Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review - The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever ☺☺☺

If I had read The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever before I read Mark Frost’s other golf-related books (The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf) I would have missed out on a couple of really good reads – because I would never have picked up another of his books.

The main substance of this book – the story of a unique, one-time golf match between two aging masters of the professional game (Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson) and two up-and-coming young amateurs (Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward) at one of the most beautiful, and exclusive, golf courses in the country, Cypress Point, on California's Monterey Peninsula – would have made a good magazine article. In order to tease it out to book length, however, Frost mixes in biographical chapters on the lives of the four participants, as well as the two instigators of the match, Eddie Lowery, a successful Bay Area businessman and supporter of amateur golf (who, as a pint-sized 10-year-old, caddied for Francis Ouimet in his improbable 1913 U.S. Open victory over Englishmen Harry Vardon and Ted Ray) and George Coleman, a wealthy California business figure. It’s mostly blatant, and superfluous, padding – the material on Hogan has been chronicled better elsewhere, with a lighter touch, by more skilled writers (Curt Sampson comes to mind…) and the dirt-digging on Eddie Lowery’s business dealings and troubles with the amateur golf establishment borders on the sordid.

Frost’s florid writing style in this book is off-putting and sensationalistic; he leaves no superlative unturned, and must have worn out his thesaurus in the search for more and better adjectives the further he got along in the story. His chapters on Hogan are fawning and overly-sentimental, reminiscent of James Dodson's saccharine 2004 biography of the man (no surprise that Frost singles out Dodson for mention in his Oscar show-length thank you’s).

One thing that Frost never pays off on is the title’s tagline: “The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever”. How can an event which was witnessed by a relative handful of people, a private golf match with no title or championship significance, be said to have changed the game of golf forever? The match did occur at a cusp in the sport, as golf was changing from a pastime of the wealthy in which amateur sportsmen were held in higher esteem than the professional practitioners of the sport, to the Arnold Palmer-inspired pastime of suburban professionals and blue-collar workers, when TV and its attendant influx of money made it a national sensation that provided a viable, even lucrative, living for the touring professionals in the game – but none of those changes hinged on, or were precipitated by “The Match”.

Razor out the biographical padding, leaving only the chapters on the match itself and the afterword on the history of the course and you’ll have an enjoyable lunchtime read (my enjoyment of the historical afterword may be attributable to local interest, as I was born and raised just inland of the Monterey Peninsula, in the Salinas Valley). If you’re ready to immerse yourself in more of the early history of the game, pick up Frost’s other books – The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf – they are much better books.

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