The internet has changed the world, but a story on a page lives in isolation and forever
This column first appeared in the February 2019 edition of GOLF magazine.
Behold this thing of beauty. A magazine! In this case, an ink-on-paper magazine devoted to the many pleasures associated with an odd cross-country game. That golf magazines exist at all is a testament to the advanced state of our civilization.
In the stacks of the USGA library, in Liberty Corner, N.J., there are bound volumes of 863 different magazines, each title devoted to golf, from all over the world and from three different centuries. At the starting line, alphabetically, is African American Golfers Digest and, near the end, Yankee Golfer. The G section is especially dense. There’s Golfdom and Golfing and Golf Life and, of course, two American monthly stalwarts known in dentist offices all across this country, Golf Digest and GOLF. We’ll be 60 on our next birthday.
Sixty and hot! We’re new and improved, wider (that’s good) and taller. Our paper stock is heavier than when you last saw us. Our standard font had been QuioscoOne, which was serviceable and fine. But now you’re reading a typeface called Lyon. This ain’t no Helvetica text message! Lyon is modern and clean (with chocolaty flavor notes) and just a pleasure to read. Part of the joy of picking up a magazine is to take a break from your electronic life. Right?
In high school, I started reading this magazine, Golf Digest and the late, great USGA publication, Golf Journal. I read Dan Jenkins on Big Jack and Trevino and Hubert Green in Sports Illustrated and (starting a little later) Herbert Warren Wind on the Masters and the U.S. Open in The New Yorker. I didn’t grow up in a golf family. But by the time I graduated college, I knew something about the game. That’s because I played, caddied, watched — and read.
The other day, I caught up with Rand Jerris, a USGA executive, at the organization’s Golf House library. We talked in the stacks. Rand was an intern in the USGA library 30 years ago, and now he oversees it. In his own golf research, he finds that magazines are a far better source of accurate information than golf’s many books. Books, he says, often hand down inaccurate stories from one volume to the next. Magazine stories, he noted, are typically written by people who were on the scene. Among his favorite and most reliable writers (he takes a long view) are Walter Travis, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1901, 1902 and 1903; A.W. Tillinghast, who was also the ultimate Jazz Age course architect; and Grantland Rice, a giant of sports-writing who was a founding member of Augusta National in the early 1930s. What they wrote they knew first hand.
That’s what we try to do. To celebrate the life, and understand the death, of Celia Barquin Arozamena, the Iowa State golfer, my colleague Alan Shipnuck saw Celia’s parents in their living room in San Miguel, Spain. He knows directly from them their love and their hurt. If you read his story in this issue, you will, too.
The internet has changed the world and the way information is distributed. But it has not changed our basic desire to tell and hear stories. Storytelling is at the heart of the human experience. It brings us closer. You can read stories on screens, of course, but backlit stories always seem to be in transit, all those moving things underneath, competing for your attention. A story on a page lives in isolation and forever.
I got lost (not literally) in the USGA’s stacks. Here’s an ad for the Drommie, a 1920s golf shoe with 24 spikes. Here’s Gay Talese, a legendary reporter, writing about Robert Trent Jones, the legendary course designer. Here’s an ad for a ball you will not cut, the Kro-Flite. And here’s Tillinghast, writing up his visit to the two-time U.S. Open winner Johnny McDermott in an asylum, “among the incurables and destined to finish his life there.” That was in ’33. McDermott died in 1971, as predicted. Golf magazines, and the stories in them, Rand told me, “humanize the game.”
We talked about how in beer brewing and pizza making and course construction, mass production is out, small-batch is in. The PGA Tour produces an e-mountain of weekly statistics. You can climb it all day and never find a warm body. Jenkins crafted his stories. Wind and Talese did, too. Every story was a one-off. Our aim is to do the same. If you’re looking for bespoke golf journalism, you’re in a good place. You’re home.