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Art. Life. Passion. Golf.

The fact that neither of them had ever previously picked up a golf club makes even more remarkable the collaboration of Simon Weitzman and Paul Skellett in producing Golf, a lavish fusion of fine art, writing and photography four years in the making. Richard Simmons talked to them

In all honesty, considering the company, I hadn’t expected my conservative bid to stand up for very long. In the agreeable surroundings of Goodwood House, the ‘blind’ auction that would bring to a close Peter Jones’ Golf Day last September had seen an eclectic mix of items attract some pretty serious interest across the exquisite dining room. The luxurious leather-bound breeze-block of a book, Golf, was flying under the radar. Turned out I was right. None of the Dragon’s assembled guests had any idea about the title or its provenance – or the hefty price tag. With the paperwork duly completed, I left Sussex with Lot 13, and a bargain.

The co-authors of Wonderland Publications’ Golf, scriptwriter Simon Weitzman and graphic artist Paul Skellett, invested four years researching a project not so much out of left field but far, far outside the boundary posts of golf’s traditionally plaid universe. Maverick’s in their professional vocation, neither of them had ever picked up a club or spent time around golfers; from the outset, theirs would be a voyage free of the convention and prejudice that blinkers so much coverage of the game – and all the more refreshing for it.

“As outsiders five years ago we started out as naive in the industry, which was a good thing,” says Skellett.

“Our education has revealed the purity of the sport, more than any other, in a truly artistic, poetic sense. We discovered that it’s easy to get entirely lost in simply trying to hit that little white ball down the fairway and into the cup. But the bottom line is that the game is all about learning about ourselves and everything around us, not just the thud of various exotic metals with rubber, clumps of turf and expletives connecting at one singular moment.”

The basic ingredients:
A ball. Some kind
of club to hit it with.
Land. A series of targets.
A sprinkling of
strategic hazards. A
drizzle of concentration
and a luscious stroke of
imagination. And there
you have it - golf

As they would discover in their travels around the globe and face-to-face meetings and interviews with a diverse cast of players, course designers, administrators and celebrities, the single currency that unites us all in our love for the game of golf is the fact that it is so utterly, bewitchingly, unique. Immensely seductive. As close to a spiritual experience as many will ever get. And, all the while, scream-out-loud frustrating. Turning the lovingly-crafted pages, all 584 of them, is to enter into their world of exploration, and it is that sense of adventure, an almost child-like thirst for discovery, which sets the tone of the content. Each of the 18 (naturally) chapters is underpinned with a fascination for the art intrinsic in the fabric of the game, while many of the chapter headings themselves – The Mistress that is Golf, Daydreams & Nightmares, The McCormack Effect, Pencil Lines to Planet Earth, Avoiding Chapter 11 and Golf for All – send a clear signal as to the course of the narrative within.

At its heart, Golf focuses on the challenge to the human spirit this game is so adept at exploring. That irresistible urge to visualise a few holes running across a landscape – any landscape – defines the golfer in all of us, and a recurring theme throughout is the divinity that exists between the game and the earth upon which dreams (and nightmares!) unfold; the challenge to the human condition golf presents in all its glorious forms. With some wonderful rare photography, and artistic dedication to the likes of Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt, Dr Alister MacKenzie and Tom Doak, among others, great architects of the game are championed as the creative mavericks of the story – the artists whose canvases make the game what it is.

A beautifully observed portrait of Old Tom Morris by
artist Paul Skellett;

“Golf is unique in its design and unique in what it teaches us as individuals,” adds Weitzman. “And this only fuelled our own passion to do something grand and unique to illustrate that the soul of the game was unlike any other we had encountered. In putting the visual story together, we found that we were balancing out the obvious imagery that encapsulates a particular aspect of the game with the raw emotion involved. Just as it is in our journey through life itself, the thing with golf is that it becomes a lot more philosophical as you try to unravel its mystery, its meaning; the game teaches you so much about yourself – discipline, patience, how to formulate strategy rather than bulldoze ahead. It’s fascinating, really.”

