The Golf Lover's Guide to England Book Review
The question of which club to visit is never easy to answer, but golf guide writer Michael Whitehead’s latest book, The Golf Lover’s Guide to England, makes as good a fist as any at answering it. It follows his successful and delightful The Golf Lover’s Guide to Scotland, giving an informative but still entertaining gallop through our nation’s finest courses, top 10 fixtures and hidden gems alike.
The opening copy says that the book provides “everything you need” to know about England’s best courses – and the first thing to say is that the book absolutely lives up to this. Whitehead has picked out just 33 clubs for attention (though he references many more), which may strike some as a rather slim crowd, but what is sacrificed in breadth is made up for in detail: each of the clubs, spanning Royal Liverpool to St George’s Hill, gets at least several pages, listing everything you could want to know about green fees, locations, standout holes and even histories. I found Whitehead’s potted summaries of clubs’ overlooked pedigrees some of the most interesting parts of the guide, learning that Ganton hosted the 1949 Ryder Cup.
Whitehead has not only trawled our nation’s courses but has also spent time in our history books, giving his guide an underpinning of authority, though it’s lightly worn. As well as the histories of individual courses, The Golf Lover’s Guide to England is headed by a voyage through the game’s development in the country generally, adding colour to the read. This account, and Whitehead should get praise for this, is well balanced between specifics such as quoting a contemporary account of one of the very first games of golf on our shores, in 1624, and wider sweep. Golf history buffs probably won’t learn anything new, but a casual reader will learn much without feeling like they’re drowning in detail.
The courses Whitehead has included in the guide, given his seal of approval, display more of this eye to balance. The phrase ‘hidden gem’ is a cliché. Whitehead features few real unknown tracks. However, many of the courses that he spotlights have had less than their share of the limelight. An example is St Enodoc, in Cornwall, which I’ve played and can confirm is a fantastic test, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and all that in spite of having one of the largest bunkers in Europe. Another course that has a tendency to fly under the radar but gets a full hearing in this guide is Royal West Norfolk, with lovely prose like “a golf course so at peace with its own solitude [and] all the more joyous because of it” and well-selected top-quality pictures conveying its quiet majesty. Meanwhile, Whitehead doesn’t scotch old favourites, giving The Belfry, Royal Birkdale and all England’s other best-known tracks their dues.
In summary, then, this is another stand-out golf guide from Michael Whitehead. Chock-full of detail but without overwhelming, Whitehead’s latest pairs smooth writing with excellent production values. It fully deserves a spot on every travelling golfer’s shelf.
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