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Summer is for playing golf. And for reading about golf. Be they instruction manuals, novels or biographies, I love reading golf books. I confess I have a selection of over 1,000 golf books in my home library, and I may never be able to read some of them. So here, for your summer reading, I recommend one classic in particular: “The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever” by Mark Frost.
In 1937, scaling the peak of his stardom, Bing Crosby got the idea to have a friendly little golf tournament. The rich and famous from Hollywood and from the world of golf got together for a week to play, in every sense of the word. It started in San Diego, but in the late 1940s Crosby moved the golf tournament and party to the Monterey Peninsula where the happening soon became known as “The Clambake.”
The tournament eventually morphed into the very high-profile AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. But earlier days seemed more fun, with hijinks, music, girls, golf, gaming and parties galore. Frost describes the Clambake goings-on this way: “Bing tossed some steaks on the grill and sang a few tunes on his piano, which was just off the back nine (at Pebble). Mixed drinks flowed like the Ganges. Waves of aspiring actresses, unbidden, materialized like woodland nymphs.”
On the Tuesday evening of the Clambake in 1956 George Coleman, a wealthy mining mogul from Oklahoma, hosted the usual A-list cocktail party at his home on Pebble. It was at that affair, Frost writes, that history was in the making. Arriving later in the evening were Eddie Lowery, his wife, and his houseguest Byron Nelson. You may remember the name Eddie Lowery – he was the precocious 10-year-old who caddied for Francis Ouimet, the eventual winner in the famous 1913 U.S. Open. (Another fun read is Frost’s book “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about that very U.S. Open.) Lowery had since become a successful and rich car dealer in San Francisco. Lowery was also a golfer, a gambler and a nurturer of up-and-coming amateur golfing talent, using his car dealership to provide “jobs” to a few young sticks.
One of his car salesmen was a fellow named Ken Venturi. The other was better known at the time – a playboy with a stellar golf game named Harvie Ward. Lowery was so bullish on his two players that he boasted that his two amateur boys could beat any other two players in the world, pro or amateur.
Coleman had heard enough and told Lowery to put his money where his mouth was. Lowery did; the bet was on. Nobody knows how much but the stakes were plenty. Nelson said he was in, then Coleman talked Ben Hogan into playing, and the match was a go -- at nearby Cypress Point.
In a suspenseful tapestry of stories and facts, Frost alternatively takes us deep into the backgrounds and colorful lives of the four golfers, while giving us nearly a shot-for-shot replay of the impromptu, un-broadcast 18-hole match. My favorite passage comes at the very end. “No four men will ever play such a match again. No four men like these. The genuine way they lived their lives makes most to today’s fast and frenzied sports and entertainment culture seem like so much packaged goods, a self-conscious, inauthentic hustle. In their best and worst hours alike each one of these four stood his ground, put all he had on the line, and for better or worse lived with the consequences of his actions and moved on.”
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.