Golf has a long literary tradition, counting among its greatest fans’ such luminary writers as Ian Fleming, PG Wodehouse, Hunter S. Thompson and William Faulkner. However, in recent years golf has mostly fallen off the literary radar – unless it’s a subject of ridicule. Trump-like golf course developers have been cast as villains in a few modern novels, and golf players are often portrayed as boisterous and boorish idiots.
Looking back at nearly a century of literature on this fascinating game though, it’s easy to see that we’ve come a long way from the famous statement often attributed to Mark Twain – ‘golf is a good walk, ruined’. These, then, are just three of the best novels featuring flying white balls, manicured greens and big swings.
Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy
The best-selling golf novel of all time, this 1971 tale of a spiritual journey through golf (yes really) is genuinely a story unlike any other. Inspired by author Michael Murphy’s trips through India, where he visited many Ashram shrines and meditated regularly, Golf in the Kingdom fuses Asian spiritual myths and practices with the very Western pursuit of golf.
It follows the story of the fictionalised author himself as, on a flight stopover in Scotland on the way to India, he decides to play a round on the local course and meets the enigmatic spiritual leader slash golf teacher Shivas Irons. The book has sold over a million copies worldwide and is available in nearly 20 languages – and was also optioned (unsuccessfully) as a movie script by directors Clint Eastwood and Gus Van Sant.
The Heart of a Goof by PG Wodehouse
Well known for his golfing stories, that affectionally poked fun at, but also swelled with a true passion for, the game of golf, this short story collection from the legendary 1930s humourist Pelham Grenville Wodehouse is a true classic of the genre. All nine stories in the collection are frame stories, told by one character – The Oldest Member, who sits alone at the bar in a golf course clubhouse and collars anyone who comes near him to spin his yarns. The tales often feature a mischievous course employee, known only as The Caddie, who pops up at unfortunate times for the heroes and heroines of each piece.
A Month of Sundays by John Updike
A Month of Sunday’s is a typically sexualised novel from noted golf aficionado John Updike, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and literary champion of suburban America. This particular rip-roaring tale follows the hairy adventures of disgraced (and horny) priest Reverend Thomas Marshfield. Having been sent to a small desert motel of an unspecified location, but very Californian in nature, Thomas is supposed to assess his morals for a ‘month of Sundays’ in order to avoid being defrocked. However, he is soon distracted by ample opportunity to play golf (in between philandering) and then write about his experiences on his battered typewriter. Who knew the game of golf could be so phallic?
Outside of this updated tribute to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American classic The Scarlet Letter, Updike also published a collection of poetry, essays and short stories on the game of golf called Golf Dreams.