Why Golf?: The Mystery of the Game Revisited

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9780743242479: Why Golf?: The Mystery of the Game Revisited

In the grand tradition of such classics as "Golf in the Kingdom" and "Final Rounds" comes a brilliant consideration of golf's inimitable and ever-growing popularity.

In 1908, Arnold Haultain wrote a delightful book with a deceptively simple title: "The Mystery of Golf." It explores the love affair golfers have with their sport and has been a favorite ever since among connoisseurs and students of the game. Now, more than ninety years later, in a thematic continuation of Haultain's enduring treatise, Bob Cullen has crafted a literate and thoughtful book that chronicles his own quest to uncover the secrets to the spell that golf has cast on millions.

Why golf? Beginning with that essential question, Cullen's fascinating explorations lead readers to a range of exotic and unexpected places of mind, spirit, and geography. Cleverly establishing entirely credible links between seemingly unrelated items -- from the breathtaking prowess of Tiger Woods to the Iranian government's near banning of golf to how a baby's smile is related to our love of golf -- Cullen weaves a rich and amusing tapestry, discussing suck unexpected subjects as Platonic philosophy and the nature of faith. As whimsical and picaresque as it is earnest and intensely personal, "Why Golf?" does for America's favorite weekend pastime what Peter Mayle did for the south of France and what George Will did for baseball.

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Review:

The simple answer to Bob Cullen's titular question is, of course, "Why not golf?" but when has a duffer ever been satisfied with simplicity when a more complex route presents itself? The nature of the game--and the realization that something is just as likely to go horribly on the next shot as it is to go well--produces a species of adherents wracked with doubt, soul-searching, and self-flagellation, a perfect petri dish for observation, experimentation, and meditation. Smart, witty, irreverent, and insightful, Cullen's personal odyssey into the heart of the enigma is as provocative as it is entertaining.

Cullen begins with a reading of The Mystery of Golf, Arnold Haultain's touchstone 1908 volume, and ends, as Haultain did, with his acceptance that golf's secret can't be found in any one place. Still, like any good afternoon on the links, he winds up in some pretty spectacular, far-flung, and surprising lies--and truths--along the way. Such as the former Imperial Country Club in Teheran. The minds of Bob Rotella and instructors Bob Toski and Paul Runyon. A chapter from The Biophilia Hypothesis by ornithologist Gordon Orians. The Koran. Harbour View, a state-of-the-art track in Virginia, and Li'l Bit o' Heaven, the scruffy old course run by 1955 U.S. Open champ Jack Fleck in Arkansas. The work of 19th-century Scots novelist George MacDonald. And, finally, his own backyard. Eclectic stuff, to be sure.

Haultain remains his caddie throughout; a citation from The Mystery of Golf begins every chapter. "Why is it, let us ask ourselves, that mankind consents to hold prowess in sport in such high esteem?" incites a fascinating contemplation of Tiger Woods as the golfing embodiment of the prisoner who escapes from Plato's cave; it turns wonderfully surreal when Cullen actually confronts Woods with the theory in the press tent following a tournament round. It's just one of the many unexpected and alluring connections that turns Why Golf? (the book) into an irresistible first tee to start searching for the answer to "Why golf?" (the question). --Jeff Silverman

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Why the Blind Baby Smiled

Probably ninety percent of human outdoor games consist in the propulsion of a spheroid or spheroidal object to a certain spot.

-- Haultain


The essence of golf is simple. The player has a ball. It lies at point A. Using a club, he tries to move it to point B.

It is an essentially useless endeavor. The ball does the player no more good at point B than it did at point A. There is no evident reason why moving it there should make him happy.

Yet there is no doubt that it does. Before there were courses and rules, scores and tournaments, before there was even a game called golf, there was the pleasure to be found in this simple act.

