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|Author Bob Thomas writes unique golf books and developed a unique business model to get them directly into the hands of golfers. (Courtesy of Bob Thomas)|
Golf author Bob Thomas doesn't like to be constrained by the limits of traditional golf writing. His first book, "Ben Hogan's Secret," combined painstaking research and interviews with Hogan's contemporaries with Thomas' own best guesses about what drove one of the most enigmatic personalities in golf history.
The result was a sort of historical fiction, or literary portrait, of Hogan. Thomas's most recent effort, "Why Bobby Jones Quit," follows a similar recipe, drawing upon considerable research and the author's own wellspring of empathy to weave together a very readable, very plausible account of one of golf's more mysterious personal sagas.
Thomas' unique angle on golf isn't limited to his books, however. Not long after publication of "Ben Hogan's Secret" by Macmillan Publishing, Thomas became disenchanted by mainstream publishing houses, who, in his own words, "rob the authors blind."
So Thomas developed a completely novel business model (no pun intended). Thomas formed his own company with seed money from private investors, found a quality self-publishing and bookbinding source, complete with professional customized cover art, and approached individual golf clubs himself. The courses were offered discounted volumes, personalized with the club names, for sale in their pro shops or as membership and outing gifts.
He also inked a sponsorship deal with golf cart giant Club Car, whose name adorns some of his book covers.
"Have you ever heard of a golf author being sponsored?" Thomas asked me in a recent e-mail. Not only is the answer negative, but it had never even occurred to me that it would be possible. But that didn't stop Thomas.
On top of the aggressive, self-styled marketing campaign, Thomas also took up arms against his former publisher. He sued to get the copyright back for "Hogan's Secret" and won. Now he holds exclusive republication and distribution rights.
As a result, Thomas just sold 45,000 copies of his first novel to Grayhawk Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The resort will give them out as gifts to players. According to Thomas, the sale is the largest by any author in U.S. history.
As for Thomas' most recent literary golf portrait, "Why Bobby Jones Quit" ($35, signed author edition), golf history buffs - and fans of the almost mythic Bobby Jones in particular - will be drawn into the tale of the very complex, gifted Jones.
The book's appeal is not limited to golfers, however. My mother, who is a librarian and a voracious reader, was intrigued by the very first page, even though she had not ever heard of Bobby Jones.
"Wow," she exclaimed after the first chapter, "this author can really write a good story."
This is the talent of Thomas: Despite a tendency toward sentimentality, he makes you believe the events and conversations depicted in the book really did happen, and that we are being treated to a direct line into the mind of the great golfer. Whether or not you believe empathy is requisite for a good Supreme Court judge, you must admit that it is absolutely crucial for a good novelist. And Thomas has as much of it as Bobby Jones had golfing talent.
It must be added, however, that the book would benefit from the efforts of a professional editor. The very first line of "Why Bobby Jones Quit," for example, includes a somewhat awkward repetition of "thing(s)":
"He was a man who faced his destiny with appreciation, which was not an easy thing to do considering the things destiny asked him to be."
The occasional clunky phrase or overly sentimental embellishment notwithstanding, Thomas has turned out yet another golf book that offers plenty for golfers and non-golfers alike. In the words of my mother, "I just want to keep reading this, even though I don't know a thing about this Jones fellow."
And most of all, Bob Thomas has done it on his own terms.
For more information, visit www.hoganbook.com.
July 1, 2009
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
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