Gettin’ to the Dance Floor
Al Barkow cemented his reputation as one of golf’s best historians with the original publication of Gettin’ to the Dance Floor in 1986. Burford Books did current golf readers a big favor by republishing this classic a few months ago.
Dance Floor combines with Barkow’s earlier PGA Tour history, Golf’s Golden Grind, to give readers real insights into the story of professional golf in the 20th century. For these golfers, of course, the Dance Floor was the tour and all that it meant.
Barkow used a unique method to give readers a first-hand account of golf history in Dance Floor. He conducted a series of interviews with each subject. Barkow then reworked their own words into the appearance of first-person monologues. More than almost any other method, this technique enables readers to “hear” the golfers as they tell their own stories.
And what stories they are, too. Among the 24 personalities, here are some highlights:
William “Wild Bill” Mehlhorn explains the secret to his legendary ballstriking, by reference to advice he once received from Harry Vardon, a member of the famous Triumvirate.
Gene Sarazen explains the reason he invented the sand wedge. He frankly needed the help, and attributes his 1932 British Open win to his innovation.
Paul Runyan points out that Sam Snead only outdrove him by an average of 45 yards when Runyan beat Snead in the 1938 PGA Championship. On the other hand, “[h]is length didn’t bother me, because I was the shortest hitter in the annals of golf to be as successful as I was.”
Chandler Harper recalls winning a total of $16.16 in a 1938 tournament in Sacramento, nearly 50 years after the event. Harper then details how his “stomach sunk” when Lew Worsham scored an eagle on the last hole to win the 1953 Tam O’Shanter tournament. Harper never played well again until he played senior tournaments several years later.
Sam Parks explains how unusual it was for a college graduate like himself to play professional golf in the 1930s. His 1935 U.S. Open win at Oakmont was considered a dark horse victory, which still rankled Parks when Barkow interviewed him. Parks takes great care to explain why he feels that label was misapplied, and is pretty convincing.
Patty Berg, a founding member of the LPGA, credits Wilson Sporting Goods for hiring Berg and several other players for clinics and exhibitions. The work helped make up for the low number (and even lower pay) of women’s tournaments.
Bill Spiller’s story is especially noteworthy. Spiller may have done more to integrate professional golf, with less personal benefit, than any of the other black professional golf pioneers. Joe Louis, the incredibly popular boxer of the time and an avid golfer, also helped Spiller and several others break through the color line. Louis’ role is well-detailed in Spiller’s interview.
Barkow did all his subjects a great service by his judicious editing, and his own work in that respect should not be overlooked. Anyone who has ever read a raw transcript of taped conversations knows how easy it could be to make a person sound like an incoherent idiot. These monologues sound natural to the mind’s ear as one reads them, a real accomplishment.
Barkow added a postscript to add further details about some of the recurring players who were frequently mentioned by his interview subjects, such as Ky Laffoon and Jimmy Demaret. Professional golf is frequently blessed with real characters, and these two certainly were in many respects.
Dance Floor is a classic of golf history. It belongs on the bookshelves of any reader with an appreciation for well-told sport stories.
Review date: August 20, 2000