POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST: WHAT RARE GOLF BOOKS CAN TEACH US
As much of golf is played between the ears, it is not surprising that the game should have spawned more books than any other sport. A high proportion of these books are instructional. The quest for the magic swing secret is probably as old as golf itself.
But, what is a “rare” golf book? As I always tell my clients, they are not making them anymore. Over time books get lost, damaged or destroyed. Any book printed before the Great War of 1914 qualifies as rare. Any book published before 1940 with a still-intact dust jacket is relatively rare, and the condition of that dust jacket will have a material effect on its value.
Scarcity will inevitably be reflected in high and ever-rising prices. In 1913 Aleck Bauer wrote a seminal book, Hazards. Not having appeared in the open market for some time, this book recently achieved a price of around $10,000 on an internet auction site. The value of this book is not simply its rarity; it still has an enduring message for today’s game. The subtitle of the book gives a distinct clue: “Those Essential Elements in a Golf Course without which the Game would be Tame and Uninteresting.” For Bauer, hazards should be intimidating, punishing affairs. He would have little patience with the tournament pro who complains if the rake marks in a sand trap inhibit the use of a fairway metal! Nearly 100 years after its publication, his book acts as a reproach and challenge for golf architects whose principle solution to new technology is to design and remodel courses of greater and greater length.
While rare golf books can no longer be made, a market in reprints, reproductions and facsimile editions has happily developed in recent years. However, these books have often been printed in small print runs and are themselves often becoming difficult to find and therefore increasing in value.
Future rare books need not be particularly expensive or old. Just a few years before he died, Bobby
Jones published his last book, Bobby Jones on Golf, in collaboration with the eminent sporting artist Anthony Ravielli. Ravielli was an action artist of genius, most famous for his work in illustrating Ben Hogan’s legendary instructional books. Ravielli’s sinewy, flowing lines were able to capture the essence of a golf swing in a manner which the freeze frame cannot. It appears this book had a relatively small print run and is becoming difficult to track down. But, it meets the other necessary criterion of the rare book – it gives pleasure and its lessons endure.
Rare golf books are postcards from history, and the only mechanism for the great pioneers and champions of the game to communicate with posterity in the pre-digital age. We will never hear their voices or properly see their swings, but their books remain to entertain and teach us.