. Shivas opens our traveler’s mind to the idea that golf is a vehicle to enlightenment – the type of enlightenment that he is seeking in India.

Though Shivas Irons was supposed to be a golf star, he never explains how to swing the golf club. Tommy Armour was a golf star and explains how to swing the golf club in HOW TO PLAY YOUR BEST GOLF ALL OF THE TIME. This is my all time favorite golf instructional book. I love the tone and especially love the common sense attitude towards playing golf.

A very different attitude, but a very valid and fascinating look at the golf swing comes from Percy Boomer in his book ON LEARNING GOLF. Boomer is the guy who came up with the visual of “turning your hips in a barrel”. Boomer’s a very intelligent fellow and his ideas of the golf swing are very sophisticated. He livens it up with his interludes where he discusses the golf swing with such people as a world famous mathematician and a world class dancer.

Boomer’s theories are evident in Ben Hogan’s POWER GOLF. Hogan is credited with the start of the modern swing that relied more on the big muscles and less on the hands. I believe that Percy Boomer’s book actually lead the charge, but Hogan’s book was the big breakthrough – especially in America.

The anti-modern swing bible is Ernest Jones’ SWING THE CLUBHEAD. Jones lost a leg in WWI but continued to be a champion golfer because he could “swing the clubhead”. You need to hear his mantra and see the pictures of a little girl making a perfect swing.

But golf isn’t only about the golf swing. Dan Jenkins wrote about golf for many years in Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest. Some of his best essays are in his book THE DOGGED VICTIMS OF INEXORABLE FATE. The title came from Bobby Jones description of tournament golfers. Jenkins captures the many sides of golf … and very often in humorous fashion.

But the king of golf writers is the late Herbert Warren Wind. Though his name can seem pretentious and he wrote for the New Yorker magazine, Wind is down-to-earth and captures the charm and history of our game in THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN GOLF.


Tom Abts
GM and Head Golf Professional