Colman McCarthy is an editorial writer and columnist for The Washington Post who is deservedly respected as a defender of good and noble causes, not all of them popular. Although less well known for it, he is also a passionate devotee of a sport sometimes associated—unfairly, he feels—with the rich and privileged. Colman McCarthy is a golfer, and a good one.
For a while McCarthy kept his passion to himself, granting it written expression only in occasional unsigned editorials. But he was persuaded by friends in the Post sports department to write some pieces for them, and soon he found himself moonlighting as a commentator on his favorite sport. Now he has gone one step further, collecting and amplifying on some of his golf articles in The Pleasures of the Game (Dial, $7.95), a small book filled with large delights.
As a young man, McCarthy was expert enough at golf to compete in professional tournaments. He still plays three or four times a week—but now only for the fun of it. "I have always thought," he writes, "that life's agonies were already so liberally distributed in everything else we do that there was little need for bringing them out to the golf course." Most of his book is therefore a guide to playing competently, sanely and happily, if iconoclastically.
He argues, for example, that in putting it's more important to concentrate on distance than direction. He thinks the game is more interesting if one uses fewer clubs. Although he's an ardent environmentalist, he says that it's usually silly to replace divots because most grasses won't grow back once they've been chopped away.
But McCarthy is most interesting on matters that transcend chips and putts. He's for short-hole public courses as a way to mix recreation and green spaces. He's against golf carts for all except those in poor health, because they take most of the exercise out of the game. He's all for golfing marriages, and he has some sound advice for parents about making golf (or any other sport) appealing to children.
Occasionally McCarthy's prose gets precious, and he has one habit that is going to irritate a lot of readers. He's a health freak, and sometimes he can get awfully self-righteous on the subject. But the rest of the time McCarthy has the reader sitting pretty smack in the middle of the fairway.