Feature Interview with Daniel Wexler No. 3
Daniel Wexler is the author of Missing Links and Lost Links, which are discussed in his May 2000 and March 2003 Feature Interviews. In his third book entitled The Golfer’s Library, Wexler once again combines his unmatched talent for research with his concise, to the point writing style to provide the reader with a guide to 400 of the finest golf books written in the past three centuries. The reason to acquire the book is to read Wexler’s paragraph or two descriptive analysis of each book but in addition, Wexler provides a chapter on how to build one’s own golf library. Any golf library without all three of Wexler’s books is incomplete.
1) The Golfers Library represents an obvious departure from your past architectural/historical work. How did this come about and what does the book encompass?
The Golfers Library is really an outgrowth of the research done while writing The Missing Links and Lost Links, a process which caused me to spend a lot time at the old Ralph W. Miller Golf Library. For those who never had the pleasure, that was a place that could spark anyones interest in golf literature in a big way. Anyway, my time at the Ralph turned me into a dedicated collector, and it was in the building of my own library that I discovered the need for a buyers guidebook, something that would provide a useful, detailed survey of the entire field.
As a result, The Golfers Library profiles 400 books dating from the mid-1800s through 2003 in a manner which I hope accomplishes two things. First, as a buyers guide, it provides full descriptions of each book, bibliographic, reprint and pricing information, lists of golf-oriented booksellers worldwide, chapters on the history of golf literature and acquiring via the internet, etc. But beyond these basics, it was definitely my goal to make it an enjoyable read that offers a real taste of the games unique ambience and history as well.
2) How is The Golfers Library arranged, and how extensive are the book profiles?
Basically, its arranged in 10 rather subjective genres: Ancient Volumes (pre-World War I), History, Anthologies, Tournaments and Tours, Architecture, Courses and Travel, Instruction, Biographies, Reference/Miscellaneous and Course and Club Histories. This seemed to me to make more sense than simply arranging the entire 400 alphabetically, especially for readers with specific areas of interest. The profiles vary in length depending upon a books size, scope and importance. The key things to me were that they be detailed enough to provide a real sense of each books style and content, and that they not read like a dry textbook. In a sense I liken it to Tom Doaks Confidential Guide, though since these are, by definition, 400 really good books, whatever criticism creeps in is vastly lower key.
3) How were the 400 books selected and researched?
I drew straws.
Actually, it was a pretty methodical process. I started with my own collection and worked outward, drawing up a list of prospective titles from what I own, Donovan and Murdochs The Game of Golf and The Printed Word and a few suggestions from knowledgeable friends. The fun part was the research, paring what was originally about 700 prospective titles down to 400. I did this mostly at the sports library of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, a really wonderful organization which absorbed the Ralph Miller collection when the City of Industry decided to cash in their chips. The depth of the Miller/AAF collection is astonishing so whichever volumes I didnt possess, they invariably did.
In the end, the selection process was pretty manageable. Of course, Im fairly confident that of the 400 titles, any knowledgeable reader would immediately agree on perhaps 300. For the other 100, it was just a question of quality, importance and, hopefully, a sense of balance.
4) Among the 10 chosen genres, how does architecture stack up in terms of both quantity and quality?
Since its obviously one of my own areas of interest, I think GCA types will be pleased with architectures level of representation. All told, there are 39 titles in that section basically just about every book of any significance on the subject ever written. All thats really missing are several prominent titles that represent sales pitches more than honest prose and, I regret to say, Claude Crockfords The Complete Golf Course: Turf and Design, which I felt was far more about greenkeeping, and which sort of got lost in the shuffle.
Quality, of course, is a whole other question. Its tough, for example, to compare anyones writing to that of Darwin or Longhurst, let alone a man whos trained primarily in landscaping, engineering and the like. So architecture books may not always represent the games highest form of literature but at the same time, I cant imagine having any sort of golf library without a copy of George Thomass Golf Architecture in America, and perhaps one or two more like it.
5) Like golf courses, do you find classical architecture books to be ‘better’ than their modern counterparts?
