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"Golf," commented Mark Twain, "is a good walk spoiled." Though many share Twain's love-hate relationship with the game, golf's appeal has flourished in the past century. So has the body of literature about it.

By Kimberly Sweet

English writer—and golfer—A. A. Milne had this to say: “Golf is popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.” He may very well have something there. But a close reading of the texts on golf—and there are many—suggests that the game’s surge in popularity during the late 19th century had more to do with sweeping social change: increases in leisure time, a new middle-class interest in the outdoors and physical fitness, im-proved railroad and highway access to courses, and new technology that made golf equipment cheaper. All told, writes University Archivist Daniel Meyer, AM’75, PhD’94, “For men and women, college students and children alike, golf was an irresistible new expression of the contemporary age.”

Meyer’s text accompanies the exhibition Reading the Greens: Books on Golf from the Arthur W. Schultz Collection, on display in the University Library’s Department of Special Collections through August 7. Currently numbering more than 1,600 items, the collection is a gift from Arthur W. Schultz, AB’67, a life trustee of the University and author of In Praise of America’s Collectors: Their Secrets Reveal How to Be a Successful Collector (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1998).

The rule books, instructional manuals, catalogs, novels, club yearbooks, magazines, and coffee-table books in the collection document the rapid growth of the game of golf in the last 100 years, especially in the United States and Chicago. “These are vibrant and fascinating research materials,” says Alice Schreyer, curator of Special Collections. “The collection will be very useful to scholars who are looking for material that reflects social and cultural life.” For example, she says, women golfers played an important role in the game’s development, and the books reflect their changing status. Books on country clubs and landscaping contribute to architectural history, while instructional texts depict changes in how information is conveyed.

The exhibition culled from Schultz’s collection explores golf’s origins, rules, techniques, and tools, while also taking a look at caddies, duffers, and pros. Women in golf receive featured treatment, as do golf humorists and authors from Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf) to James Bond–creator Ian Fleming (Goldfinger).

Instructional manuals comprise perhaps the most popular genre of golf publications, according to Meyer, who is also the associate curator of Special Collections. William Park, Jr., two-time winner of the British Open and son of the first Open champion, was the first professional player to write such a book, The Game of Golf (1896). Other authors preferred to address the sport’s mental aspects, with Alex J. Morrison offering suggestions for mental imaging in Better Golf without Practice (1940) and David C. Morley tackling the odd duo of Freud and golf in Golf and the Mind (1978).

Though historians have yet to pinpoint the origins of the game, and the Dutch seem to have played a version called colf or colven as early as 1297, Scotland is considered golf’s real homeland. The Scots were playing the sport by the 15th century; by 1890, 387 British golf clubs had formed, playing on 140 courses. From that era comes the oldest book on display, the 1887 Golfing: A Handbook to the Royal and Ancient Game with List of Clubs, Rules, & c. Also Golfing Sketches and Poems, published in Edinburgh by W. & R. Chambers.

The first permanent golf club in the United States—appropriately enough, with a Scottish name—the St. Andrew’s Golf Club was established in 1888 in Yonkers, New York. By 1900, the U.S. had 982 golf courses, and four decades later that number had grown to more than 4,500.

Chicago more than kept up with the pace. Scottish American Charles Blair Macdonald brought golf to the Windy City in 1875. He founded the Chicago Golf Club in 1893 and two years later, the club had built the nation’s first 18-hole golf course in suburban Wheaton. By the 1920s, an average of one new course opened each month in the Chicago area. The exhibition includes regional memorabilia such as books celebrating the centennials of the Chicago Golf Club, the Skokie Country Club, and the Onwentsia Club; yearbooks from several clubs; and issues of Chicagoland Golf magazine.

An accompanying exhibit, Maroons on the Greens: Golf at the University of Chicago, includes golf pictures and stories from The Daily Maroon, Cap and Gown, and the Special Collections archival files—not to mention a ball used by the late GSB professor emeritus and Nobel laureate George J. Stigler, PhD’38, to shoot one of his five holes-in-one.

Golf came to campus in 1900 and received strong support from athletic director Amos Alonzo Stagg, an avid golfer himself, until his retirement in 1933. Student interest in the sport waxed and waned for another four decades until the team ceased to exist in the mid-1970s. Just this spring, though, a brand-new club of student golfers has taken to the links at the Jackson Park course, the first course west of the Appalachians to be open to the public and the place where the first University Golf Club debuted.

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