Golfers have a hard time explaining the appeal of their game to those who do not play. And in fact, golfers sometimes have a hard time accounting for their passion even to themselves. The old quip about how a round of golf is a “good walk spoiled” seems to stick with a lot of people. But buried in that line is an acknowledgment of something important about golf: Almost every round is, at the very least, “a good walk.”
And sometimes, it is better than that. It is a sublime walk. And the reason has a lot to do with the grounds where the game is played. Some golf courses are better than others, and some are a lot better. A few are transcendent—in the mind, anyway, of those golfers fortunate enough to play them.
There are legendary courses that every serious golfer would love dearly to play and that even most nongolfers have heard about: Augusta, Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St Andrews. They are to the aficionado what the seven summits are to mountaineers or the Michelin three stars are to epicureans. So golfers might imagine paradise as being something like an eternal journey from one of these courses to the next, playing each in the season when it is at peak and savoring not just the golf but the essence of the course and its neighborhood.
John Steinbreder, who writes about golf for a living, has been fortunate to live a mortal’s version of this dream, here on earth, and has been generous enough to share the experience with golfers who might never get to put a tee in the ground at, say, Pinehurst No. 1 but will appreciate the chance to live the experience vicariously, while reading From Turnberry to Tasmania. The subtitle catches its essence nicely: Adventures of a Traveling Golfer. Steinbreder has certainly done the traveling, and his passion for the game has made it into something like an odyssey as opposed to a mere tour. As, for instance, in his introduction when he writes:
During one trip to Morocco . . . I teed it up on one of King Hassan II’s courses in the Imperial City of Meknes, a track laid out entirely inside the grounds of the royal palace. Afterward, I drove to the ancient Roman city of Volubilis, where I spent a couple hours ambling down the stone streets of that historic site. Later that night, I dined on savory roasted lamb and sipped fragrant mint tea at a food stall in the Jemaa el Fna, or “Place of the Dead,” next to the ancient souk in the heart of Marrakesh, still wearing my Footjoys and what turned out to be a daylong grin.
Not exactly your regular weekend foursome at the club or local muni. But while this passage might appear to be a sample of the kind of travel writing that seeks only to swank it over the reader, Steinbreder is anything but a snob. It might be because he loves the essence of the thing—the golf—so much. With him, it is always about the golf, and his love for the game and the courses he plays and writes about is infectious.
His tour of the world’s great courses begins, of course, at St Andrews, and one may be tempted to think that quite enough has been said and written about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. And in fact, while Steinbreder writes elegiacally about the course, he also takes the reader on a tour of some of the other “seventeen first-rate golf courses within an easy drive or walk” of the hallowed ground and leaves us thinking that maybe it is time, at last, to book that trip—and now, before we have to start playing from the forward tees.
So Steinbreder’s world tour begins where golf began, and then moves on around the British Isles, taking in those things that are in the neighborhood and appeal to his sensibilities. The right places for a glass of single malt, say; or after the day’s round, when he is playing near Dublin,
amble over to the Duke Pub at cocktail hour for the beginning of an acclaimed literary pub crawl through several of Dublin’s finest pubs, all of which have literary connections. The tour took a couple of hours, and I quaffed pints with newfound friends as we listened to a pair of actors recite the words of Shaw, Swift, and Wilde—and tell stories about their life and times in Dublin. We ended the evening in Davy Byrne’s, the pub where Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s memorable character from Ulysses, ordered his Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and glass of Burgundy. Beckett drank there as well, in the 1930s, and scribes like [Brendan] Behan and the “peasant poet” Patrick Kavanagh emptied more than a few glasses there years later.