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Two great golf books: “The Rating Game” and “Golf’s Holy War”

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A proper book review pretends to reveal enough of the volume’s contents, that the review reader is enticed to purchase the book with great rapidity. In our time, this might mean AbeBooks, or Amazon, or some other online service. A proper book review communicates the notion that the reviewer understands, in a most profound manner, the intent of the author and the magic of the words.

Two proper book reviews are almost too much to handle; the reader pauses nervously, uncertain which tome to purchase first. You, dear reader, are fortunate. You are about to read two proper book reviews, so let me caution you: you cannot err. Whichever of the two books you purchase, or read, first, will be worthwhile. As will the second. Their topics are dissimilar at first light. As often happens, especially with golf’s great devotees, you will draw connections between the intentions of the scribes and the subjects.

You have my reviews at the beginning, in case you are pressed for time. Both books are well worth the bitcoin that you will exchange for them. Each is an intellectual exercise, and will demand that you dedicate your attention and your thinking to its understanding. Don’t rush the readings, and be sure to prepare a warm mug of your favorite coffee or tea. Have it close at hand as you break the seal on these tomes.

Enjoy, then, reviews of “The Rating Game” and “Golf’s Holy War.”

“The Rating Game”

Why you choose this book~

Human beings like order. Plain and simple. We encourage physical order, chronological order, and even emotional order (the last one is a doozy.) Following closely on the heels of order is order of importance. We determine that certain items, events, or feelings must supersede others, and presto, we arrive at ranking. Human beings also like to converse, chat, gossip, and we love to share the new with each other. Whether out of envy or a desire for truth, we often compare our, or someone else’s, new with an other. Thus emerges the controversy in ranking.

At the beginning, it is nearly impossible to keep personal opinion, or emotional attachment, out of a ranking. As will all other skills, we need to learn how to properly and impartially rank. Once we remove the personal from the task, our eyes clear and we move toward an outcome. Jonathan Cummings has decades of experience as a golf course rater/ranker. His day job, for nearly four decades, was as a research test and measurements mechanical engineer. He is certainly a fellow who likes numbers, the statistics that they provide, and the relevance of those statistics. He is an expert in golf course ranking, and you love golf. Now it’s time to learn what goes into the rankings that you read each year, in golf’s print and digital magazines.

Some of what you will find~

Eight chapters, with titles like “The Ranking History,” “Categories or Not,” and “The Perfect Rater,” offer a complete assessment of the fundamentals and complexities of rating a golf course for architectural ranking. Cummings draws on personal experiences, both good and bad, equal parts serious and humorous, to make his points about all aspects of the ranking lists that exist, from classic to modern, USA to world, public to casino.

What to take away~

  • An understanding of the difference between USGA/R&A course rating, and magazine course rating for ranking purposes. The USGA and the R & A assess courses for difficulty, in both course and slope numbers. Magazines continually acuminate their systems, on the eternal path toward the perfect rating system.
  • An appreciation for the subtlety and nuance that, intentionally or not, occur in golf course architecture.
  • An admission that different schools of architecture have existed over the past 150 years, and which particulars are held as fundamental elements of golf course design.

“Golf’s Holy War”

Why you choose this book~

There are days when golf feels spiritual, a retreat from the chores of the daily grind, an entry into a beyond that gives us respite. The sun, the dim, the wind, the calm, the trees, the views … no matter the natural elements, we are at peace, with our only responsibility being to our self. And on those days, sometimes, we play well. Our swing finds a rhythm, the golf shots develop a cadence, and the numbers that appear on our scorecard are a pleasant surprise. The question, though, is which side of our self is responsible for the outcome?

Brett Cyrgalis is a sportswriter. He covers hockey and golf, most days. The subtitle of his book, the battle for the soul of a game in an age of science, reveals the dichotomy of golf. It is a game to most of us, but it is a business to a growing percentage of participants. Competitors, coaches, teachers, salespeople, the entire product-development chain, all combine efforts to shape the game that we enjoy. Each of these business people depends on a reduction of the random, a coalescence in order. In contrast, it is the arrival of the unexpected that shapes the golf that the weekend warrior, the buddy tripper, comes to know.

Some of what you will find~

Reading this volume was an existential experience for me. Not so much for what reason I exist, but how I came to exist, golfwise. Cyrgulis connects some of golf’s most important writings, figures, and events to substantiate his thesis: from Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine to Michael Murphy’s Golf In The Kingdom; spanning Ben Hogan to Tiger Woods, and the advent of the mind as 15th club (or is it 1st?)

In addition to writing for GolfWRX, I teach Spanish at a high school in Buffalo, NY. During this time of coronavirus, COVID-19, and virtual instruction, I am compelled to re-examine the way I teach, the manner in which students learn and acquire, and education as a whole. Cyrgalis devotes many pages to the history of instruction, and its present and future direction. “Golf’s Holy War” is an almanac for a one to three-decade span of golf’s human history.

What to take away~

  • An opportunity to build another shelf for your golf book collection. I went to Abebooks while reading, to add a few volumes to my own putter’s parish. I now have The Golfing Machine, The Art and Zen of Learning Golf, and Get a Grip on Physics (I’ll let you figure out the importance of that last one!)
  • A quandry~am I left or right brain, or both, or neither? Trust me, we all have our days of each of the three options. More important is, when am I at my best?
  • Most important: should I change anything? We are all tempted to try something new, and changing from artist to scientist, and vice-versa, is usually detrimental. That said, life is short and challenges, worthwhile.
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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bob Pegram

    Aug 17, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    Descriptions of each book are too vague to get my interest. A ratings philosophy example in the first book and an example from the second book of how science has affected golf would increase interest.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Aug 29, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      Thank you, Bob. It’s a graduated cylinder between giving away too much information, and not enough. Both books are excellent. Worth your attention.

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