Tiger Woods in an ecstatic rage. Jimmy Demaret, morphing in a Jackson Pollock-style drip assault. The twelfth green at Tom Doak's Renaissance Club, bathed in otherworldly light. These are just a tiny handful of the images that burst forth from within the leather-bound covers of GOLF, The Captain's Edition, a 560-page doorstop that was introduced at the Masters in April. Most forthcoming reviews will likely make quick sport of this book's attention-grabbing price tag ($632), but the really scary thing is that it might actually be worth it. Five years in the making yet coming completely out of left field, this may be the most fascinating golf book of the year.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about GOLF is that it was produced by a pair of neophyte golfers. Author Simon Weitzman and artist Paul Skellett, both from England, have extensive creative backgrounds in film production, art, and music, but they came to this project essentially as outsiders. No fact is more important than this one in understanding why this book is what it is. Asked how they were drawn to the subject, Weitzman says, "We were looking for the biggest canvas possible." This is not a fusty, reverential history tome—the authors, refreshingly, are mostly unburdened by the game's traditions and shibboleths.
The result might best be described as a creative hurricane. With golf at the center, the book forges into uncharted thematic territory—sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, politics and religion, life, and death. "It was really important for us," says Weitzman, "to tell the story from a different perspective, for those who haven't been around the game their entire lives."
Working on a limited budget, the duo came up with a clever solution for finding historical material. They approached clubs (Prestwick, Moortown, and many more) with the offer of digitizing their (often crumbling) archives. In return, the team would be granted the right to publish select images. So GOLF has a bit of a halo in that the authors made a real contribution to the game's historical preservation, and readers, of course, have the chance to take in some truly rare images. But for Skellett, the old photos and documents were just a base layer. "We needed to give them some emotional value," he says. "We saved the pictures, but I wanted to bring them to life—paint on them, scratch them up, play with them. The game's about movement, and I wanted to bring that in."
Skellett's compositions are, in a word, wild. There are heavy doses of the Pop Art sensibility—ancient gutties appear in Warhol's woozy tones, while a swinger gets a Lichtensteinian comic book treatment. The pages frequently feature visual puns, jokes, and all manner of free-associative play, but the artist does play it straight at times. Portraits of Old Tom Morris, Bobby Jones and Seve Ballesteros, among others, treat their subjects like the legends they are. If there's a knock on GOLF, though, it might be that at times Weitzman's writing is rendered in that fancy-script font that any consumer of glossy luxury magazines likely knows all too well. It's not illegible, but it can be a bit of a strain on the eyes.
Almost by definition, GOLF, The Captain's Edition is not an essential addition to the everyman's golf library. It's a pure luxury good, delivered in a package that represents a stinging rebuke to our throwaway culture. Considering that for the cost of this book you'd be well on your way to a day at Pebble, it's understandable that most won't be plunking down the benjamins here. But keep an eye out for it. This is the kind of book you might encounter in the lobby of some of the better clubs and resorts, and you'll want to spend some time with it. Few golf books in recent memory have gotten the synapses firing with anything like the intensity of this unique and provocative volume.