With chapters on “The Rules of Golf”, “The Language of Golf”, and “Golf Safety”, among others, the potential reader who is unfamiliar with author Bill Pennington's “On Par” column in the New York Times, might be excused for thinking that this book is just another primer for the golf beginner. I have been playing golf for long enough to not require a basic primer on equipment, or rules, or etiquette, etc., so I wasn't looking for guidance in those areas when I selected this book. My preferred reading on the subject of golf is more along the lines of golf history and biography, course architecture, or golf-related fiction. I avoid the ubiquitous self-help golf books that promise to cure your slice (or hook, or putting woes, or short-game failings...), and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction from the myriad of “mental-game” self-help books. While Mr Pennington certainly includes a lot of basic information which will be invaluable to the beginner, he goes well beyond the basics in the aforementioned chapters, as well as other areas of the game.
Bill Pennington has played golf all across the United States and around the world, and has shared fairways and greens, as well as bunkers and rough, with such luminaries of the sport as professional players like Annika Sorenstam & Tiger Woods (not to drop names or anything...), world-renowned teachers of the game such as Butch Harmon & David Leadbetter, course architect Pete Dye, Sr., and countless others, from PGA professionals to country club champions and weekend duffers all over the country. Even with that background and access to the highest echelons of the game, Bill Pennington is far from being an upper-crust golf insider. He writes with an approachable, Everyman humor which makes it easy to imagine sharing a round of golf with him, followed by a drink in the clubhouse listening to more of the funny stories and low-key, but invaluable, insights he has to share.
That’s where the value of Bill Pennington’s book lies. It's not just hints and tips on the game, per se—those can be found in any of the hundreds and hundreds of golf tips books that have been published over the years —it’s the insight backing up the information. Pennington delivers the knowledge he shares with his readers with a wry humor which springs from a wealth of experience, a shrewd observer’s eye for nuance; and, I suspect, a Puckish nature which allows him to recognize and cherish all the myriad aspects of the game of golf, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
When you read On Par, you will learn about how to select a golf teacher and get the most out of lessons; why you should seek out not only the iconic “bucket-list” courses on which to play a round of golf, but also distinctive, but unheralded, local gems; how to be a good golf partner—and survive a round with a bad one, and much, much more. The insights, tips, and tidbits are delivered in a straight-forward manner, and with a leavening of self-deprecating humor which makes this book somewhat dangerous to read on a crowded airplane full of sleeping fellow passengers—especially for golfers with a few years of experience in the game, who will laugh out loud (as I did) as they recognize and empathize with the stories the author tells.
I recommend this book, without reservations, to anyone who has ever stepped into the tee box—excuse me, that’s “teeing ground” (see Chapter 2, The Rules of Golf)—club in hand, and attempted to propel a dimpled white orb downrange in the desired direction, advance it through the obstacles found along the way, and then roll it into that itty-bitty (seeming) hole at the end of the journey; or anyone who hasn’t yet, but is looking for some guidance as they take the first steps into the world of the craziest, and most enchanting, frustrating and fulfilling game ever invented—the game of golf.
(On Par: The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide will be available May 15, 2012 in hardcover from book retailers, also in a Kindle edition from Amazon.)