Hole By Hole
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There’s no one perfect way to learn how to play golf.
That’s because we all learn motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and the mental aspects of the game in different ways, at different stages in our lives, and with varying degrees of interest in the way the instructional materials are presented to us.
This is all good for those in the golf instruction business. After all, if someone had come out previously with the one best way to learn the game, there would be no reason for all those competing approaches that we see on TV and read in the golf magazines and golf books.
Long-time golf instructor Mark Steinbauer, working with Hunki Yun, appears to have a keen appreciation for all that variety, as shown in his new book, 18 Game-Changing Lessons: Talking Golf with Legends and Pros (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang; $19.95 SRP).
The PGA pro is the Director of Golf at The Club at Carlton Woods, in The Woodlands, Texas. He taught golf at the Academy of Golf, the Nicklaus/Flick Golf Schools, and his own training center. Steinbauer also had a stint with Harvey Penick, his avowed mentor and the author of the best-selling "Little Red Golf Book".
Steinbauer has gathered together in his new book some of what he considers the best teaching tips for golfers of all skill levels, in each of the major parts of the game, from driving to putting.
I like the way he structured these lessons. In segments such as the Jim Flick chapter called "Swing, Don’t Hit," Steinbauer describes the basic point that Flick tried to impart to his students. Flick tries to make sure golfers don’t overcomplicate their game, while also understanding that not everyone can swing like a pro. Steinbauer then takes this central thesis and shows how high handicappers, mid-handicap players, and highly skilled amateurs can use this information at their particular skill level.
There’s a world of difference between Dave Pelz’ scientific attitude toward golf, and Harvey Penick’s "Take Dead Aim" aphorisms. Steinbauer did some nice work in showing how these two very different teaching styles can help many struggling golfers, albeit to different degrees depending on their own ways of learning.
There’s also a useful chapter on clubs and balls, also split among the three basic skill sets.
This is a broadly practical golf instruction book. With no particular emphasis on a single way to play, it should be effective for a wide audience of folks looking to learn more about their favorite game.
Review date: October 15, 2010
Three new coffee table books
There are a few distinct book-selling opportunities for those who publish books aimed at the golfing community.
The first one is just around the time of the Masters Tournament, when most of the sports-minded folk in the country are just recovering from the NCAA basketball tournament.
The second selling season comes up shortly thereafter, as Father’s Day approaches.
The third selling segment is just starting now, as folks begin thinking about the upcoming Christmas season.
With that in mind, here are three very pleasant coffee-table style golf books for your consideration.
Robert Sidorsky’s Golf Courses of the World: 365 Days is now out in its second edition, and is just gorgeous (Abrams Books; $29.95 SRP). The 744-page book includes a short description and stunning photography of over 200 golf courses from all over the world.
For each day of the year, a golf course is singled out for praise, usually combined with a photograph that fills a page by itself.
Bayside Resort Golf Club, near Fenwick Island, is the closest beneficiary of Sidorsky’s compliments, and can be found on the October 9 calendar entry. Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course, in Bethesda, Maryland, can be seen on the next day’s entry, while the Pennsylvania courses highlighted include Aronimink Golf Club (July 5), Merion Golf Club’s East Course (July 6), and Philadelphia Cricket Club (July 7).
Planet Golf USA is another beautiful book from the folks at Abrams Books ($60 SRP). Written by Darius Oliver, with a forward by Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw, the book features photographs and commentary about more than 140 golf courses throughout America. The principal photographers were John and Jeanine Henebry, who to judge from this work are extremely adept at large scale landscape photography.
In one respect, the pictures are reminiscent of many such views found in other golf-related coffee table-style books. Many of the scenes appear to have been shot during early morning or late afternoon, when the sun angles make the course contours appear at their most dramatic.
I’m perfectly fine with this approach, from my amateur art appreciation perspective.
Each course description includes information about the designer, its ranking among those listed in Golf Digest or Golf Magazine’s annual ratings, and an outline of how the course plays. In addition to Merion and Congressional CC, the featured courses closest to the Cape Region include Baltimore CC in Maryland and Pine Valley, in southern New Jersey.
The last book in this series is also published by Abrams Books, and it takes a unique approach to its photogenic subject. In David Barrett’s Golf’s Dream 18s, the author essentially breaks up golf courses into their 18 hole parts, and then reassembles them into a widely varying set of new layouts. ($50 SRP).
For example, his first substantive chapter is devoted to a fantasy layout of the most scenic 18-hole golf course. At par-70, ranging from 4612 to 6627 yards, with 6 par 3s and four par 5s, the course is eminently playable, with holes taken from Desert Highlands, Pacific Dunes, Pebble Beach, and the Casa de Campo. Based on the photographs, I think a round would take twice as long, solely due to the awe-inspiring layouts.
Barrett came up with several other fantasy layouts, such as one without any bunkers, holes anyone can play (he says), strategic holes, and his ultimate dream 18.
It’s a fun read, and I could see someone converting some of these layouts into a computer simulation that would be a blast to play.
Review Date: September 24, 2010
Course and player management skills focus of new book
Like most golfers who were first exposed to golf in the last few decades, I have almost never played a round with the assistance of a real, live caddie.
On the rare occasions that I did, at Pebble Beach Golf Links and The Links at Spanish Bay, they were great experiences.
I had no idea how liberating it was to simply walk the course without a bag on my shoulders, or while pushing or pulling a golf trolley. All I had to do was think about my next shot, and listen to what the caddie suggested about club selection, targeting, and how my putt would probably break on the green.
The loopers I hired clearly had years of experience, both on the courses and with a wide variety of golfers. Their people skills were the equal of their ability to gauge the wind, pick a club, and read a green.
