John Updike and golf
February 6, 2009
The world of golf lost one of its best writers, with the recent passing of John Updike, the prolific chronicler of American life. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner succumbed to cancer at age 76 on January 27.
For many people, Updike is perhaps best known for his four Rabbit books, whose protagonist, Harry Rabbit Angstrom, stood for many middle-aged men in the last half of the twentieth century. For others, the Pennsylvania native may be best known for “The Witches of Eastwick,” a blisteringly funny book that also became a famous movie, starring Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michele Pfeiffer, and Cher.
Updike recently returned to the same characters in “The Widows of Eastwick,” a copy of which was on the shelves this week at Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue.
Updike wrote far more than novels, of course. He also contributed short stories, essays, poems, and literary criticism throughout his long career, often in well-respected publications such as The New Yorker magazine.
In golf, Updike found a way to join together his talent for writing and what became one of his favorite sports. As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt noted in his obituary of Updike in the January 28 New York Times, “[H]e played with passionate enthusiasm and also a writer’s eye, noting the grace notes in others’ swings and tiny variations in the landscape.”
His golf pieces were eventually gathered together by his long-time publisher, Knopf, and in 1996 appeared in Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf (now available in paperback from Ballantine Books; $14.00 SRP).
It later became the subject of one of my first golf book reviews, published at HoleByHole.com in May 1998, several months before this column began. What I wrote then remains true, and is worth repeating below:
For some reason, golf inspires good writing.
John Updike proves the point again in this collection of 30 pieces, originally published between 1958 and 1995.
Updike is among America’s revered men of letters, and among the few to describe their personal feelings about the daunting permanence of an 18 handicap.
I have four favorites among these pieces:
“Drinking From a Cup Made Cinchy” is among the oldest pieces, but it is also the funniest. Updike instructs the reader on the proper method of drinking from a cup and saucer, using the convoluted descriptions found in far too many golf books and magazines.
“Farrell’s Caddie” first appeared in The New Yorker magazine. It is an eerie delight, involving an American golfer in Scotland and a caddie with uncanny vision.
“Women’s Work” is a loving appreciation of the LPGA and its players, written originally as a program piece for the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open. His description of the mixed emotions of men among superior women golfers is both thought provoking and convincing.
I think I like the last piece best, however. “December Golf” first appeared in Golf Digest Magazine many years ago. I kept the magazine just for this piece, which hits home for those who cannot play in pristine conditions year-round. He aptly describes the feelings that arise when playing the last round of golf for a while. Now I have two copies of this heartfelt appreciation of golf and nature.
If you’ve never read Updike before, take this opportunity. If you are a fan of his already, this collection will deepen your appreciation of his talent.
Oakley’s European Senior Tour underway soon
For the last several years, Pete Oakley has begun his European Senior Tour season with a March trip to the Caribbean.
That’s because that Tour’s first event has usually been the DGM Barbados Open, at the Royal Westmoreland course.
This year, however, the Rookery’s Director of Golf can start his season in February, at the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters, presented by The Stapleford Forum.
The worldwide recession seems to be taking its toll on the European Senior Tour, judging from the schedule on the Tour’s website. Several tournaments remain “to be announced,” and only sixteen events are definitely on the list, even at this late date.
Oakley is fully exempt for the European Tour, so at least he knows where he can play–if they play.