Betjeman, it is said, was more interested in how far he could hit the ball than his score.
Agatha Christie played and made frequent reference to the game in her books. Young golfers were sometimes depicted as frivolous creatures. One of her books bears the title Death on the Links.
John Updike was a keen golfer. His Golf Dreams is a collection of pieces about the game and the title story records the sort of nightmarish moment familiar to hackers dreaming about golf – putting on a glass-topped table.
Bob Dylan plays golf and is irked by those who are amazed by it and angered by people asking about his handicap. Willie Nelson once owned his own golf course until an IRS investigation took it away from him.
I took up golf at 50, after watching a tournament on television. Up to that point I’d had no interest in the game and couldn’t have named any players other than Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. Ben Hogan perhaps.
I was too old to acquire a fluid swing but after some lessons I learned to play at a level that didn’t embarrass me too much. Books and golf went together, I found. Over the years I had enjoyable rounds with writer Roger Milliss, poet Jamie Grant, historian Michael Pearson, prehistorian Jim Allen, booksellers’ representative Joel Becker and publishers Patrick Gallagher and Judith Curr.
As long as it’s not taken too seriously, golf is an enjoyable social game. It provides time to yarn about books and writing. I also played with two of the subjects of ‘as told to’ autobiographies I wrote – Fred Hollows and Ray Barrett.
Fred had been a good golfer, playing off a respectable handicap of 13 at a challenging course. He was quite ill with cancer when we played but I could see the vestiges of a good swing. Fred told me he’d once been suspended for six months at his club for playing bare-chested on a hot day but that he’d later been made a life member. A typical Fred story.
Ray Barrett had been a very good golfer, playing to a single-figure handicap at the demanding Richmond course in England. As with Fred, his best days were behind him when we played, but I was no match for him. We played at the Monash course in Sydney and I was mortified to be instructed by a vigilant committee member to tuck my shirt in. My game, such as it was, fell apart.
I’ve made money from golf but not from playing it. Jamie Grant and I edited The Picador Book of Golf in 1995 and Allen & Unwin’s Patrick Gallagher, a very capable player himself, published my collection of stories A Round of Golf in 1998.
These days, in my reduced condition I occasionally play nine holes from a cart with filmmaker and theatre-director Stephen Wallace. He is a single-handicap player and I’ve dedicated my most recent novel to him. For his friendship, good humour and tolerance at my attempts, mostly vain, to snatch a hole from him, it was the least I could do.