November 6, 2009
In a famous running gag on the Seinfeld TV series, the goofy character Cosmo Kramer writes the definitive book–about coffee table books.
Naturally, it’s also a coffee table book. It includes pictures of celebrities’ coffee tables. The book even has its own wooden legs that drop down to make its own coffee table.
Kramer has great success with his book, including a sale of the movie rights that leads to a move to Florida.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The folks at Sports Illustrated Magazine might have been inspired just a little bit by Kramer’s fictional experience. Without a doubt, their new Golf Book is one of the largest coffee table books about golf I’ve ever seen, or hefted for that matter (Sports Illustrated Books; $25.95 SRP).
It’s certainly humongous, but it’s also a lot of fun, for several reasons.
There’s the wonderful photography. Using familiar and not-so-familiar images from the Sports Illustrated archives and other sources, some simply magical shots are here, of famous golfers, beautiful courses, and action sequences.
Several pictures bleed across a full page or two-page spread. These can make you simply sit and stare in quiet awe at the talent on display—not merely the subject of the photo, but especially the talent of those who shot the pictures.
There are also a dozen or so examples of the old-style SI golf writing, some dating back to the early 1950s, from writers such as Grantland Rice, Bernard Darwin, and Dan Jenkins.
Compared to the pieces that run in the modern-day Sports Illustrated, these segments are pretty telling, because most of them are not reprinted in full. I believe this is in part due to the apparent fact that many 21st century sports fans wouldn’t sit still long enough to read them.
More and more often, sports journalists can only run short pieces in newspapers, magazines, and especially on the Web. Long essays, such as those that Darwin and others wrote about golf, are simply not in style.
It’s a pity. On the other hand, these edited pieces sprinkled throughout the book should whet the appetite of their newest readers, to find out what else was in the essays that didn’t make it through the current editing process.
Most of the more modern essays in the book are pre-shortened, with the notable exception of a 1996 article on Tiger Woods, written by long-time SI writer Gary Smith.
Smith is a former high school classmate of mine, and he must have somehow convinced the editors to run his one contribution to the book as a coherent whole. As with his other work for the magazine, it’s a fine character study of the amazingly talented golfer.
The book is loosely organized by an eclectic set of time frames, such as the Golden Age (1913-1930), the rise of Arnie and Jack (1955-1969), and Tiger’s Time (1996-today). There are segments on women’s golf, including an especially moving essay about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, as the one-time athletic phenomenon slowly succumbs to cancer.
Other parts are devoted to the game’s development, with short photo collages and commentary on the changes in golf balls, golf clubs, and other milestones along the way. In addition, the book includes some of the all-time best known golf jokes—not necessarily the best jokes, mind you, just the ones that most golfers seem to know within three months of taking up the sport.
Most enjoyable of all for me, however, are the photographs, which always defined the Sports Illustrated experience. For many sports fans of a certain age, they grew up with copies of the magazine strewn around their house. They may not have been golfers at the time, and therefore may not have bothered reading about some blond kid in loud pants and what the guy just shot in the 1973 U.S. Open.
With the passing years, however, and with the game now an integral part of their recreational life, this book and its great pictures brings back those images, along with much more to appreciate about golf.
This book should do very well in the upcoming holiday season.