THE ROAD TO NOWHERE THIS GOLF ODYSSEY IS HEAVY ON ATTITUDE, SHORT ON SOUL

June 15, 1997

Golf pencils don't come with erasers, which may explain why
William Hallberg's The Soul of Golf (Fawcett Columbine, $25) was
published with its title intact. The Soul of William Hallberg
seems more apt. A nonfiction book with the rhetorical excesses
of academy fiction, Soul is the story of a confessed "spiritual
defective" who seeks redemption while on a summerlong American
golf odyssey. "Over the past few years, I've allowed
self-indulgence to swell inside my middle-aged soul," Hallberg
writes. "Beer, lust, bad food, inertia, fiscal
irresponsibility...and now golf."

The model for his road journal is clearly Blue Highways: A
Journey into America, the 1982 best-seller by William Least Heat
Moon. Like Moon, Hallberg is a small-town college English
teacher who's separated from his wife. Like Moon he has a
troubled mind and a head full of book learning. Like Moon he
sets out alone in an old vehicle, hoping to find direction on
America's back roads. Unlike Moon, though, he takes his golf
clubs.

It's a miracle that the author can swing a club, given the size
of the chip on his shoulder. His college degrees, he tells us,
are from "humble midwestern land-grant universities." His diet
consists of Grand Slam Breakfasts from Denny's, quarts of beer,
Whoppers, Big Gulp drinks and Yoo-Hoos. He is a "pauper";
college teachers, he explains, are the "stoop laborers" of
education. (On the other hand, the reader learns that Hallberg
played some pretty exclusive golf courses in his youth, shrines
like the Old Course at St. Andrews and Oakland Hills, near
Detroit.)

This posturing mars the book, which is unfortunate because
Hallberg, the author of a well-received golf novel (The Rub of
the Green) and editor of an anthology of golf short stories
(Perfect Lies), can be a graceful writer. Soul soars when he
plays a round with two homeless Vietnam vets drying out at a Los
Angeles V.A. hospital. The prose is also elevated by the
landscape of the American West, which is austere enough to
offset Hallberg's hyperbole. "I want to play golf above the
clouds," he writes near Colorado's Mt. Massive Country Club, "in
air so thin the ball will fly forever."

The Soul of Golf is both a travel book and a boomer's lament
that he is an aging Peter Pan in spikes. Above all, though, it
is a cautionary tale for those of us who would like to pop some
Quaaludes, guzzle a six-pack of Lone Star, jump on a Harley and
tear off to Cypress Point for a solitary round.

The question is: How many of us have that particular dream?

--JOHN GARRITY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)