Golf’s Golden Grind: The History of the PGA Tour
I have a new mission in life.
I will flog this book as much as possible. It deserves far more respect than it is receiving thus far.
I clicked on Amazon.com to retrieve a copy of the book cover for this review. Golden Grind’s popularity listing was about 804,000 places behind the week’s leading seller.
With about a million or so books on sale every day, it’s understandable that somebody’s work would be at the low end. Nonetheless, Golden Grind should be earning a far wider audience.
Al Barkow is a long-time golf writer, now writing for Golf Illustrated magazine. In 1974 he finished Golden Grind, and it had a nice publishing history at the time.
Burford Books recently decided to republish the book in paperback, and thereby performed an admirable public service for golfing readers who didn’t see this book the first time.
Barkow wrote what may be the definitive history of what is now known as the PGA Tour. Using a mix of extended interviews, newspaper and book research, and his own recollections as a sportswriter and staffer on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, Barkow gives his readers a fascinating look into the tour’s first seven decades.
The social and economic differences between amateur play and the first few attempts at professional tournaments are drawn in sharp detail, especially during the Harry Vardon era. The later influence of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen in developing a greater acceptance of professional golfers can hardly be overstated, and Barkow shows how and why. Other, less well-known professionals are also given their due at many points throughout the book.
Barkow did not limit himself simply to the colorful histories of the professional golfers. He also gives the readers the back office stories of the various commissioners who tried to develop and run the tour, with widely varying degrees of success. Barkow also describes and explains the reasons for the eventual split between the club pros and the touring professionals who wanted nothing to do with selling shirts. (For more details on this part of the professional golf story, especially since 1974, read Q School Confidential.)
Much of the book is naturally devoted to the players. There are some fascinating character studies along the way. Barkow’s biography of Bobby Locke, the first South African pro to make a splash on the American tour, is the most detailed study I’ve yet seen of this enigmatic, brilliant putter.
Irascible golfers such as Lefty Stackhouse, Ed Furgol, Ky Laffoon, and Tommy Bolt furnished great examples of what Barkow accurately describes as “peevishness,” a word not used enough lately.
The story of Ben Hogan is sketched out well here, along with the parallel story of his fellow caddie, Byron Nelson.
One of the best segments of the book describes the three major influences in the 1950s that led to the huge increase in money and interest in the professional tour: Dwight Eisenhower, television, and Arnold Palmer. It’s a great piece of social history, even for those without any interest in golf.
Barkow also did pioneering work in outlining the racial divisions that marred the tour’s early history. The struggles of Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, and several others mirrored the troubles of minorities seeking acceptance on equal terms in most other areas of life. Barkow does not sugarcoat the tour’s own complicity.
At the point Golden Grind finishes, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino are in their prime. There are also a few bright young stars depicted, such as Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Lanny Wadkins, and Tom Kite. The new PGA Tour Commissioner, Deane Beman, has just assumed office, and Barkow muses about what might take place during his reign.
With the benefit of 26 years of hindsight since the book’s first publication, readers can see that Barkow was pretty close to the mark in his predictions.
Golfers with any sense of history should read this book. As Jaime Diaz says in his new Foreward, “Some twenty-five years later, it’s clear that Golden Grind is one of the best golf books ever written.”
Show some respect. Buy this book.
Review date: June 2, 2000