Teeing Up the Day Book Review
First off: a disclaimer. I am not a Christian. Neither am I a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or any other kind of believer. I consider myself an atheist, or perhaps, on my most charitable days, an agnostic. I’m not Christopher Hitchens, but I keep the godly at arm’s length. On the face of it then, an overtly Christian golf book, despite its tie ins with my favourite sport, should have been a disaster. Remarkably, I’m pleased to report it was not. Though I don’t agree with its spirituality (or, for that matter, with its politics), Judge Stephen Ables’s debut book, Teeing Up the Day, was a refreshing and even quite moving read.
The Art of the Small
The secret to the success of Ables’s book is in its form. Ables, in literature as in his faith, is a proponent of the small. This isn’t a novel, or an encyclopaedia, and at 76 pages weighs in relatively light. This though is one of the book’s strengths. Teeing Up the Day isn’t so much a narrative as a collection, a catalogue of sometimes anecdotes, sometimes sermons, and sometimes prayers, that can be dipped in and out of as the reader pleases. A comprehensive index and deft chapter headings make this an easy feat. Although I read the book all-the-way through linearly, my gut feeling is that Ables’s stories and nuggets of wisdom are best enjoyed in small bites. Think of this book as intellectual tapas; the full flavours are best appreciated in small mouthfuls.
As I say, Teeing Up the Day is an overtly Christian perspective on our wonderful sport. But it wears its religiosity lightly. This was a real boon, in my view. Fearing the worst upon opening the book, I was pleasantly surprised at the absence of ‘bible bashing’, and the book’s lessons and liberally sprinkled anecdotes are as accessible to the skeptic as the true believer. I also found Ables’s book remarkably moving. One particular story – comprising of a handful of paragraphs as per all of the book’s chapters – will suffice to illustrate this. Reflecting on the death of one of his most treasured golfing companions, Ables writes movingly of his late-in-the-day conversion, conveyed through that most frustrating and important of golf clubs: the putter. Frank, the friend in question, used to hurl Arnie (his nickname for the club) so frequently “that Frank’s friends applied for and got a Delta frequent flyer card for Arnie”. The stunt conveys, poignantly and economically, the great love Ables had for his friend. Frank gave up his putter-throwing before he passed, but Arnie and the frequent flyer card are still hanging in Fair Oaks Country Club, a touching memorial to the late golfer.
My favourite part of Teeing Up the Day was the aphorisms. Ostensibly, it may sound dubious to say that the best words of a book are second-hand. But the aphorism gains power from its context and Ables has a great sense of occasion when it comes to the timely quote. Here’s a quick list of my favourites:
From E.E. Cummings: “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes” (technically, a poem not an aphorism, but still beautiful)
From Goethe: “It is ever true that he who does nothing for others does nothing for himself.”
From the author’s father: “The only thing worry waters is a disaster.”
In the final lines of the book, Ables supplements the Christian gospel with a more secular Word of his own: “Here’s to The friendships Created and Nurtured by the mutual love for the game of golf. To the players and the game.” A lovely way to cap a well-written and engaging debut.
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