One of the beauties of golf is that there are no two shots alike. Not only is each shot changed by the condition of the course on a particular day, the pin placement that day and, with the exception of the drive, by the shot that preceded the one about to be taken, but as a golfer moves from course to course he is unlikely to come across matched holes.
Can one imagine a bowler dreaming of some day rolling his 16-pounder on all of the great lanes from Paramus, N.J., westward? Does Elvin Hayes get more esthetic feeling from sinking a turnaround jump shot at the Forum than at the Omni?
Yet there are thousands of golfers who dream of someday chasing the dimpled ball at St. Andrews, Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Valley and Pebble Beach. Most will never have that opportunity, which is why there is a market for such books as "Arnold Palmer's Best 54 Golf Houes" and "Great Golf Courses of the World."
Surprisingly, Palmer's rating of golf holes (on U.S. courses only) is only the second compiled in book form. Dan Jenkins, now Sports Illustrated's golf man, had "The Best 18 Golf Holes in America" published in 1966. And I'm certain the Kauai-loving Jenkins would find room for a Hawaiian hole were he to update his book today.
Palmer's book was undertaken as a follow-up to a television special he did called "My Favorite 18 Holes." in the book, while giving primary attention to his favorite 18, Palmer expands his coverage, brining attention to an additional 36 holes.
Attesting that the great golf holes stand the test of time and have universal appeal, four holes make the top 18 listing of both Jenkins and Palmer. They are the 196-yard fourth hole at Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower), Springfield, N.J.; the 155-yard 12th hole at Augusta (Ga.) National; the 453-yard 15th hole at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, and the 408-yard 16th at Oakland Hills Country Club (South), Birmingham, Mich.
In seven other instances, both Jenkins and Palmer cited similar golf courses, but picked different holes as stick-outs.
Strangely, nothing from Pine Valley made Palmer's top 18 list even though that revered Clementon, N.J., layout is almost universally considered the premier course in America.
And even Palmer notes that his inclusion of the 18th at the Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., rather than the more famous "Waterloor" 13th hole from the same course, would cause controversy. The 13th, a long par-five around a huge lake, has been reached in two shots only once, by Mike Souchak - with two drivers.
For each of his 54 holes, Palmer gives a short history of the club, tells why the hole has special significance for him, describes the hole and tells how low, medium and high handicappers should attack the hole. Each of the top 18 rates pictures (some excellent), a diagram and a description of how Palmer and his playing partner (generally another top professional) fared when they played the course for the television show.
Like all of Palmer's books, the writing is informative, charming and witty, although the style changes from book to book depending on who Palmer is using as a collaborator.
One small irritation, however, is present in Palmer's advice to the middle-and high-handicap golfers. This great champion has the right to feel condescending toward mere golf mortals. However, he assumes that all medium handicappers have a tendency to slice and that all high handicapers find their way down the fairway with a succession of "scaldy-dog" grounders. In truth, there are some among us whose main difficulty is ever getting a look at the hole from the right side.
"Great Golf Courses of the World" is a more ambitious undertaking than Palmer's. I'm happy to say that it was a huge success.
Each two years Golf Digest magazine names "American's 100 Greatest Tests of Golf." This book was obviously inspired by that blennial report (which consistently rates Congressional Country Club among its elite), but there is no attempt to rate the courses in numerical fashion.
As pointed out in the foreward, the book also is not primarily a guide book for the traveling golfer.
Instead, the authors start by trying to answer, the question, "What makes a course great."
Herbert Warren Wind, perhaps the world's greatest living golf writer, insists it is the architects who make a course great. He describes the accomplishments and innovations of the masters: Willie Park Jr., Alister Mackenzie, Donald Ross, Charles B. MacDonald, A. W. Tillinghast, Dick Wilson and Robert Trent Jones.
Amazingly, Pebble Beach, one of the great American courses, was designed by two amateur golfers, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, who had never designed a golf course before.
"Great Golf Courses" give considerable space to the primary U.S. and British open courses. Quite properly, Augusta National, the home of the Masters, is treated royally. However, other fine courses, private and resort, are covered, in some depth and the pictures are among the most spectacular golf photos I've seen anywhere.
Color pictures of the fourth hole at Harbor Town links at Sea Pines Plantation, S.C.; the Dunes 13th; the 16th at Cypress Point, Calif.; the seventh hole at Cajuiles in the Dominican Republic; the Club Las Hadas in Manzanillo, Mexico; the 17th at Ballybunion, Ireland, and the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan can tempt the golfer to drop verything and immediately make reservations for his favorite golfing Eden.
With just that in mind, the book includes a chart and directory of more than 900 courses accessible to the public golfer.
For the golfer who likes to dream a little, it's truly a wonderful book.