Legendary Golf Clubs of the American Midwest

A review by Michael M Thomas

         Once upon a time, a properly put together gentleperson’s library would include a short shelf of erotica placed where the prying eyes and hands of the children couldn’t get at them. These would be finely printed and bound volumes representing many cultures,  often splendidly, seductively illustrated, with titles like The Perfumed Garden and Memoirs of a Lady of Pleasure. Books to be savored alone or in very select company, delectations of forbidden pleasures to be enjoyed of an evening by the firelight with a fine old brandy or malt.

         This sort of erotica has probably had its day, overrun in our time by internet porn the way Alaric and his Visigoths sacked the grandeur that was Rome. Whether gentlepersons’ libraries are still formed I can’t say. If they are, and in the expectation that anyone with the cultivation and moral self-assurance to appreciate great erotic books must perforce be a golfer, such a person’s bookshelves will contain a selection of choice works on the great Scots game, going forward from the Reverend John Kerr’s The Golf Book of East Lothian (1896) to a book I have just put down with that mixture of joy, admiration, mental fulfillment and melancholy known only to golfers condemned to their armchairs by the seasons of the year or the seasons of life. It is Legendary Golf Clubs of the American Midwest, with photographs by Anthony Edgeworth, text by his longtime collaborator, John de St. Jorre, and a forward by Jack Nicklaus, the man who bestrides Midwestern golf in much the same way the Statue of Liberty bestrides New York harbor.

         Midwest, as I shall call it, is the fourth such volume produced by the Edgeworth-de St. Jorre team, and like its predecessors (which cover clubs in Great Britain, the Irish Republic and the American East), it is absolutely splendid and absolutely special. But note the title carefully, Gentle Reader: this is a book about golf clubs, and not simply golf courses. Its entrancements don’t end on the eighteenth green of famous names like Interlachen, outside Minneapolis, or Chicago’s Old Elm, or such hatcheries of sublime talent as Kansas City Golf Club, where a towhead named Tom Watson first picked up sticks or Scioto, outside Columbus, whose fairways helped hone the game of the young Jack Nicklaus. These are places, each with its own Gestalt, and Edgeworth and de St. Jorre give them to us holistically, and with a real grasp of what clubs are and how they work. To be sure, the great courses are here– it was at Interlachen in 1930 that Bob Jones won the U.S.Open, third leg in his Grand Slam - and these clubs have hosted a wide range of important competitions. Caviar names like Donald Ross and Francis Ouimet dot the pages, and readers with a keenness for local history will wriggle with delight, but at the end of the day and the book it is the wholeness of the whole that matters. Golf not only is, to paraphrase the poet, it means, and a grasp of what this meaning is, socially and otherwise, is as well provided in this book as any I can think of. Private golf clubs aren’t the entire story of American golf, perhaps not even the main story, but they are among the game’s mainstays of survival and lore, and need to be understood as such.   

         I have said I read Midwest with a certain melancholy and I should explain myself. Another poet I relish wrote long ago: “I see the land of lost content/I see it shining plain/The happy highways where I went/And shall not go again.” Change those last two lines to “The happy fairways I never went/And will know only in vain” and you’ll appreciate my vexation. Save for a golf-cart tour of the amazing Prairie Dunes links at Hutchinson, KN some years ago, I’ve never played any of these courses, visited any of these clubs. It’s a sad hole in my golf education, and now, thanks to advanced age (and its corollary: tee shots that barely carry 170 yards, if that) I fear I never shall. But hold that thought: thanks to Legendary Golf Clubs of the American Midwest, I have been given a pretty good approximation of what it must feel like to play these great courses, and to hang out in these fine clubs, up to and including being treated to their special cocktails and entrees and a broad sampling of their Oldest Members’ choicest anecdotes. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Thanks, Tony; thanks, John; thanks, Jack. Now – on to Texas!

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