- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Bill Geist provided the straw that broke this camel's back.

Last summer, a copy of his new golf book, "Fore! Play: The Last American Male to Take Up Golf," arrived at the office.

This inane volume perfectly symbolized an industry run amok. It had the cute, cliched title which effects most serious players like two-fingers of Draino served neat.

It came with a clever marketing letter suggesting it as the perfect Father's Day present. Publishers love to prey upon your well-meaning, non-golfing relatives, tricking them into giving you the gift that keeps on giving indigestion.

And its very subtitle proudly heralded its inherent flaw, the affliction which has descended upon the entire publishing industry: The last American male takes up golf, and still has the audacity to write a book on the subject.

Why?

"I can't answer that," chuckles Rhod McEwan, a Scottish bookseller who boasts the finest and most complete collection of golf titles in the world. "The market has really been very receptive to golf books, no matter the quality, since World War II. But thanks to Tiger Woods and the recent golf renaissance, the industry has exploded.

"We're currently in the middle of cataloguing our available titles, and my best estimate is there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 golf books out there. Incredibly, new golf books are joining the list at a rate of about 500 per year, which is horrific. The overwhelming majority are nasty little books. Most are instruction, trivia, coffee-table drivel or worse."

Geist's book, which falls into the "or worse" category, is far from alone. Of the 9,000 golf titles in circulation, a conservative guess puts the roster of unreadable refuse at 8,500. And the rubbish heap gets 1.4 books higher each day.

Trees are felled. Relatives are victimized. Purists are offended. And still, most publishers revel in the proliferation.

"The market is not saturated with great golf books," says Brian Lewis, the publisher at Sleeping Bear Press, a smaller house in Michigan that specializes in printing golf books for the more discriminating player. "It's saturated with very suspect books."

The golf section at your local bookstore is jammed with insidious instruction titles by every pro who has ever threatened a major championship and every can't-break-75 guru who has ever lounged on a Tour range. The shelves are loaded with 10-pound picture books, unauthorized and often uninformed biographies, travel guides, anthologies and, worst of all, the dreaded mystical misfits which have recently invaded the industry.

"It seems like every new golf book I read, somebody's walking around a course in the fog and they bump into Walter Hagen," says legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins, mocking the metaphysical trend. "Hushed words are spoken. Prayers are said. Michael Murphy strolls up with a magical mashie. A rainbow pops up. Someone is sure to make a hole-in-one. Words like transcendence, aura and spirit get tossed around, and all is truth and light. Over and out."

Then, of course, there's the Tiger Woods section, which features a categorically shameless group of writers, instructors and even family members attempting to ride Tiger's coattails to a payday with another info-bankrupt paean to golf's demigod.

"Tiger has rendered a lot of other people obsolete as subjects," said Lewis. "Guys like Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III, who were very hot commodities in the mid-'90s, have been knocked right out of the publishing game by Tiger."

If you can summon the courage to go to Amazon.com and do a search for Tiger Woods, you will find there are more than 60 different titles on golf's megastar, including the ever-popular "Boys Who Rocked the World: From King Tut to Tiger Woods."

There are three different offerings from Tiger's father Earl all worthy of five Sominex stars. And there is even a book by Earl's first wife, Barbara, which should have been entitled "Almost Mom: The First Woman Behind the Man Behind Tiger Woods."

Obviously, there is an ocean of swill out there. But why are we drinking it?

"The demographics of golf have worked for the publishing business," said Lewis. "For a lot of players, golf is not just a game or even a passion, it's a lifestyle."

Translation: Golfers are a strange, zealous breed who typically have plenty of time and money and are more than happy to squander both on books like "The 103 Best Par-3s Over Water in Uganda."

And occasionally that rarest of publishing commodities the palatable golf book does find its way into print. These are truly landmark moments, occurring about as often as a David Duval grin, but perhaps these minor miracles are what keep us scouring shelves.

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