Children of the 1970s, golf’s unlikely twosome applied a James Burke-like approach in ‘connecting’ people, places and events, looking at the many different facets that make up the game and uncovering relationships with golf that most people don’t know about.

Take, for example, Colin Montgomerie’s passion for the game of chess, and the way in which thinking a couple of moves ahead was key to the formula he played by, plotting his route back from the green to the tee in order to identify the most efficient shot strategy to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible.

“I played chess with the golf course,” says Monty. “I studied the layout, tried to understand it, identified the racing line and then I rolled out a formula. [Bernhard] Langer showed me that kind of way of thinking more than any other player.”

Different, but the same - Pirate's Cove, Orlando

The racing analogy is explored further, the deeper philosophy being that the golfer who is fully in tune with his environment, who can feel and be at one with the ground beneath his feet, negotiates a golf course with the same instinct and understanding racing legend Ayrton Senna had for the track beneath his wheels. One of the world’s leading biomechanists, J.J. Rivet, is quoted extensively on the physical condition, the dynamics of human movement and the interaction with the ground upon which the game is played. It is another fascinating strand of the game that is often overlooked and yet one which gets straight to the heart of a golfer’s ability to swing the clubhead and hit the shots that he or she paints in the mind’s eye.

This togetherness with nature is a recurring theme; the sum of the parts that make up this game being greater than any single aspect you can shake one of 14 sticks at.

When you are out on a golf course concentrating on hitting the ball the fact that is often lost is that you are playing across an incredible landscape, a playing arena that interacts with you, as an individual, in a different way, every single time. How often do we all lose sight of that?

Playing through, a mix of celebrities, musicians and Hollywood stars share their thoughts and quotes on what the game represents. From the world of rock and roll, Alice Cooper reveals how golf became an addiction – and a much healthier one than he enjoyed previously. One of the more random entries involves a meeting with the celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, the upshot of which being typical of the unconventional angle that gives the book its third dimension.

Cooking up a storm: a
random meeting with
celebrity chef Marco
Pierre White uncovered
a passion for golf and a
hitherto unknown
appetitie for all things
Ryder Cup

“We were in London filming something entirely different with Marco in his kitchen,” says Weitzman. “In the breaks, he started to doodle, and we noticed he was sketching golf holes. Turns out he started life as a caddie at Moortown, Leeds, where the first ever Ryder Cup on British soil was played [1929]. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Ryder Cup. So we go in talking about cooking with one of the world's great chefs, and end up talking golf and his touchpoint into the game and why he loves it so much. He presented an analogy about the way top chefs and regular people cook using the same ingredients. What he gets out of it and what we get out of it are entirely different things. A different take on the pro/amateur game, if you like.”

From the opening chapter, the book siezes upon the myriad of influences that impact those who like to play it. And as quickly as the inevitable stereotypes were encountered so Weitzman and Skellett observed a distinct shift in the game’s social dynamic. “Our perception of what golf was like was probably the same as it is for a lot of people who have no contact with the game – you know, that it’s an old boys’ network, a tweed and plus-fours mentality,” says Skellett.

“Sure, there are a lot of old-fashioned views out there, but they are changing rapidly, as they must if the game is going to survive and attract new blood. The thing that really shook us was the passion among everyday golfers – and that’s what needs to be communicated to attract young people. They need to relate to the analogy of golf, which is not really ever communicated, the fact that the game has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like life.”

The power of the
imagery throughout
sets Golf apart, as anything
and everything
related to the game is
explored in a way like
never before. History,
culture, sex, drugs and
rock and roll - nothing
is sacred in this game

“The other thing we found is that there is a real maverick spirit at the heart of the game and it’s often easy to completely overlook that,” adds Skellett. “It is far more left field in its construction and thinking than many other sports and games. And that’s mainly because it’s so much part of the fabric in the way that we live and learn.”