Given my usual editorial slant, Id love to say unequivocally yes. But the truth is that it really depends exactly what one is looking for in a book. I personally prefer older volumes because they tend to be much more about architecture and less about self-promotion. I mean, we dont see a lot of books like Golf Architecture or Robert Hunters The Links anymore, although Tom Doaks Anatomy of a Golf Course and most of Geoff Shackelfords work are obvious exceptions.
I find many of todays works, especially some of the higher-profile architect-authored/dictated books of the last several years, often to be little more than elaborate sales brochures. At best theyre trying to not-so-subtly sell the reader on a particular designers services, at worst they whine about why older courses are held in such high esteem.
Still, there have certainly been a number of excellent contemporary titles, on top of which modern photography and graphics often allow for a much more attractive presentation. So for those looking less for nuts and bolts and more for coffee table material, many contemporary volumes may fit the bill perfectly.
6) Aside from Golf Architecture and The Links, what are some of your favorite older architectural volumes?
I think the usual suspects remain the usual suspects for a reason.
Colt & Alisons Some Essays on Golf Course Architecture is certainly of quality, though I think well need Tom MacWood to discover which potential client Colt was wooing by including a chapter on Golf in Belgium. And of course C.B. Macdonalds Scotlands Gift Golf offers quite a bit more than just architecture but must be a cornerstone of any American golf library.
Actually, while these and one or two others deserve their reputations as classics, I do believe that to some extent, we have a tendency to rave about certain volumes simply because theyre old. To be really honest, books like Wethered & Simpsons The Architectural Side of Golf and Alec Bauers Hazards, which I frequently hear people sing about, somewhat miss me. Actually, I should be careful what I say about Wethered & Simpson because much of it is really pretty solid. The last 11 chapters, however, pretty well lose me. Also, at the risk of really sounding sacrilegious, I was never as in-love with MacKenzies Golf Architecture as some others were a position I felt better about once The Spirit of St Andrews came along, which I think most would agree is clearly more entertaining and wider ranging.
And that raises the separate category of old manuscripts/articles only recently published. In that realm, the Wolffe & Trebus Tillinghast trilogy are among my very favorites. To me, all three of those volumes are essential reading, and not just for their architecture.
7) How about some modern choices?
I always recommend The Anatomy of A Golf Course, particularly for newcomers and anyone looking for a broad-yet-highly detailed overview. To me, Toms writing is perfect, covering everything thoroughly, yet remaining easy to read. Geoff Shackelford has that same quality, and Grounds For Golf recommends itself similarly although I personally like his Golden Age of Golf Design better. Its a different book obviously, designed more as a survey volume, but its beautifully laid out, plus hes got a lot of unique images in there.
One modern book that is largely unknown in America is Aspects of Golf Course Architecture 1889-1924, a Grant Books publication from 1998 in which Fred Hawtree selected some interesting period pieces on architecture by the likes of Vardon, Taylor, Colt, Fowler, Willie Park, Jr., MacKenzie (on ‘Military Entrenchments) but pulled them from some decidedly offbeat, sometime obscure places. As I wrote in The Golfers Library, anyone who already owns all of the volumes from which these selections were clipped hardly needs any advice on assembling a library.
Another recent book which lots here may be familiar with is Classic Golf Hole Design by Robert Muir Graves and Geoffrey Cornish. I thought this slipped by a bit too quietly in 2002 because while some of the computer-aided drawings may seem incongruous to the ‘classical’ subject, the basic concept of the book studying the roots and development of the Redans, Biarritzes, etc. is done pretty well. Theres also a lot of ancillary historical information that I found fascinating and very few current books, to whom ‘history’ is Nicklaus and Watson at Turnberry, make me say that.
Actually, I could probably name a dozen more mainstream titles of genuine value written by people like Doak, Shackelford, George Bahto and Brad Klein, but nearly all are already very familiar to this forum.
8) Are there any books with valuable architectural material whose non-architectural title or general content might lead us to overlook them?
Several come to mind. The two most obvious are The Book of the Links: A Symposium On Golf and Golf Course Design, Construction & Upkeep, both edited by British seed merchant Martin Sutton. These books are old (1912 and 1933 respectively, with a second 1952 edition of the latter) and difficult to find, but they are largely architectural in scope and feature contributions from Colt, Alison, Darwin, Tom Simpson, and even a very young Trent Jones. Sutton was no dummy; He included large agronomical sections to help sell product, but essentially, these books are more about architecture than anything else.
