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  • Alistair Tait

What would Herb Warren Wind think?

I have to admit to being a bit surprised to discover Roger McStravick had won the Herbert Warren Wind Award for his book St Andrews: The Road War Papers.

I didn’t think anyone read golf books these days, and didn’t think writers penned books because of the first reason. I just thought all the great golf writers were confined to 280-character tweets, or were selling real estate in Orlando because they couldn’t make a living from their considerable writing skills. What was it Dan Jenkins once said: "First they got rid of all the good golf writers, then they fired anyone who knew anything about the game," or words to that effect.

I’m being facetious. Well, only slightly.

According to the USGA press release to announce the winner:

“McStravick’s book takes readers through the “road war” that ensued in 1879 after the St. Andrews town council encouraged residents whose homes faced the Old Course to build a road from Golf Place to Grannie Clark’s Wynd, running over a portion of the ancient links. Local resident John Paterson emerged as a staunch and vocal critic of the plan, fighting in court for the preservation of the historic grounds. The case eventually made its way to the House of Lords.
“McStravick gathers, transcribes and analyzes original archival documents from St. Andrews institutions to construct a vivid account of the legal conflict while telling the story of the town’s evolution and development around the Old Course. This research, compiled in the book for the first time, includes court testimony of local residents, including Old Tom Morris and three-time Open champion Jamie Anderson.
“Roger backs a fascinating and engaging narrative with meticulous research to deliver an unparalleled look at how St. Andrews was shaped into the town we know today,” said Hilary Cronheim, director of the USGA Golf Museum & Library. “The book will serve as an invaluable resource for future researchers on the history of the game as well as any golf fan who wants to learn more about one of golf’s most historic towns.”

I have nothing but admiration for McStravick’s dedication and perseverance. Getting a golf book published these days is no easy task. See opening line of second paragraph.

This is actually the second time the Scottish author has won the award, presented by the USGA Golf Museum & Library in recognition of outstanding contributions to golf literature through expert research, writing and publishing. His St Andrews: In the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris won the 2015 award. McStravick spent three years on that book. See opening line of previous paragraph.

As a writer who has penned several books, I know how much work goes into them. I also know that to produce such works has to be a labour of love.

There isn’t a lot of money in books these days, especially golf books.

The last serious project I was offered came as a shock to the system. I sat in the publisher’s Bloomsbury office about 10 years ago, and did the mental math as the publisher waxed lyrical about the book's merits. It didn’t take me long to figure out I’d earn the grand sum of sixty pence per thousand words! Yes it was long book and those sixty pences would mount up, but not to the extent it was worth spending six months of my life putting the book together. I politely turned the offer down.

I had another publisher get in touch about five years later to dangle the grand sum of £1,000 in front of me. Yet another book that would have taken up a significant portion of my life. I wanted to scream out loud, but simply said thanks but no thanks.

No wonder there are so few golf books published nowadays. It's why I said to hell with traditional publishers and wrote a selection of short stories entitled Broken Fairways, which was far more satisfying and rewarding.

I wonder what Herbert Warren Wind would have made of it all?

Anyway, congrats to Roger McStravick for winning the award for the second time. Glad to see there are still those willing to add to the vast, if decreasing, canon of golf literature. I look forward to reading his latest tome.

#JustSaying: “In this revved up age, many sports have undergone such drastic alterations that they are hardly recognisable as the sports they were a mere quarter of a century ago. In comparison with most games, golf has changed relatively little over that time.” Herbert Warren Wind, writing in Following Through: Herbert Warren Wind on Golf in 1985

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