There are way too many golf books in the world, and most of them are ridiculous. I don’t think you can learn the swing from a book, and I don’t care what Chi Chi said to Arnie. Half the golf course architecture books out there are self-congratulatory odes to themselves by top designers, and even in my favorite realm, golf travel, most are either useless or so specialized they have too narrow a focus. For the former I give you the perennial top selling Golf Digest Places to Play, which gives you everything you need to know about a course except for what it is like or how good it is, since they seem to give everything 3-4 stars regardless. For the latter, I have one on my shelf titled Rhinos in the Rough. It may be the essential guide to golf in East Africa, but that is practically non-existent.
But there are a handful of golf travel books that will actually make you trips better, make you take better trips, or simply make for good armchair reading. These are the best:
1-3. James Finegan’s British Isles trilogy is to golf travel what Star Wars is to film and hat the Godfather could have been if III didn’t suck so bad – the definitive three part series. Emerald Fairways and Foam Flecked Seas tackles Scotland, followed by Blasted Heath and Blessed Greens, covering Ireland, and finally All Courses Great and Small, the best – and maybe only – book covering golf in Wales in depth. These are little books, and make for excellent airplane reads on the flight across the pond. Believe me, the history and stories behind these courses bring them to life, and you will appreciate playing a hole called the Leg of Mutton a lot more if you know how it got that name.
4. Peugeot Golf Guide: I wish we had something like this in the States, but we don’t. This thick paperback covers every major country in Europe, and within them, every important course, and every good but not so important course. It covers Europe’s Top 1000 – yes that is one thousand – courses in detail. Each gets a rating on a 20 point scale that I find pretty accurate, plus essential info including a description of the course and club, policies, nearby lodging, rates, etc. It is simply the most practical golf guide under the sun, updated bi-annually.
5. Golf in Scotland: There are dozens of books on this topic but Allan Ferguson takes a different approach. He starts with the correct assumption that most Americans who have never been are going to take a package vacation, like those offered by companies including Perry Golf, Jerry Quinlan, etc, and then dissects these trips, shows where all the extra expense is, and then step by step guides the reader in assembling their own “package vacation” for far less. Not so much guide book, this is a complete set of instructions for building the Scottish golf trip, including courses group by distance from one another, secrets to getting tee times, all kind of insider stuff. It was also updated this year. Love it!
6. 1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die: The title is bit of stretch, as there are plenty of courses and holes in here you can live without, but it is a beautiful book. Not very practical in the sense that very few of us will travel to a courser to play one hole, but great armchair reading that might inspire you to go someplace off the beaten path. One exception to my rule is the Devil’s Cauldron at Banff Springs, which makes the book and is reason enough to visit the course.
7. A Course Called Ireland: I normally have very little patience for first person accounts of golf trips which usually go something like this: “I had the best trip, you should have been there but you weren’t, I am so cool, nah, nah, nah.” But this one is different if merely because the author engages in the most audacious golf trip ever: he decides, for no good reason, to play every single seaside course in Ireland (The Republic and Northern Ireland) and not only walk them all, but walk between them as well. His stroll around the entire perimeter of a big island is more about the Irish than about golf, which is what makes it perfect preparation for a trip among this friendly people – or inspiration to make such a trip.
8. World Atlas of Golf, the Greatest Courses and How They Are Played: We needed one coffee table book on this list, and I like this one because it truly includes the world’s great courses and enough architectural info for the layman to understand what the designer intended in terms of affecting the way the golf course plays.
9. Golf Travel By Design (How You Can Play the World’s Best Courses by the Sport’s Best Architects): Okay in full disclosure, I did write this book, but the reason is because no one had tackled this topic before. In a hybrid of golf course architecture and travel, I chose 18 (get it?) great designers past, present and up and coming, described in detail each one’s architectural style and trademarks and how they affect play, and in turn what kinds of golfers might like them, then showcased their top works with detailed travel advice and descriptions. Everything from Alister MacKenzie’s Royal Melbourne to Tom Doak’s then brand new Pacific Dunes is covered.
10. I so want to include a US golf guide, but I have yet to find one worthy of this list, so I am keeping the tenth spot open…