A similar book, which Sleeping Bear reprinted in 2001is Horace Hutchinsons Golf Greens & Green-Keeping, which is a similar sort of book originally dating to 1906. Contributors here include Colt, Fowler, Braid and Harold Hilton, among others, though like the Sutton books, this is not a cheap purchase.
A few other nice works that include prominent chapters on architecture are H.N. Wethereds The Perfect Golfer (a chapter entitled ‘The Perfect Architecture’), John L. Lows Concerning Golf (‘Concerning The Links’), Darwins well-known Golf Between Two Wars (‘Architecture’) and one of the really fine books of the mid-20th century A History of Golf In Britain – though this I would tend to recommend even more for the rest of its content than for Sir Guy Campbells architectural chapter. Additionally, a number of early player-authors included architecture-oriented chapters in their books including Vardon, Braid, Taylor, travis, Willie Park, Jr. and others.
9) Which architectural books that have not yet been written would you most like to see?
Now that could be a pretty substantial list.
Actually, several that Id choose are already in the works. Our friends Wayne Morrison and Tom Pauls William Flynn book would certainly be at the top of my list, partially because I know how deep their research is going, and partially because Ive come to believe that Flynn might well be the most underrated designer of them all. Obviously my pal George Bahtos future projects on Raynor and Charles Banks will be of huge interest as well, and if someone wants to take the time and the likely commercial bath to research and write a book on Devereux Emmet, Id certainly buy a copy.
That said, I think what Id really love to see are some more volumes about British and European architects and courses. I mean, I loved reading Colt & Co. for its historical value, but a really strong book detailing Harry Colt and/or C.H. Alisons work which might be underway as we speak? would be an enormous addition to the field. For that matter, I also live in the eternal hope (futile, Im afraid) that Donald Steel might produce a heathlands book to match his seaside work Classic Golf Links, which Ive always enjoyed.
Really, the list of potential books on architecture is endless, but its also governed substantially by commercial considerations.
10) You referred earlier to a category of The Golfers Library called Ancient Volumes. Are many of these old classics still available and if so, are they at all affordable?
‘Still available’ is, I think, a relative term. During the course of putting together The Golfers Library, there were only one or two titles for which I could not find a copy either currently available or recently sold and even those, Im certain, still pop up from time to time. The much bigger question, obviously, is affordability as original editions of these books can run anywhere from $30-$50 up into the several thousands, depending upon a variety of factors.
Thankfully, this is where reprints come into play, as a decent number of golfs earliest important works have been reproduced by the Classics of Golf, the USGA and others. Actually, part of the reason I wrote The Golfers Library is because of my own involvement with what we expect to be a really exceptional reprint program debuting later this year, Ann Arbor Media Groups Rare Golf Book Library. I certainly dont want to sound like a commercial but I think this is something that a lot of golf readers here and elsewhere are going to really appreciate.
11) How will the Rare Golf Book Library differ from the Classics of Golf, the USGA or other popular reprints?
In several important ways. The most obvious, I think, will be our choices of titles and the sheer number of great books available. Theres no doubt that a number of good ones have been done over the last 15 years but ours will be much more broadly based and, generally speaking, even rarer. Also, the initial plan is to produce at least six titles per year, meaning that interested readers wont have to wait a decade for a title they particularly covet.
Another big plus will be the price, as well be producing hardcover editions in the range of $26, which is tough to beat. But probably the biggest single difference will be in the quality of production, both in terms of the books durability and its content. These will be facsimiles, of course, so each volumes original layout will remain 100% intact. But there will also be new forewords and commentary included, giving each book an historical background and context of the highest order.
As a frame of reference for avid golf readers, the person behind the Rare Golf Book Library is Skip DeWall, who was responsible for most of the best volumes produced by the old Sleeping Bear Press/ClockTower operation. Skips also brought one or two key people from SBP with him, so Im pretty confident that this will be a success.
12) What are some specific titles that we can expect to see in the near future?
