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Golf books for the dog-days of summer

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer
Tom Morris of St Andrews
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Golf history is explored in "Tom Morris of St Andrews." (Courtesy of Birlinn)

As I was hoofing around my home course the other day in 94 degree heat and 92 percent humidity, I thought to myself how nice it would be to stretch out on a couch in my air-conditioned house and read a book. Sure, I'd miss playing golf, but at least I could read about it.

And I wouldn't have to sweat out five pounds of fluid for the privilege, either.

But what to read during these dog-days of summer, when the penalty stroke you most want to avoid is heat-stroke?

Here are a few suggestions:

"Tom Morris of St Andrews" by David Malcolm and Peter E. Crabtree (Birlinn)

As I sit down to write this, the first round of The Open Championship (aka The British Open) is preparing to be played for the 150th time. And, once again, the oldest golf championship is being played at the birthplace of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews. It can be argued that the town, the course and the game itself were all shaped into their modern forms by one man: Old Tom Morris.

Unbelievably, Malcolm and Crabtree's award-winning tome is the first widely available biography of the man they call "the Colossus of Golf." This is not easy or light reading -- it is densely historical and rich in detail -- but if you truly love the game, you owe it to yourself and Old Tom to learn his timeless story.

"The Greatest Game: The Ancyent & Healthfulle Exercyse of the Golff" by Hugh Dodd and Prof. David Purdie (Birlinn)

If the in-depth bio of Old Tom seems too weighty for summer reading, this fanciful yet fact-filled coffee-table book of historical tidbits, golf terms and little-known stories is lushly illustrated by Dodd with original caricatures.

From golf-related stories about William Shakespeare to golf in China to The Club Bore, Purdie both informs and entertains from beginning to end. The only trouble is that sometimes you're left wondering whether you're reading facts, legends or tall tales.

"A Major Obsession: One Fan, Four Golf Championships" by Kenny Reid (Birlinn)

Golf is unique in that regular folks -- golf fans -- can play so many of the very venues where the best in the world play for the biggest championships in the sport. This accessibility extends not only to the courses but also to insights and commentary on the game. Kenny Reid is admittedly "neither journalist nor writer" but "simply a golf fan." In 2009, he set off to complete "The Fan Slam" -- attending all four of golf's major championships in one year.

The book that resulted from his odyssey to Augusta National, Bethpage Black, Turnberry Isle Resort & Club and Hazeltine National Golf Club is homey and quirky, feeling almost like a long pub chat with an old chum.

Reid's observations are keen, his eye for detail is sharp and any golf fan no matter how seasoned will take away a deeper appreciation for the majors. One of my favorite anecdotes was from the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, when Reid describes how the devoted Minnesota golf fans even applauded PGA Professional Champion Mike Small's caddie for his diligence in raking a bunker.

"The Last Putt: 2 Teams, One Dream, & a Freshman Named Tiger" by Neil Hayes and Brian Murphy (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)

The 1995 NCAA Men's Golf Championship couldn't have been scripted any better: Oklahoma State's powerhouse team of junior golf glitterati led by Trip Kuehne vs. Stanford's team of apparent golf outsiders, including a player with a congenitally painful and underdeveloped leg (Casey Martin), a Native American (Notah Begay III) and a skinny African-American freshman named Tiger. The only glitch in the script? Oklahoma State won.

This meticulously researched account of the 1995 NCAA tournament evokes the humanity, passion and flat out fun that is amateur golf -- aspects that are often sadly lacking in the professional sport.

"The Connecting Game: Understanding What Makes Golf Special" by J. Michael Vernon (ebooks for Kindle)

For readers who have moved on from paper books, Vernon's slender volume of reflections, mediations and musings on this most unique of sports provides enough fodder to chew over all summer long.

Vernon, who is the best-selling author of "The Greatest Player Who Never Lived" and "The Greatest Course That Never Was," joined golf author Bob Thomas's tournament book program, so you might also find a hardback copy in the pro shop of your home course or as a gift at your next outing.

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A Major ObsessionThe Last PuttThe Connecting Game

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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