The joy of whacking something is the common thread in the childhood histories of virtually all the great golfers. Harry Vardon recounted how he and his friends on the Isle of Jersey built clubs to smack a white marble called a taw over the commons of the village of Grouville in 1877. Bobby Jones recalled how, at the age of five, he and a friend would while away summer days on the roadway in front of his Atlanta house, hitting a ball into a ditch with a sawed-off cleek given him by a member of the East Lake Country Club. Sam Snead made himself a club with a buggy whip for a shaft and a head fashioned from a knot in a tree branch. He happily banged rocks around the hills and pastures of Ashwood, Virginia, with this club until one Sunday morning when he happened to hit one through the window of the local Baptist church. Arnold Palmer, in his autobiography, recalls how his father gave him a club when he was three years old, taught him to grip it, and gave him a simple lesson: "Hit it hard, boy. Go find it and hit it again." This Palmer did, with great delight. He is still doing it, with evident zest, nearly seven decades later. In fact, the pleasure he finds in following his father's instruction could well be the reason he has played the game as well as he has for as long as he has.

Still, why should this be so?


I play golf once in a while with a psychiatrist named Joe Silvio. We met at a party given by a mutual friend several years ago. When I mentioned that I played, it was like mentioning that I knew an old flame he hadn't seen since college. His face lit up with a mixture of fondness, nostalgia, and hope. "Golf was the joy of my youth," he said.

I couldn't help but invite him to play.

Joe showed up for our game with a nervous smile on his bearded face and a set of clubs in an old leather bag. The irons were rusty. The driver was an old steel-shafted persimmon, so clearly a product of the fifties that it almost had tail fins. But when he hit a few range balls to loosen up, it was clear that he'd once played well. He had the fundamentals -- good posture at address, a full turn. His timing showed the effects of a few decades of rust. Some of his shots came off the hosel and some off the toe. They banged against the fence on the side of the range.

But it was one of those rare, soft summer days without heat or humidity, a day of blue skies and scattered, high clouds, the kind of July day that once in a while gets lost in Canada and wanders down to Maryland before regaining its bearings. No matter what the ball did, Joe was happy to be there.

"I'm not expecting much today," he said, as much to himself as to me.

He grounded his drive off the first tee. Mine wasn't much better -- into the rough on the left side of the fairway. I didn't care. I was having too much fun watching Joe rediscover the game. He didn't care how many strokes he took. He was enjoying the sensation of hitting a golf ball.

"Golf was a big factor in my boyhood," he said as we walked down the first hole.

He grew up, he told me, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Elizabeth, as anyone who drives down the New Jersey Turnpike knows, is the place where New York stores its oil, in vast tank farms that smell of benzine. It's where freighters unload their cargoes. It's not a place generally associated with golf.

"My father was an oil worker for Esso," he said. "But when I was a kid I got a job as a caddie at a public course called Galloping Hill, near the Garden State Parkway. After a while there, I graduated to a private club called Suburban Country Club. I worked on the weekends and in the summer. I played on Mondays."

Working at a golf club, he remembered, had paid him more than money. It had given him a chance to meet and talk with doctors, lawyers, engineers -- people he would not necessarily have encountered in Elizabeth. Slowly he realized that he was able to handle himself in their company, that they were no smarter than he was. He credited this experience with helping him decide to become a doctor. He applied for a scholarship available to the children of Esso employees and got it. He went to Cornell.

But the price of this upward mobility, it seemed, was golf. He married and started a private psychiatric practice. He and his wife had children. He decided he couldn't spare the time for activities that did not involve them. So the clubs got old in a corner of the garage.

By the time we made the turn, Joe's swing was slowly coming back. He was making bogeys and double bogeys. I was playing my usual game, which was perhaps a stroke per hole better. We weren't competing. He wasn't even keeping score.

The conversation flitted from golf to psychology and back again. We talked about criminal madness and a book I'd written about a Russian serial killer. We talked about the slice and what caused it. He told me how he'd come to rely less and less on Freudian theories over the years, finding that they were useful in explaining aggressive behavior but not very helpful in curing other illnesses.

I was thinking about my conversation with Alex Beam, so as we putted out on the twelfth hole, I asked him what Freud might have said about why people play golf.

"Freud probably would have explained it in terms of some kind of penis symbolism," he said.