The one that should be really grab the attention of GCA members is Horace Hutchinsons legendary British Golf Links, an 1897 volume which was so far ahead of its time, its almost ahead of our time. The book basically profiles 51 great British courses (plus three in France), featuring dozens of images of a quality that utterly belies their age. This was golfs first coffee-table book and an original copy the only type that currently exists would be in iffy condition and run a buyer at least $2,000.
Another title, which should appear shortly, is Golf From The Times, the rarest of Bernard Darwins anthologies, dating all the way back to 1912. It includes 10 fairly lengthy essays which were never reproduced anywhere else, so if you enjoy Darwin and werent living in London in the early 1900s, this is a plum.
As we go along, some sooner-rather-than-later titles will include Walter Traviss 1901 landmark Practical Golf (the second edition, with an added chapter on architecture), Hilton & Smiths visually splendid The Royal & Ancient Game of Golf, H.B. Martins seminal Fifty Years of American Golf, the second, substantially revised edition of Darwins Golf Courses of the British Isles, even more rare Darwin, and many, many others.
There will also be reprints of several prominent autobiographies including The Walter Hagen Story and Francis Ouimets A Game of Golf, plus a new version of Bobby Joness Down The Fairway and, any time now, The Boys Life of Bobby Jones.
A website, www.greatgolfbooks.com is already up, but there will be a lot more information as things progress.
13) Do you have a personal favorite golf writer?
The Golfers Library is dedicated to Darwin, Longhurst and Wind, so thats my answer. And Im not shirking the question, honestly, because I frequently find myself thinking of any one of the three, ‘No, this guy was really the best.’
Longhurst I love because he was just an unbelievable character whose life was really a throwback to another era. His sense of humor was tremendous, as was the natural, almost seamless way that real life crept into his golf writing. Actually, my favorite books of his Round In Sixty-Eight, You Never Know Till You Get There and It Was Good While It Lasted are really more travel volumes that occasionally touch on golf. As many have attested before me, Longhurst was just a remarkable talent.
Wind, on the other hand, had more knowledge of golfs history than any American writer before or since by a mile. His ability to give a contemporary piece an historical context without it sounding dry or lecture-like was untouchable. But thats hardly surprising when one realizes that his 1954 anthology The Complete Golfer just about the widest-ranging golf collection ever was built around materials hed found while researching the epic Story of American Golf. The man really, really did his homework.
And Darwin, I mean, what can you say? The ability to turn out that much copy over the years and not be repetitive or dull is remarkable in itself, but the mans feel for the game, his intrinsic understanding of it all, is just extraordinary. Plus Darwin was there! Im in the process of writing an encyclopedia profiling 1,300 of golfs historically important people and Ill tell you, if we didnt have Darwins written accounts of so many prewar (and earlier) players, wed know almost nothing about two generations of the games early greats.
14) Speaking of Darwin, which of his many titles would you deem most essential?
I guess that depends upon ones areas of specific interest. I mean, for GCA types, Golf Courses of the British Isles is about as essential as it gets. It scarcely matters that most of the material is out of date, its just some really superb reading. Green Memories, which was the first of four autobiographically inclined volumes is also a must as it basically provides an eyewitness account of golfs entire history from the late 19th-century days of the Triumvirate right on through to World War II. John Hopkins, one of Darwins successors at the Times once called it ‘the best of Darwins books, which, in turn, makes it the best book on golf,’ and I suppose there might be something to that. Also, for those interested in British golf and/or the early Walker and Ryder Cup years, Golf Between Two Wars is another classic.
And heres something of a sleeper: A 1954 volume entitled simply Golf, from a collection of books called the Pleasures of Life Series. Basically its a broad overview of the game but instead of Darwin simply writing it, he spends much of the text quoting from numerous great golf books that came before him. Very unique, and sort of an informal bibliography of golf titles at the same time.
The tricky thing with Darwin, of course, is that the majority of his titles arent books, theyre anthologies of newspaper and magazine pieces. This hardly diminishes them as literature but it does make them difficult to separate in terms of quality.