The book is nothing if not exhaustive in its subject and holds your interest throughout with what can only be described as an orgy of mind-blowing art. Eighteen sculpted chapters tee up anything and everything, from the history of the game to its ability to seduce admirers and – just as quickly – spurn them. To many people, it is suggested, golf is a lifetime of commitment, a marriage...or at least a steamy affair they just can’t tear themselves away from. Indeed the book wastes no time identifying what for many of us succinctly deals with the meaning of golf: The golf mistress is a guilty pleasure. You could be with your loved one, you could be doing something with the family. You could be mending that thing that always needs mending; but hmm, it’s always on your mind, the chance to sneak out and go to the other love in your life. Even though you may need to make excuses. Even though you may have to tell stories as to where you’ve been, and what you’ve been up to. Even though it could, in certain cases cost you your relationship, her allure is irresistible...’

CONSISTING OF OVER 580 PAGES of museum-grade parchment, bound in a rare leather, Golf is, quite simply, a work of art. Bold and evocative images take on an hallucinogenic quality as the chapters unfold and golf’s relationship with philosophy, literature, comedy – even sex, drugs and rock and roll – is explored in a way it has never been subjected to before.

The process of gathering and restoring the rare old photographs and historic artworks that litter the book is quite a story in itself as the authors went in search of archives around the world and private collections from golf clubs and individuals that loaned themselves to the project. Not surprisingly, given the scale of their ambition, there was a financial motive.

It could be
argued that right up
until 1960 golf stayed
out of the global media
spotlight. That was all
about to change when
young lawyer Mark H.
McCormack joined
forces with a certain
Arnold Palmer

“We couldn’t afford to use photo libraries, and we also wanted to discover things about the game that others may not have ever seen, or at the very least, not seen for a long time,” says Weitzman. “So, after many protracted negotiations with various archives, we went to America and sat in freezers, digitising and restoring nitrate negatives that were either on the verge of disintegrating or going up in flames. Everything we captured digitally we gave back to the archives in return for rights to create image and art for our publication – a ‘win-win’ for all concerned.”

Weitzman is being modest. Travelling with their own specialist equipment, the authors made extensive visits to Berkeley University and the Library of Congress, and spent hundreds of hours trawling through tousands of images that revealed early golf in America to be a society- based game. Less a sport, more a pastime. A gathering. An event. “Go back to the early 1900s and people dressed impeccably. Everybody is smiling and having a great time,” says Skellett. “Then, as you go through the decades and reach the 1970s, it’s as though it all gets so serious. Something had become lost.”

A meeting with legendary Augusta photographer Frank Christian led to a particularly rich seam of information. Christian’s father was invited by Bobby Jones to be the first official photographer at Augusta, and Christian Jnr followed in his footsteps, introduced to the game, he says, ‘through a camera lens’. “I love the moment of reaction, those split hundreths of a second where real emotion, elation or despair cross a player’s face,” says Christian. “Those fractions of a second can be immortalised in a simple picture.” How so.

This, then is a golf book that covers much of what you expect and much more of what you don’t. The history, the legends, the courses, the architects, the soul of the game, the majesty, the beauty and the many connections, both obvious and remote, that make it the unique uniting glue for all of us who play it. Evocative images at every turn of the page remind you of the magnetism golf enjoys – the spirit of its adventure. But at the same time, the narrative is tuned in to the fact that the social standing of our sport is desperately in need of modernising if it is to attract new blood.

Golf may be a game that can break down social bariers, but it is one that all too often gets stuck behind them. In this beautiful gift to the game, Weitzman and Skellett remind us that golf is simply a metaphor for life; one closely aligned to modern and popular culture.

Wonderland Publications' Golf is available in a cased Limited Edition (of 600 copies). Prints can be found at wonderlandgallery.com and prices range from £65 to £180

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine





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