Monday, May 15, 2017

Book review: James Dodson’s “The Range Bucket List” – a love song to a life in golf ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

James Dodson is a writer whose work is well known to the better-read kind of golfer – the golfer who doesn’t bury their head in how-to books and volumes of mental-game voodoo. Among his other golf-related books are the classic biography of the late Arnold Palmer, A Golfer’s Life; the touching and heartfelt Final Rounds, about his relationship with his father, and a final golf trip to Scotland toward the end of his father’s life; a very well-received biography of Ben Hogan entitled Ben Hogan, An American Life, the only such book authorized by the Hogan family; and several others.

Dodson is one of those writers whose name I look forward to seeing attached to news of a new book – one whose works occupy the upper shelves of my bookcase, where I can get to them easily to re-read, or browse for a cherished anecdote or a well-turned sentence. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that I recently learned of a new book from Mr. Dodson: The Range Bucket List: The Golf Adventure of a Lifetime (the title is a clever play on the term “bucket list” – those lists of things to do before you die that became vogue after the 2007 movie of the same name.)
James Dodson, two-time winner of the prestigious Herbert Warren Wind Award for golf books which is awarded by the USGA, brings his master’s touch, once again, to the recounting of anecdotes from a life well-lived in golf.
After I finished reading this book it occurred to me that the sub-title might better have been A Lifetime of Golf Adventure, because James Dodson has ranged the depth and breadth of the game of golf, far and wide across the United States, the British Isles, and just about everywhere in the world that the game is played. He has known hundreds of people in the game, ranging from the biggest stars – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and many others; to many of the great writers who have covered the game, including the immortal Herbert Warren Wind; as well as regular weekend (or quick-round-after-work) duffers like the rest of us.

The premise of The Range Bucket List is Dodson following up on a list that he made as an adolescent golfer (which he found a few years back while going through an old trunk in his attic) – a list of things that he wanted to accomplish in golf. The items on the list ranged from “1. Meet Arnold Palmer and Mr. Bobby Jones” to more prosaic goals like “5. Get new clubs” and “6. Break 80”, and while the title suggests that he embarked on a journey specifically to complete the list, in reality what he has done is to compile a series of anecdotes which illustrate how he did (or did not, in the case of #3 – “Make a hole in one”) achieve those goals, or something like them.

What comes out of the exercise is a slightly rambling, but interesting, heart-warming, and often moving book full of reflections on Dodson’s life in and around golf. He flirts with self-indulgence, at times, and is disarmingly frank about what has and has not gone right in his life, including the breakup of his first marriage, but one never senses self-pity or melancholy – only a sense of gratitude at the lessons he has learned from the bad breaks, and a sense of contentment at the friendships and experiences that he has been privileged to have formed through golf.

Some passages of this book may be familiar to readers of his earlier work, especially the chapter entitled Unfinished Business, which is about his trip to Scotland with his father near the end of the older Dodson’s life – the subject of his 1996 book Final Rounds. Rather than seeming repetitive, however, this chapter revisits, with a fresh eye, some of the core material from the earlier book. Some anecdotes about Harry Vardon from the Road Trip chapter appear in Dodson’s American Triumvirate, his book about Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan; and his story about meeting Glenna Collett Vare was familiar, though I couldn’t put my finger on where I had read it.

The sections in which Dodson tells of his friendship with Arnold Palmer – especially the story of how he came to write Arnie’s biography, A Golfer’s Life – are some of the high points of the book, and the passages which are most likely to bring a slight mistiness to the eyes of anyone who still feels the loss of Arnold Palmer as a small emptiness in their heart. I never met Mr. Palmer, or even saw him in person, but I have formed a deep appreciation for what he meant to the game of golf, and to the legion of fans whose lives he touched – and Dodson taps into those feelings with a light and reverent touch, helping us feel again the charm and humanness of “The King”.

Though not without some flaws – tiny ones, that maybe only those who read with an editor’s eye would recognize – The Range Bucket List stands up quite well alongside Dodson’s earlier works, and mind you, two of his books, Ben Hogan, An American Life, and American Triumvirate, won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award from the United States Golf Association, the highest honor afforded a book on the subject of golf.

The Range Bucket List is a heartfelt love song to a life well-lived through golf, and I think that any golfer whose feel for the game extends beyond “how-to-play” books and the quest for 10 more yards off the tee will enjoy accompanying Mr Dodson on this adventure.

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