An interesting point: Darwin, Longhurst and Wind have had their names on a combined total of 75 books that were predominantly (at least) on golf. Yet between them, they actually wrote only nine new, full-length, solo manuscripts on the game. The rest, for the most part, were anthologies.
15) Are there any lesser-known writers that you especially recommend?
Sir Peter Allen and Patric Dickinson.
Allen wrote a pair of books on great courses, Famous Fairways (1968) and Play The Best Courses (1973) that are much overlooked but truly exceptional of their type. Like Darwin (and, to a large degree, current writer James Finegan) Allen has a descriptive quality to his work that is wonderfully detailed without being wordy or heavy-handed. He also penned The Sunley Book of Royal Golf (profiling worldwide clubs given Britains Royal seal) but on the whole, I so wish hed written more books.
Dickinson was also remarkably adept with words, no surprise since he was a top-flight poet and literary translator. The thing is, he only gave us one golf book, 1952s superb A Round of Golf Courses. But man, could this guy write! Darwin penned a brief foreword for A Round of Golf Courses where, glowing over Dickinsons prose, he said: ‘I feel rather like the man who admired Shakespeare: Things come into his head that would never come into mine.’ But Dickinson was apparently too busy with serious literary interests to do any more on golf.
16) What is your overall perception of the golf book market today? Is it conducive to the continued production of unique and interesting volumes or geared more towards general, mass-market titles?
Thats a great question because in many ways the answer seems to be both. In this regard, the internet generally and Amazon specifically have really changed things for the better. Basically, most hardcover volumes are doing nicely for a publisher once theyve sold 5,000 or so copies. At a glance thats not a huge number in a country of 300,000,000 people, but in the old days, if a book didnt make it onto bookstore shelves, it might not sell any. Today, with websites like this one drawing attention to specialty-type books, and with Amazon selling absolutely everything, a publishers bound to be more adventurous with offbeat titles because the risk of taking a bath is much, much lower.
At the same time, however, certain larger retailers are becoming like the record industry: Theyre only interested in potential home runs, in books they think are possible bestsellers. Of course, by definition most titles wont be, and then where are you? To use an analogy from my days in the resort business, it would be sort of like only accepting reservations from the wealthiest guests because, in theory, they might spend more once on property. The thing is, they also might not and in the meantime how many smaller dollars which all add up have you lost in the process?
17) Is the internet having as large an impact on the sale of used books?
With abebooks.com, pretty well the industry standard, reporting sales of over 15,000 books per day, theres no question about it. Amazon buying up Bilbiofind a few years back was another sign of the potential of the used book business. Whats incredible, obviously, is the ability that these sites give the buyer to instantly locate virtually any book anywhere around the world. Once upon a time, the great collector Joseph Murdoch mailed letters all over the universe simply to find addresses of far-off bookstores which he would then write to in search of titles. Today we can do in minutes sometimes even seconds what took him many months only 20 years ago. So yes, the difference is huge.
18) As a collector, can you offer any advice for those seeking to build a golf book collection on a limited budget?
We can start by stating the obvious: Reprints.
Basically, for the cost of one 80-year-old dog-eared volume, you can buy anywhere from five to 15 brand-new facsimile reprints that neednt be handled gingerly and stored in a vault, and will last forever. Unless youre a first-edition collector (in which case you cant possibly be on a limited budget) its really a no-brainer.
Related point: Reprints are not limited strictly to the Rare Book Library, the Classics of Golf or the USGA. Many an older book has been reprinted by smaller publishers or, on occasion, golf tournaments which use them (I presume) for tee prizes and the like. Of course, this sometimes means that there are fewer reprints of a given title in circulation than there are originals and I have, on occasion, found reprints selling for more than their much older originals.
Another big thing is to be patient. Except in the case of a few truly scarce volumes, if you wait long enough and know where to look, you may very well find a halfway decent copy of something for considerably less than the going rate.
Lastly, know the marketplace. Familiarize yourself with the major dealers in the primary golfing countries, establish relationships, know what a books reasonable price range ought to be, etc. Ive covered all of this stuff in depth in The Golfers Library but Im a prime example of what can be accomplished on a relatively modest budget. Im hardly a millionaire but my own collection has come along quite nicely.