Page turners

In this internet-minded, mobile phoned up world, who needs books for the sheer details about courses when you can seek, find and reserve rounds with a few keystrokes? But what a good book is invaluable for is conveying the spirit of courses, for revealing the character of a destination, for infusing the reader with some inspirational juice.

So here are a trio of pre-planning suggestions — i.e., the coffee table tomes — as well as slimmer volumes you can easily pack along with you during the trip.

Peter Gray’s “Golfing the British Isles: The Weekend Warrior’s Companion” is replete with gorgeous photographs by Gary Lisbon, and the combination of text and image is what I tend to call golf pornography, since it creates an intense urge to immediately book a trip. Gray’s viewpoint is perfect for the mid-handicapper, as he believes golf is supposed to be fun, not torture, and therefore he picks 34 “must-play courses that even the weakest among us will enjoy.”

A further inducement to head abroad can be found in “True Links” by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper, which came out in 2010, but is still good for starting arguments about what constitutes a, well, true links course. The pair lists 246 of them and this time Iain Lowe is mainly responsible for the salacious photos of lovely greenswards.  

For the utmost in critical thinking about courses, there’s nothing quite like Tom Doak’s “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.” A near-legendary one-volume underground sensation in the late 1980’s for its take-no-prisoners course reviews, the spirit of the guide was revived by busy course designer Doak about ten years ago. With the help of some critical co-conspirators, the Guide was expanded into a projected (and pricey) five-volume worldwide survey of courses. Four volumes are completed, with plenty of brio brought to the reviews.

Two trilogies can serve as take-along volumes. If now slightly dated, there’s still an enticing world of charm in the late James Finegan’s impressions of the courses in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, respectively titled “Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas,” “Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens,” and “All Courses Great and Small.” The courses are mostly timeless, after all, altered only by erosion or renovation.

Tom Coyne’s three-pack of what I call his golfapaloozas also cover a lot of ground. In “A Course Called Ireland” he literally covered a lot of ground, walking around the coast of Ireland while playing its many links courses. “A Course Called Scotland” also takes in a few English and Welsh courses (100 in all, in 57 days). And in his latest, “A Course Called America,” Coyne managed at least one round (usually an envy-provoking bunch more) in every U.S. state in a year’s time. The feats are to marvel at, the prose to luxuriate in.

Two niche picks: Anthony Pioppi’s “The Finest Nines,” in which he picks out 25 nine-holes tracks he deems the best in North America. And David Wood’s “Around the World in 80 Rounds” is an amusing taste of golf course exotica, in which he travels to the farthest-flung locales he can find that also happen to have a golf course.   

How about two more, just for sheer reading pleasure? There were few better writing stylists than the late John Updike, who also happened to be a golf addict. His occasional writings on the sport, nonfiction and fiction, are collected in “Golf Dreams.” The title essay alone, discussing those all-too-frequent dreams where you’re faced with an impossible golf shot is worth the price of admission.

And there is longtime Sports Illustrated writer / columnist Rick Reilly, who has produced laughs in countless sports articles and in novels like Missing LinksHis latest, “So Help Me Golf: Why We Love the Game,” is 70 essays about the ways golf weaves its way into our psyches. Many are short enough to read while the rest of your foursome putts out.

Now you’re ready: book it.