Book Review: The Seventh at St. Andrews[photopress:7th.jpg,full,alignright]
Author: Scott Gummer
It is odd to have a book appear on a course before the public actually has a chance to see it. But that’s exactly the case with Scott Gummer’s The Seventh at St. Andrews, his account of the Castle Course, which will open in the home of golf in June.
After losing his job at Golf Magzine, Gummer decided he wanted to write a book about David McLay Kidd’s adventure in creating the 7th course at St. Andrews. It surely has all the elements of a good story. Characters abound, most notably Kidd himself, who is effusive, maddening, fascinating and sharp as a tack. There’s also the controversy of the project, tackled with a lot of detail and insight, especially into how the St. Andrews’ Links Trust, which operates the six existing courses. Perhaps too much info was given here — as the Links Trust is so unhappy with the book they are refusing to sell it. Strikes me this lot of a bit too sensitive — there’s nothing in the book that goes much beyond what Golf Digest wrote in 2005 just before the Open Championship last touched down at the Old Course.
Though Gummer and Kidd both said they didn’t want the book to turn into a tale for”golf architecture wonks,” there is some of that in it anyway. Surely if you aren’t interested in golf courses, the book won’t keep your attention long. There are long passages about the process of how an architect gets a commission like the 7th course, and that is followed naturally by insight into how one creates such a course, right down to the shaping of greens. It is never too technical, but there certainly is a lot of golf architecture in this one. Gummer has said this is “a process book,” and while that may be the case, it is hard to strip the golf design out of the process. And if that isn’t for you, then find something else to read.
For my part, I found the golf design elements to be the most interesting parts of the book. The back story about the inner workings of the Links Trust, and Kidd’s ability to sell himself and his firm, is really compelling. If you are truly interested in how decisions are made about green shaping and routings, then the remainder of the book will also keep you reading. If not, then you might find it a bit more challenging.
The book’s greatest failing doesn’t stem from the writing or the characters. Gummer is a fine storyteller and he brings Kidd’s crew alive. Where it falls down is in the timing. While Dream Golf, the recent account of the creation of Bandon Dunes, captured the entire story (though less on Bandon Trails than the others…), The Seventh at St. Andrews misses the splash. It is kind of like watching someone make gourmet entree, but never getting to taste it — there’s surely enough to keep you interested, but it isn’t satisfying.
What one wants at the end of the book — in fact desperately needs — is some sense of whether the damned course, with Kidd invested several years in, and which the Links Trust has taken such a chance on — is any good. There’s no critical commentary, no feedback from the public and no sense of whether the course was actually needed, as the Links Trust contended in their decision to build it. Would it be better than say, The Torrence Course at St. Andrews Bay Resort, which is currently being redone? Or will it rival Donald Steel’s remake of the Jubilee Course? — which is generally considered fine, but unexceptional.
Gummer has this to say on the last page:
Making a golf course is like making an album. Each hole is like a song. Each has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each has twists and turns and highs and lows intended to provoke thoughts and stir emotions. Each is an adventure unto itself, but strung together they compose a greater journey.
The problem is that this album never gets played — and only the coming months and years will decide whether the course, and in turn Gummer’s book, are worth the effort.