January 11, 2002
Charley Hunter returns in J. Michael Veron’s second novel, The Greatest Course That Never Was (Sleeping Bear, $22.95 SRP).
I enjoyed following along his unlikely paths.
Hunter was the hero of Veron’s first foray into golf fiction, The Greatest Golfer Who Never Played. The law clerk and amateur golfer solved a murder mystery while bringing to light the improbable story of Beau Stedman, a golfing prodigy whom Bobby Jones helped compete and survive.
This time, Hunter is starting out his legal career at Jones’ old law firm. Veron, a trial lawyer, gives non-lawyers a valuable and, from my personal experience, an accurate account of the blend of confidence and confusion that fills the early days of a lawyer’s practice. While he struggles to learn the ins and outs of collection work, Hunter receives an odd little note accompanying an obituary for an old caddie master at Augusta National: “It’s time.”
Hunter’s natural curiosity starts him down a trail that leads to an old Augusta caddie, Seamus “Moonlight” McIntyre. Moonlight is reaching out to Hunter because of his past work in helping Stedman, and because he has a story that needs telling.
Suppose Bobby Jones needed to find another place to play golf besides his beloved Augusta National? Suppose his desires for private competition and companionship with his fellow golfers were unable to be met at his new home course, the scene of his new Invitational tournament? How could he find another place to play that wouldn’t attract so much unwanted attention?
Moonlight knows the story, but he needs to make sure that Hunter is the right person to handle the news. For himself, Hunter’s not so sure he hasn’t been sucked into the reveries of a crazy old coot. The two men feel each other out, each in their own way, and somehow find a way to work together to tell the tale of “the other place.”
In his first novel, Veron felt the need to break from the action periodically, to fill in historical details about some of the old golfing greats with whom Stedman competed. Thankfully, he found a better way to avoid that problem in this novel, primarily by not bothering. That was an improvement.
Eventually, Hunter and Moonlight find themselves on the hidden golf course, and Moonlight caddies Hunter through a full round.
Normally, a shot-by-shot description of a round of golf can be among the most boring of narratives, at least when it’s someone else’s round. It works this time, however, because Veron uses the round to describe the course. I found myself paying close attention to the story, trying to visualize the course as the play continued. It’s among the more convincing and enjoyable passages in the entire book.
Having found and played the course, Hunter’s next task is to see how it can be preserved. It turns out that someone has plans for the property, and its place in golfing history is at serious risk.
Through a not-so-believable set of amazing coincidences and connections, Hunter uses his budding legal talents to save the day.
As long as the reader engages in the willing suspension of disbelief, the story’s conclusion is enjoyable. Otherwise, he’ll find himself frequently repeating the phrase “Oh, come onnnn!”
I doubt I will ever confuse or favorably compare Veron’s writing talents with, say, Walker Percy’s. Just the same, this novel was fun to read.
It looks like Veron wants to continue the Hunter series. Hunter’s buddy, Ken Cheatwood, who also had a small role in the first novel, makes an additional appearance or two here. A new story involving the two lawyer-golfers seems fairly likely.
I think the boy may be onto something.