There is an elephant sitting on this golf course called the Kingdom, one that I should address here as this skeleton from my golfing closet was forced into the light this morning on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio.
On his “Fairways of Life” show, Matt Adams (who was wonderful enough to have me on and promote my books) asked a benign enough question, inquiring as to whether I had read Michael Murphy’s seminal golf and Scotland book, Golf in the Kingdom. It was a softball of a question; surely, as a golf writer and as a links-lover and as an author about to write a book that seems to borrow from Murphy’s title, I would reply with a quick, “Yes. Love it. Book changed my life,” as most readers of this book tend to respond. But I stumbled and paused and mumbled, and then finally admitted that I’ve never read Golf in the Kingdom. Shocked, Matt Adams promptly gave me a hard-earned D in his golf literature course.
My first D. My first Dog. Hey, you know what they call the guy who got all D’s in medical school, right? It wasn’t so bad, and it was worth it for getting this gap in my reading off my chest. And while I’m emptying out my closet, allow me to leave it bare: I don’t really read golf books.
How will you possibly go on with your day, burdened with my secret? It is a lot to dump on a reader. But allow me to explain. I have been given Golf in the Kingdom on several occasions. I’ve had it described to me so many times that I feel like I was in the book. I’ve watched the movie trailer, because the film stars Mason Gamble, who starred in the movie version of my first book, A Gentleman’s Game. I’ve been linked to Murphy’s book by Sports Illustrated, who in their golf’s most underrated/overrated list, named A Course Called Ireland as golf’s most underrated book, while Golf in the Kingdom won the more enviable title (overrated really just means you sold circles around the underrated choice). As a writer of golf narrative, it would make sense that I know this book cover to cover, that I quote from it in my daily exchanges. But I don’t, because I don’t read many golf books. And the reasons are pretty plain.
I have used golf books for my research, picking pieces that I need in planning a trip or making a point (Daley’s Links Golf, Campbell and Peper’s True Links, Sutherland’s Golf on the Rocks are a few recent titles), but there is not a great deal of upside for me when it comes to reading golf books. The possible outcomes: 1) I love the book, so I hate my own. I question every one of my sentences along with all of my life choices, and soon I return to caddying full-time. The writing ego is a fragile one that bounces between bold genius and curled-up-in-the-bathroom self-doubt. (And there is no such thing as thick-skinned author; we play at it, but it’s like calling oneself a thick-skinned parent–your kid gets hurt, your guts twist in bunches.) 2) I love the book, so I try to rewrite it under my own name. This is frowned upon in publishing circles. 3) I don’t love the book, so my time was wasted. And reading time is too precious to spend on books that don’t make you dance a little.
I hope that my writing about golf doesn’t feel derivative, and that it feels like a new take on the old subject of golf balls bouncing down a fairway. I guard against golf literature so that this might remain the case. I’m easily influenced by the style of the things I read or watch; if I go to a British movie, I come out talking like a chap from the East End. I don’t read much in golf because I’m always in golf, and the only way to keep that interesting for me, and thus for my readers, is to read outside of it. (Truth be told, I don’t think of my books as golf books, or of myself as a golf writer, though I am fortunate that my books have purchase with a particular readership–if that’s golfers, that’s great.) It’s advice I give to my writing students; if you want to get better at writing prose, read poetry. Read outside your genre and outside of your subject; research is one thing, but if you want to write a fresh young adult novel, reading a dozen YA titles isn’t the answer. Read stuff that will open your mind and allow you to see your subject in a different light. Read writers that set your ass on fire.
If you have any golf books that do that for you, let me know. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. On my reading table right now you’ll find The Canterbury Tales, Gulliver’s Travels, and 51 college freshman essays on the portrayal of love in Othello. Tales and GT are great British and Irish travel books, stories that will no doubt have an influence on A Course Called the Kingdom. As for the 51 essays awaiting their grades, they will have an influence as well. 54 holes a day in Scotland will seem an easy climb in comparison. Here’s to no Dogs in this pile.