Review – A Disorderly Compedium Of Golf

A Disorderly Compendium Of Golf: Wisdom, Folly, Rules, Truths, Trivia, And More
Lorne Rubenstein and Jeff Neuman
Workman Publishing
Published October 2006
Trade Paperback – $13.95
Amazon link

So, you think that since it’s after Christmas, your gift-giving season is over, right? Wrong. Not if you have a golfer in the house. Sure, you may have given him or her that cute little driver cover or dozen balls as a stocking stuffer. Maybe you decided to keep him on your good side this year by going to Expedia and coming up with a travel package to California with tee times at Pebble and Spyglass for him and a couple of day spas for you. But that was only for Christmas. We golfers haven’t celebrated our holiday yet.

That takes place on January 4th. Tee-Off Thursday. As the sun rises over Kapalua and the pros come out of Silly Season hibernation, a golfer’s thoughts turn to fairways and greens. Christmas is too cold and the grass too brown and wet. But January 4th, we can see things starting to bloom. The sap rises, and things start to get better as we imagine ourselves topping our first four-iron of the season. To heck with Christ, Stuart Appleby is the Savior, and the Mercedes shall be his forever and ever, amen.

So you obviously want to join in on our celebration, but what can you do? Your credit cards are tapped out from Christmas, but you need that perfect, appropriate Tee-Off Thursday gift for the golfer in your house. Obviously, you can’t afford anything from a tournament sponsor like Mercedes, Nissan, BMW, or Honda, or especially the multiple Buicks you’d need to cover yourself. You probably can’t even swing the set of four Bridgestones it would take to replace the OEM tires on any of those cars. Given the rise in gas prices, getting something from Shell or Valero is out. You’re on a contract, so you can’t get anything from Verizon or AT&T cell-phone-wise. And Deutsche Bank, Barclays, US Bank, Travelers, and Wachovia won’t give you a loan. So what do you do, oh beleaguered golf widow or widower?

Fortunately, there’s a perfect gift for your beloved golfer. A Disorderly Compendium Of Golf is a wonderful collection of anecdotes, trivia, information, and just plain weirdness, all regarding the Greatest Game. It’s absolutely perfect for anyone who’s ever had to wait for a tee time and wondered how to get through the boredom and anticipation. It’s also the perfect size to stuff into your bag when the wait’s over.

Rubenstein and Neuman have come up with a perfectly-paced, quick-reading but informative, volume that covers not only the history of the game, but the minutiae that will enable the average duffer to do something more important to any golfer than gaining strokes on the course: win side bets at the 19th Hole for an entire season. If there’s anything more important than going from bogey to par, it’s getting free drinks and/or having someone else end up paying for your round.

The breezy style makes it incredibly easy to get into, and once you’re in, it’s like the Road Hole Bunker at St. Andrews: you’re not getting out that easy, Sonny Jim. While reading this for review, I lost a lot of sleep because I couldn’t put this down. I was actually disappointed when there were no more pages. I enjoyed virtually everything in this volume. A lot of the information I knew, a lot I had no clue about. The information is presented like tee shots at the first hole: sprayed all over the course. But there’s never not enough information given, nor is the presentation disorienting or distracting. The title promises “disorderly” and is as dead on as a Billy Casper putt.

Speaking of Casper, he’s got a section in here devoted to him, and it’s an education on the man who should be regarded as one of the greatest ever to play the game. His problem was that he peaked at the same time as Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player. Talk about being overshadowed. He’s always been a guy I’d have in my Dream Foursome (along with Young Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, and, hell, Bill Murray).

And speaking of Murray, there are more than the requisite number of quotes from Caddyshack in here. Personally, I don’t know why the authors included those quotes. If you’re serious about your golf, you’ve already memorized the script of Caddyshack anyway, so you know the good quotes.

There are a load of charts regarding all sorts of things, like comparisons between various golfers and their wins at specific ages. The book takes you through the late Byron Nelson’s 1941 season, the likes of which will never be seen again. It lists the most famous shots in the history of the game by club (with some nice facetious entries; check out the one for three-iron). It takes you stroke-by-stroke through some of golf’s most famous collapses, including Jean Van De Velde and Lefty’s US Open brainfart from this year. It pays respects to the greatest amateurs to ever play the game, and to teachers like Harvey Penick. There are very few subjects that this book doesn’t touch on, and the ones it does, it pays great attention to detail.

What can you learn from this book? That the easiest way to get to play Augusta National is to qualify for the Masters. That Chris DiMarco and Colin Montgomerie are two of only three golfers to lose a pair of playoffs in majors and never win one, and that Craig Wood and Greg Norman are the only two golfers who have completed the Grand Slam of losing majors in playoffs. How exactly to calculate a handicap, a task only slightly simpler than understanding quantum physics. Why playing Ko’olahu Golf Club in Hawaii requires you to hide all sharp objects and pill bottles. The differences between various types of grass and their uses, including certain notable courses. The progenitors of various archetypal holes in golf and how classic hole designs were taken from them. Why the holes at the Old Course are named the way they are (and an exact list of the holes at Augusta so that you don’t mix up your flowers). There’s even a full list of the rules that Ricky and Fred taught Lucy and Ethel, which don’t really match up to what the USGA and the R&A say but are far more entertaining; I’ve always wanted to play a round like that, but I don’t think I could get away with a single hole if there are other people on the course.

That’s just a sample. The section comparing the Hundred Greatest Courses as voted on by an all-star panel in 1939 (including Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and the Duke of Windsor) as compared to the Hundred Greatest in Golf Magazine’s 2005 list is an education in the history of the game, which makes “greatness” something that is continuous from generation to generation. The top three courses in both lists, for instance, are the same, just with their order switched. In fact, this book’s respect for the history of the game is one of the factors behind me falling in love with it. It spends about four pages trying to translate the clubs that, say, Hagen would have had in his bag compared to their modern equivalents (and gives you this feeling that Hagen might have been repulsed by a fairway metal or hybrid as something from the Devil, or Nike, whichever is closer). It’s a light read, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s one of the most educational books I’ve ever encountered.

All this and more (like the full quote behind Trevino’s famous statement “Not even God can hit a one-iron” and the story of how Amen Corner got its name) makes it the perfect Tee-Off Thursday gift for the golfer in your life (and thanks to Tigger, you probably know one or are living with one). Best of all, it won’t break the bank after your Christmas gift-giving orgy. So give your golfer a treat and get him or her this.

(In case you need any more impetus, that’s how I got mine. Gene Tierney received a review copy, and knew that it’d be the perfect Tee-Off Thursday gift for the golfer at IP, namely me. Now I owe the bastard something for Opening Day.)