You don't have to be a golfer to enjoy the latest in the series of reproductions from the Rare Book Library of the USGA. But you do have to be an admirer of good writing. All who are are in the debt of this library, which has reissued some of golf's buried masterpieces in editions of fine quality. The current release—Tee Shots and Others, by Bernard Darwin (USGA, Far Hills, N.J. 07931, $50)—is a beauty as well as a rarity.
Darwin, the grandson of the naturalist, quit the practice of law in 1907 and spent the rest of his life (he died in 1961) playing and writing about golf. His devotion to both was obsessional. At the former he was good enough to play with the best; indeed, he won a point in the first Walker Cup match, in 1922. At the latter, as golf writer for The Times of London and contributor to other publications, he was the finest practitioner of his time and, perhaps, of all time. A hint of the energy brought to his own game is his use of the term "the enemy" when referring to those against whom he played. One of the earmarks of his style as a reporter was his refusal, even when covering important matches, to quote the participants; he was convinced he knew more about golf than they did, even if they were better athletes. He was sure his readers wanted to hear what he, not some self-interested player, had to say. He suggested—not entirely capriciously—that it might occasionally be far more entertaining to read an account of a match between weekend golfers rather than an important one between professionals. He had in mind all the wild and wonderful miscues by hackers, as opposed to the sterility of endlessly rehearsed perfect strokes by the aristocrats of the game.
Steeped in the sport as he was, Darwin nevertheless retained a wry, implacable sense of humor as he wrote of himself and others as having minds "warped by golf." His style, the product of empathy with classic literature, is a model of enduring excellence—a far cry from the frenetic journalistic fads that pop up and fizzle out after brief popularity.
In Tee Shots Darwin writes about the value of practice in the "healing of one's golfing diseases" and the excuses golfers employ for poor play—"...dogs, people standing or moving immediately behind us, and, commonest of all perhaps, caddies suffering from the hiccups." And there are wonderful memories of courses he's played, one being "a course no longer, and, indeed, I am not sure that sacrilegious young women do not play hockey upon it." There is a graceful preface to this edition by Frank Hannigan, senior executive director of the USGA, and a warm introduction by Lady Joyce Heath-coat Amory (who in the '20s as Joyce Wethered was considered the greatest woman golfer in the game), a frequent golfing companion of Darwin's. Altogether, a lovely package.