Whenever they’re done caddying, some of these guys should explore a career in the diplomatic service.
The caddie/player teams we see on the professional tours are just one of the many ways in which the professional game differs so much from the rest of us. The caddie can help process the flow of information that is needed to put the right swing on the ball, and also keep the golfer maintain a focus on the task at hand.
Left to our own devices, too many of us can ruefully admit to thinking about the last shot while in the middle of the next one, with less than happy results.
Although caddies are rare commodities, the rest of us can still take advantage of what caddies can bring to the game, if we really want to. That’s the message of James Y. Bartlett’s new book, "Think Like a Caddie, Play Like a Pro" (Sellers Publishing; $24.95 SRP).
Bartlett is a longtime golf writer, and teamed up with the Professional Caddies Association to write this book. Other contributors include Reid Champagne, who writes for Delaware Today magazine and other local publications, as well as Mark Nelson and Anderson Craigg.
Caddies don’t make the swings, but they can help the golfer with everything that leads up to them. The point of the book is to suggest to players how to use the resources that any good caddie brings to a round; in a sense, how to be a caddie for yourself.
Think in terms of the typical situation facing any golfer in a routine eighteen-hole round. A good caddie will know the course conditions. The caddie will help the golfer assess every likely element that could affect the ball’s flight or roll toward the target, be it wind, ground slope, hazards, or other factors. A caddie will rarely if ever let the golfer take his swing without making sure the player is aware of these factors, is prepared to handle them, and is focused only on that particular shot at that particular time.
A professional player can take advantage of a second brain in conducting the pre-shot routine. What this book does is illustrate how the rest of us should try to split our minds in two and improve our results with the same process.
The book includes plenty of examples from the professional tours, along with several amusing anecdotes. There are several useful checklists for different game situations. I also especially liked a segment on the right kind of statistics to keep track of during a round. Some of these stats don’t normally show up on The Golf Channel’s post-tournament shows, but they should be highly useful for the rest of us.
This book is a nice introduction to the concepts of course and player management that are such important elements to improving your game. It is a fast and enjoyable read, written from an interesting perspective.
Review Date: July 23, 2010
As with most other sports, golf can be a wonderful cocoon against the outside world, where the cares and responsibilities of life can be set aside for a few hours in pursuit of sporting triumph, however defined.
Governed by a series of imperious rules that artificially fence in the player’s options for achieving those goals, golf also insists that compliance with those rules provides a way to test one’s makeup, beyond the confines of the sport.
Perhaps no other game claims that it provides an opportunity to reveal character, as opposed to building it.
Nonetheless, the real world has a bad habit of intruding into the artificial ones we create.
Steve Eubanks’ new book is a timely reminder of these facts of life, with his detailed study of the death of one of the inventors of the modern game.
J. Douglas Edgar is not well known to most golfers nowadays, but in the late teens and early twenties of the last century, plenty of folks knew all about him. He set a longstanding competitive scoring record in his first victory in the Canadian Open, and followed it up with a successful defense of his title the next year.
It wasn’t so much that Edgar won, or how low he went when he did. While trying to figure out how to play with a bad hip condition, Edgar invented what we now know as the modern golf swing. Its emphasis on building torque between the upper and lower halves of the body, with the downward move beginning with a hip turn instead of the arm swing, led to a huge boost in Edgar’s distance and control. When he was “on,” Edgar was simply unbeatable.
Like others of his era, Edgar’s tournament play was an adjunct for his regular work as the golf pro for a club, in his case an upscale layout in Atlanta, Georgia. Two famous golfers, Bobby Jones and U.S. Women’s Amateur winner Alexa Stirling, learned the game and Edgar’s swing under his tutelage.
In mid-summer 1921, however, Edgar’s increasingly charmed life came to a swift and violent end. The initial impression was that he was a victim of a hit-and-run accident with a car. This scenario fit in nicely with the growing consensus in Atlanta and elsewhere that something had to be done about safety and traffic conditions, as more and more cars filled the streets in the aftermath of World War I.
An Atlanta Constitution reporter, Comer Howell, was among the first to the scene, as Edgar bled out on the streets. He also thought at first that a car had hit Edgar. It was only later that Howell came to believe that something far more sinister caused Edgar’s demise.
Working from transcripts of the coroner’s inquest, court papers, and other contemporary accounts, in addition to Howell’s notes, Eubanks shows the reader that Howell was most likely correct about the cause of Edgar’s untimely passing.
While highly accomplished on the golf course, Edgar’s personal life was far less exemplary. He enjoyed more than the occasional cocktail, and Prohibition didn’t help matters. He was generous to a fault with his money, to the point of profligacy. His immaturity in that respect led to strict financial controls by his club’s management
In addition, although married and the father of two children, there are indications that he often enjoyed other female companionship, as a reward of sorts for his athletic prowess.
Some things don’t change over time, apparently.
Some of Edgar’s circumstances are more tightly tied to his times, however. Atlanta was a Southern bastion of the early twenties, with blatant appeals to racism marring political, social, and economic life in Georgia. An English immigrant, Edgar did not appear to be tied to local mores in these respects.
As Eubanks shows, that fact may have been a critical element in explaining why Edgar was killed.
This book is a fascinating glimpse at a part of golf’s history that has not been given as much attention as it deserves. The mystery of Edgar’s death almost certainly provides part of the explanation for why that is so. Sports biographies tend to emphasize the positive over a fuller understanding of a game’s heroes, and in Edgar’s case, that was no easy task.
Eubanks should be commended for not following the usual script with this great story.
Review Date: May 31, 2010
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