Book review: A Son of the Game: A story of golf, going home, and sharing life’s lessons
Author: James Dodson (Algonquin books)
The golf memoir is an intriguing concept. At its heart, it is about our connection to golf, with the assumption that as golfers we will relate to the trials and experiences of other players. The game, it would seem, is truly bigger than the individuals who play it — and the spirit of the game, whatever that may be, links us in some inexplicable way.
James Dodson has mined this area more than perhaps any modern golf writer. His “Final Rounds,” the account of heading to Scotland with “Opti the Mystic,” Dodson’s father, is perhaps his best known,a nd best loved book. He followed that with an account of his regular foursome, “The Dewsweepers” which details a changing period in his life, and finishes the trilogy, though I’m not sure it was his intent, with “A Son of the Game.” Along the way he became one of golf’s most respected writers, working on Arnold Palmer’s autobiography (a breezy read, though a definitive account of Palmer has yet to be written) and an outstanding account of Ben Hogan in which Dodson was given unprecedented access to the familys archives.
In many ways, A Son of the Game, is a book about transitions. It is about the changing landscape of media and about how professional golf has evolved in ways that are not always positive. It details the connections between fathers and sons, and the hope that as our children grow up they will still be able to relate to us in some fashion. It is about passion, which sometimes wanes, but can also restore us. And yes, it is about golf, though I think the game is at once more central to the book and somehow less of a focus than in Dodsons other works.
The book opens with Dodson getting an offer to become writer-in-residence at The Pilot, a community newspaper in Southern Pines, North Carolina. It is an audacious offer considering Dodson had been a columnist at Golf Magazine and best-selling author. But the pitch to join the paper intrigues Dodson at a time when he was falling out of love with modern media and modern professional golf. He calls it his mid-life crisis, and though he doesnt satisfy the situation with 20-something blondes and a new sports car, his description is accurate. Instead of trying to prolong his youth, Dodson actually returns to it “ heading back to Pinehurst, the American home of golf for which he has such affection.
Unhappy with Golf Magazine “ which is described in less than flattering terms “ he quits after being asked to write an essay defending the traditional values of the game.
I wasnt aware the traditional values of golf needed to be defended, Dodson replies. He resigns noting the editor was the second or possibly third editor my old magazine had employed since the new corporate bosses fired the man whod spent twenty-five years turning it into the games top publication.
Welcome to the Internet age.
While Dodson may be yearning for a time when writers wrote and used their experience to tell a tale, as opposed to being at the whims of their corporate overlords, the A Son of the Game, is really a love letter to Pinehurst, which is presented in remarkably appealing detail. In truth it is a fascinating place, though Dodson also understands that the surrounding small towns “ namely Southern Pines with its terrific rustic Donald Ross golf course “ offers the same wondrous sense of golf without the tourists and corporate nature that is prevalent in Pinehurst.
Dodson also spends a remarkable amount of ink talking about his son, Jack, and his connection “ or occasional disassociation “ with the game of golf. As a father he wants his son to have his links to the game, in the same way his father lured him into the sport. The only true moments of conflict in the book come from Dodsons conflict in wanting his son to love the game, but recognizing that Jack has to come to it on his own terms.
Through the memoir, Dodson clearly relishes the Old World values, a time when a simpler life was possible. But he also recognizes that his modern life “ his second wife, the demands of his children, the challenges of his occupation “ seem to regularly invade this sensibility. In that regard, A Son of the Game, has distinct similarities to other golf memoirs. It is about escaping through sport and camaraderie, as well as the connections, friendships and relationships developed around the game. It may not be entirely unique, but in Dodsons inimitable style, his latest work provides some keen insights and, like a great golf round with your buddies, it seems to end all too soon.