June 23, 2000
I have a weakness for cautionary tales that combine wit and wisdom in a sharply defined, well-plotted fashion.
Naturally, I fell for Troon McAllister’s The Foursome (Doubleday hardback; $23.95 SRP).
So have many others. The book came out April 18 and is already in its second printing.
The Foursome is McAllister’s second golf novel, after his initial success with his Ryder Cup story, The Green. Eddie Caminetti, the lead character in that book, returns in an important role.
The book focuses primarily on the characters that make up the book’s title. Joe Aronica is a 7-handicapper whose thriving business is based on his invention of a miracle metal. Although his company seems to do extremely well, he is troubled by his apparent inability to expand the market for his product much beyond airplane parts.
One day Aronica receives an invitation to bring friends along to a mysterious resort named Swithen Bairn. If it isn’t their “most memorable golf vacation,” it’s free!
Aronica then rounds up his usual partners for the trip. Jerrold Chelovek, also a 7-handicap, is an advertising consultant with a flair for the burgeoning immigrant market. Peter Perrault is a 5-handicap general practitioner who found a way to be remarkably successful in his medical practice, despite the managed care system. Deke Savitch is the foursome’s best player and a program trader making a mint from the computers set up for him at home by his brokerage. Their typical game among themselves is skins at $1000 per player, so it’s clear that these guys are not shy about betting.
Nonetheless, the Boys, as the narrator describes them, have a twinge of conscience about not inviting Sam Coolidge, a bogey-level cardiologist whose additional failure to keep up with their nouveau riche success also kept him from joining their exclusive country club.
Before they even board the private jet, it’s pretty obvious that there are, as one might say, “some issues” the Boys need to address. None is a candidate for sainthood, and all their successes have some fundamental problems at their source.
The trip is not long underway before the reader is hoping that somehow these clowns will get their comeuppance. McAllister doesn’t disappoint.
The Boys meet Caminetti, now the head professional and owner of Swithen Bairn, and immediately swoon at their first sight of the resort layout. All their preconceived notions of what makes for a good golf course seem to have been met. (Caminetti has a different opinion, in a short but telling segment.) They also figure they can win some serious cash from Caminetti and others, while avoiding payment for the trip.
Caminetti knows, however, that golf reveals character. Match play golf brings out character even more so, especially when the money at stake is truly daunting. After all, Caminetti is the one giving the lessons.
The Boys don’t realize they are overmatched by their own flaws. They forget, if they ever knew, how to play team golf. They are trapped by their own assumptions of superiority and greed. Their further assumption that others are as devious as they are only makes their problems worse.
Who knew that reading about self-destruction could be this enjoyable?
Their first match is brutal enough, made worse by the subsequent surprise appearance of their former friend, Coolidge. The second match, the climax of the book, is a great piece of golf writing. Golfers reading the play by play will find themselves thinking back to similar experiences in match play or serious tournaments.
These four players richly deserve their torments, but even the most unsympathetic reader will wince on a few occasions, especially as the stakes run up to the millions.
As with most good satires, however, there remains the possibility of redemption. While I don’t want to give anything away, suffice it to say that the eventual resolutions are very satisfactory.
The Foursome is a lot of fun. Anyone with an interest in satire and golf should fully enjoy McAllister’s handiwork.