The thirteenth at my course is a par three, one hundred and ninety-five yards. Joe hit his best shot of the day there, a three-iron that drew sweetly into the middle of the green. It was a reminder of the skills he'd once had and a promise that he might yet recapture them.

More than that, it was a reminder of the pleasure of the well-struck ball. I was not sure why hitting a golf ball well feels so good. There is, I knew, a pleasing sense of grace and rhythm that accompanies the swing on good shots. There's a strong, solid feeling that flows from the center of the clubface, through the shaft, into the hands, and up to the brain when a ball is hit properly. That's why, I suppose, the center of the clubface is called the sweet spot. Then there's the sight of the ball arcing against the sky and the trees, tracking toward its target. I am not one of those players who hits a good drive and reaches down to find and retrieve the used tee before the ball lands. When I catch one well, I savor every second of the ball's flight.

Joe, I could see, felt the same way. He watched his ball roll to a stop with a pleased smile on his face.

"I must've pulled that one out of my deep subconscious," he grinned.

Actually, Joe told me as we walked toward the green, Freud was considered badly outdated as a theorist on the sources of human pleasure. He had postulated a couple of instinctive drives -- a sexual drive, an aggressive drive. More recent research had suggested a model of the psyche that featured five instincts, though now they were called, with the academic tendency toward verbiage inflation, "motivational systems."

"Golf is probably related to the exploratory-assertive motivational system," he said.

I chipped onto the green and felt unusually conscious of the sensory pleasure the shot gave me. It was a good chip, hit with a seven-iron from a clean l

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the grand tradition of such classics as Golf in the Kingdom and Final Rounds comes a brilliant consideration of golf s inimitable and ever-growing popularity. In 1908, Arnold Haultain wrote a delightful book with a deceptively simple title: The Mystery of Golf. It explores the love affair golfers have with their sport and has been a favorite ever since among connoisseurs and students of the game. Now, more than ninety years later, in a thematic continuation of Haultain s enduring treatise, Bob Cullen has crafted a literate and thoughtful book that chronicles his own quest to uncover the secrets to the spell that golf has cast on millions. Why golf? Beginning with that essential question, Cullen s fascinating explorations lead readers to a range of exotic and unexpected places of mind, spirit, and geography. Cleverly establishing entirely credible links between seemingly unrelated items -- from the breathtaking prowess of Tiger Woods to the Iranian government s near banning of golf to how a baby s smile is related to our love of golf -- Cullen weaves a rich and amusing tapestry, discussing suck unexpected subjects as Platonic philosophy and the nature of faith. As whimsical and picaresque as it is earnest and intensely personal, Why Golf? does for America s favorite weekend pastime what Peter Mayle did for the south of France and what George Will did for baseball. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780743242479

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Book Description Simon & Schuster. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. 240 pages. Dimensions: 8.5in. x 5.5in. x 0.5in.In the grand tradition of such classics as Golf in the Kingdom and Final Rounds comes a brilliant consideration of golfs inimitable and ever-growing popularity. In 1908, Arnold Haultain wrote a delightful book with a deceptively simple title: The Mystery of Golf. It explores the love affair golfers have with their sport and has been a favorite ever since among connoisseurs and students of the game. Now, more than ninety years later, in a thematic continuation of Haultains enduring treatise, Bob Cullen has crafted a literate and thoughtful book that chronicles his own quest to uncover the secrets to the spell that golf has cast on millions. Why golf Beginning with that essential question, Cullens fascinating explorations lead readers to a range of exotic and unexpected places of mind, spirit, and geography. Cleverly establishing entirely credible links between seemingly unrelated items -- from the breathtaking prowess of Tiger Woods to the Iranian governments near banning of golf to how a babys smile is related to our love of golf -- Cullen weaves a rich and amusing tapestry, discussing suck unexpected subjects as Platonic philosophy and the nature of faith. As whimsical and picaresque as it is earnest and intensely personal, Why Golf does for Americas favorite weekend pastime what Peter Mayle did for the south of France and what George Will did for baseball. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9780743242479

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