Playing it by the Book - The Art of Collecting Golf Books
As one of life’s habitual hoarders, I started ‘collecting’ golf books by chance. A keen single- figure golfer and a photographer, I went to the 1970 Piccadilly World Matchplay Tournament at Wentworth as a spectator. In those days nobody seemed too concerned about anyone carrying a camera, and I enjoyed a free rein on the course, shooting the great players of the era. I sent what I thought were some of my better efforts to the leading golf magazines of the day, and to my surprise not only did this one of Jack Nicklaus appear in print but I received in the post a cheque for the princely sum of £2.50 – my first published golf picture. A career as a golf photographer developed alongside my advertising work, which resulted in me travelling the world covering tournaments and doing features.
As my library of golf photographs developed, I discovered a big demand for pictures for a whole range of golf books, which is where my interest in collecting books came about. In those days, one of the perks of selling golf pictures to publishers was being sent a free copy of the first edition of the book on publication. So that’s how it all started – and now I have a vast collection of golf books.
For anyone who loves the game of golf collecting is a fun pastime, and although I don’t cover the main tours anymore, I am still amassing books. Two of my favourite items in my collection are: The Funny Side of Golf, published by Punch (although it has no date in it, I believe it was published in 1909). It contains the first collection of Punch golf cartoons ever to be published. My second favourite – if I can include it as a book – is a BBC vinyl LP, published in 1971, called Golf - Famous Players, Personalities and Events, which was Recorded in Britain by the BBC. It’s a fascinating LP featuring interviews with Max Faulkner, Henry Cotton, Joe Carr, J. H. Taylor, Henry Longhurst, Bobby Locke, Willie Auchterlonie, and other leading players and commentators of that era. A delight to listen to.
My own interest in collecting has brought me into contact with many of the world’s most accomplished collectors, two of whom I tracked down to interview for Gi. Regular visitors to the tented village during the Open may be familiar with the name of Rhod McEwan, the antiquarian golf book dealer recognised as one of the leading experts in the field. Another fascinating collector is Alastair Johnson, who for many years worked alongside Mark McCormack at the International Management Group (IMG). I hope you find their stories as interesting as I do – who knows, you may even feel compelled to start a collection of your own.
PD: How and when did you get into dealing
with golf books?
My father was a bibliophile and he has been issuing catalogues for over 45 years. He has always dealt in a variety of subjects, one being golf. If not good enough to compete, then what better than to deal in the literature of that game? I knew that readers of sport really enjoy their subject and therefore love to read and to collect; back then they were not so interested in any possible investment angle.
My first love was cricket but there was no living to be made from dealing in books on cricket, so I took over father’s shelf of golf books. He probably had about 20 titles, all pretty good ones, and I amassed a few more before putting out my first list, catalogues were to follow. I think I typed out the names and addresses of the golf club secretaries in the UK on to index cards and sent them each a list.
Can’t remember how many replied, but very few. This was in about 1987 and pre computers, at least pre my knowledge of computers.
PD: What are the most desirable books
for serious collectors? Do you have a
wish list of books you look out for?
Five of these six have deluxe
editions and they are the crème de la
crème. If you wanted to add another eight
And two reference books:
Also for book on my wish-list, I’m always on the look out for rarer items, pre 1914, often published privately to satisfy one man’s whim.
PD: Is there such a thing as a ‘Holy
Grail’ for the serious collector?
PD: What is the most expensive book you
have ever sold?
PD: Is collecting golf books a good
financial investment for the future?
The rarer and more expensive books still hold their value, as books continue to offer a rich hunting ground for the budding collector and are certainly the safest option for collecting in the golf memorabilia market. Prices can only go up; what seems expensive today can seem cheap tomorrow.
PD: How do you go about acquiring new
books for your collection?
If you consider an average collection to have 300 books, in the good old days I would look to sell perhaps 50 fairly quickly.
Multiply this equation a few times over and you can see how quickly books amass. Golf has, I believe, more literature than any other sport (in English, and discounting chess) with in excess of 13,000 titles, constantly being added to. I send my catalogues to over 50 countries and have established an interesting assortment of international collectors.
PD: Which is the most popular – instruction,
biographies, architecture, fiction or
golf course books?
I have established a small publishing arm alongside the selling. To date I’ve published five golf books, the last of which was Tom Morris of St Andrews – The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908, by David Malcolm and Peter Crabtree. The book received the USGA annual H. W. Wind award for best golf book of the year in 2008. Before that I issued the esoteric Rusty Staples, a record of one man’s collection of golfing pamphlets. My favourite reprint has been two of the humorous golfing trilogy by George Nash, Letters to the Golf Club Secretary and its follow up, More Letters.
PD: What is the best deal you ever made?
PD: What advice would you give to anyone
who wanted to start a collection?
Get hold of a friendly and knowledgeable dealer who will answer your questions and guide you in the right direction. Bookselling is more than a matter of merely selling books, and the professional dealer will be happy to advise and impart his specialist experience.