Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: “Let There Be Pebble: A Mid-Handicapper’s Year in America’s Garden of Golf” ☹

I lingered a long time with my fingers poised over the keyboard while I pondered how to proceed with this review. On the face of it there is much to be admired – even envied – about a golfer/golf-writer/wanna-be novelist who ditches his hum-drum life in some Midwestern fly-over state to spend a year in one of the most beautiful physical landscapes on the planet, schmoozing with the best professional golfers in the world, not to mention celebrities from the worlds of sports, TV, movies, and music who also flock to the place. On the other hand, there is also something a bit “Gee, Toto – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!” about it.

The chronicle of this journey, as related by author Zachary Michael Jack, careers drunkenly back and forth between two extremes. The book frequently lapses into an uncomfortably-adolescent hero-worship of both the place – Pebble Beach Golf Links and the nearby town of Carmel – and the people who live there and/or frequent the area professionally or as tourists; it will then veer off into a coldly cynical assessment of the California-craziness of the place as seen through the lens of a Midwestern upbringing, with long stretches in which the author settles into a naively insouciant familiarity that struck me as somewhat self-deluding.

Jack deserves credit for having the
chutzpah to shoulder his way into the Pebble Beach/Carmel community, like the gawky nerd who crashes a party thrown by his high school social superiors. Taking in four big-time golf tournaments at Pebble Beach during his year Out West, he interviewed anyone who would stand still long enough, from the mayor of Carmel and the people responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, to golf luminaries such as Gary Player, Johnny Miller, and Jack Nicklaus – even the other golf writers who were covering the tournaments. He brazened his way through open houses in multi-million dollar homes on 17-Mile Drive while renting a room in a Carmel bungalow and sleeping on a yoga mat, and took a stab at the singles dating scene in the area. He ventured north, to San Francisco and Sausalito, where he spoke with (and fawned over) Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute and the author of a book that is simultaneously (and sadly) the worst book ever written about golf, and the one which has probably sold the most copies: Golf in the Kingdom.

Despite the implication of the sub-title, “A Mid-Handicapper’s Year in America’s Garden of Golf”, Jack appears not to have played much golf during his year in Pebble Beach. He refers to only two rounds played, one at Pebble Beach Golf Links itself, and another at “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach”, Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links – a fine municipal course just up the road from the high-priced tracks of the Del Monte Forest – which he dismissed as ordinary. He spends nearly as much time dropping names, and describing (and dissing) the politics and social mores of the area as he does talking about golf.

Another reviewer noted that the author of this book seemed to be very fond of the sound of his own voice – and I most heartily second that opinion. His prose is verbose and overwrought, and he revels in inane wordplay and puns of the worst sort (
not that there is a good sort...). To make matters worse, the book appears to have been proofread and edited by a dropout from sophomore English – bad enough coming from a commercial publishing house, but the egregious lack of quality is made even sadder by the fact that the book was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

By way of example:

  • On two occasions in the text, in a reference to a person seemingly suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome (a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics), the person is spoken of as having “Turret’s”.
  • Bushmill’s Whiskey, one of the sponsors of Irishman Graeme McDowell,  the winner of the 2010 U. S. Open which Jack chronicles briefly in the book, is referred to as “Bushnell’s” (makers of precision optical instruments and laser rangefinders for golf and sportshooting).
  • The name of a well-known Bay Area sportswriter is misspelled.
  • He uses, unattributed, the nicknames for Pebble Beach as a whole – “Double-Bogey by the Sea”, and its most difficult stretch of holes  – “Abalone Corner” (the eighth, ninth, and tenth), which were coined by Golf Hall of Fame sportswriter Dan Jenkins.

The list of similar inanities, malapropisms, and flat-out mistakes goes on and on, and they come more frequently the further along in the book one reads, as if the proofreader was skipping along hurriedly in order to get an unpleasant job over with.

I have to admit, I only finished this book to see just how much worse it could get – and the further I read, the worse it got. This is the biggest train-wreck of a book I have read since I put down
Golf in the Kingdom about 2/3rds of the way through. Pebble Beach and the Monterey Peninsula area deserve to be treated much better than they fared at the hands of Mr Jack, and if there were border guards controlling access to the region, they would have the author’s picture in their “Undesirables” file, to prevent his returning and perpetrating any more nonsense of this kind.

The book jacket describes the author as a former newspaper columnist and sportswriter, and his current bio has him writing poetry, and teaching English at a small Methodist college in Naperville, Illinois. Heaven help his students if they retain anything they learn from him about writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment