The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever by Mark Frost
My father was an avid golfer, and so I grew up with the game. My brother and I didn’t take to it as well. They called us Splash and Divot. My brother swung so hard he’d churn up meteors that would chunk the fairway. And if you put a cup of water in shadowy gully ten feet off the fairway, I’d land my ball in it. I enjoy the game, but it’s not my favorite. Still better than basketball.
Frost came to my attention because he wrote two books about Arthur Conan Doyle that were speculative fiction that I have yet to read. They were numbered seven and six, so I was checking to see if he wrote a five yet. No. He did however co-create Twin Peaks and wrote for Hill Street Blues. And he has since taken up writing golf books,
The Match is interesting in its place in history. I’m a sucker for when pop culture and history mesh. I fucking eat that with a spoon. People shit on him, but I love Erik Larson for the same reasons. Ben Mezrich. All them guys.
Changing the game of golf forever might be a bit hyperbolic. What happened was, a bet between two wealthy guys resulted in two amateur golfers challenging two professional golfers in a best ball competition. Frost nicely doles out the game play — lovingly describing the golf holes on the course they play and the challenges there in.
But it’s the write up of the history around the event — the current events, the stories of the golfers — where the book shines. Ben Hogan, Lord Byron, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward are each put in the juxtaposition of the events going on around them. At the time, being a pro golfer was not as lucrative. It was hard to scratch out earnings, hustling around to tournaments where the first prizes barely justified the travel expenses. You’d have to play upwards of forty or fifty tournaments a year. Meanwhile, amateurs were often doctors or salesmen, dilettantes who had skill and could play on a whim. Amateurs often competed at the professional level, but didn’t want to relegate themselves to a hustler’s life just to scratch by.
So this epic match became a fight between the amateur and the professional. Personal tragedies, grudges, challenges, it was all worked out in the scope of this showdown. The most entertaining was hearing about Bing Crosby’s part in orchestrating all this. He used to host a Pro-Am that would become a four day bacchanal. And from that spouted this match up.
Really interesting if you enjoy golf and hearing how the game fell in place during the early part of the 20th century.