Book review

How To Play the World's Most Exclusive Golf Clubs - A Review

how to play the worlds most exclusive golf clubs

First things first, I really wanted to like 'How to Play the World's Most Exclusive Golf Clubs'.  The author, John Sabino, has the website which I have read more than ever when planning my dream golf trip. is a fantastic resource for anyone trying to make an assault on the greatest golf courses on the world.  It gives you a little history, plenty of information on the courses and, more often than not, you are left with a real impression of what the place is like - sometimes you can almost smell the locker rooms through the descriptions given!

The build up to my recent trip to Morfontaine (write-up to come before the end of the year I promise!) was heightened by his description, not just of the course, but of Sabino's efforts get there.  He set himself the challenge of playing the top 100 courses in the world.  For a European reader this may not seem an impossible task but access to courses in the US and further afield is far, far harder than on these shores. According to an appendix to the book, only 30 players have ever managed the feat - and not a British player amongst them!

So, if I'm honest, it was with a little trepidation that I approached this book.  I already have a couple of self-published tomes for people trying to play lots of golf courses, which have left me a little cold. I am delighted to say though, that this book is a delight and a joy to read - one that will stay on my bookshelf for many years.

The reason is that Sabino doesn't just rehash the content on his site.  Sure, there are some anecdotes which feature on his blog (which you may only notice if you have read every entry several times like I have!).  But the great thing about this book is that Sabino doesn't major on the actual on-course experience but rather how he managed to get a game there in the first place. Yes, there is some flavour of the experience itself, but this is often additional to what you can read on his site. 

The beauty of this book is that it gives practical tips on how to play these great courses.  It is clear that the author is a wonderful networker, and many of his conquests can be put down to that. He also acknowledges that he is helped by being a banker and that he set up a blog which became one of the highest ranked in the golfing world.  These are not traits that many would find possible achieve, even if they wanted to!

It may be impossible for us mere mortals to replicate his success but he does provide many tips which anyone can use - hell he just phoned up one exclusive course and asked!!

His story is a quite amazing one. The one course which had eluded him was Augusta. What better way to end the journey than by playing 18 holes with a former Masters champion on the Sunday before the Masters, shooting the breeze with Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo on the tee.  If this was made up, it would be deemed too incredible for inclusion.

This book is not a self-published vanity job.  It is produced to a very high standard by a reputable publisher and has been well edited.  At the end of the book Sabino lists how he got on to every one of the top 100 courses in the world as well as some 'top lists'.  These are fascinating.  Which clubhouses are the best?  Which lunches?  Which caddies?  All a source of much debate but this book just fuels the fire.

The book whetted my appetite considerably and I hope I'm lucky enough to enjoy some of these great experiences over the years.  If you want to take on the challenge yourself and join this exclusive group of golfing die-hards then my ultimate list of the world's top 100 courses is here.  This book will help you have a go!

The Match by Mark Frost - A 5* Read

I have far too many books about golf and many of them do nothing but collect dust before one day being sent to the great golf book place in the sky, or the charity shop.  Only a few are truly atrocious (whoever wrote Darren Clarke's autobiography needs to never pick up a pen again). There are a handful, however, which are worth keeping, re-reading, lending to friends and generally eulogising about and 'The Match' by Mark Frost is one of those.

Frost is a compelling writer.  'The Greatest Game Ever Played' is a mesmerising account of the birth of the game in the US. 'The Match' fast-forwards 40 years to early in 1956 and a match that took place in the famed Cypress Point between the two best professional golfers of their generation (Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson) and the two leading amateurs of the time (Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward).  The match takes place one morning, set up by two wealthy business who both have an appreciation and patronage for the game. Indeed, in a great subplot one of them (Eddie Lowery) was Francis Ouimet's in 'The Greatest Game'.

This book, though, is far more than just a description of a game of golf.  It was the insight into Cypress Point which initially attracted me to the book but soon that played second fiddle to the accounts of the lives of these men, from their beginnings through their golfing and to the end of their lives. 

To many casual golf fans the names of this era blend from one to another, the Joneses, Hogans, Nelsons, Hagens can all seem to mix into one but this book creates unforgettable images of the protagonists without ever taking you away from the action that January morning.

You are in no doubt when reading 'The Match' of the place in history that this event merited.  The game was at a crossroads from the days where the Amateur player was the more respected figure who led the more hallowed life to when the professional game held sway.  Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus both make fleeting appearances in the book but the golfing world they inhabited was a very different one from that recounted here.

As the match unfolds the fans flock from the nearby Crosby Clambake to witness the drama unfolding and you feel a genuine involvement with the players as the round reaches a climax.  The book then has an afterward and a postscript.  First we hear about what happened to the characters for the rest of their lives following the game.  Only Venturi was still alive when the book was written although he has now died.  

There is then a further postscript which recounts when the event was recreated in 2012 with Bubba Watson, Ricky Fowler, Davis Love III and Nick Watney playing the roles.  To be honest, I don't think that added a huge amount to the book - Alan Shipnucks' account of that day had already told the tale.

It doesn't detract from the book though which really is a great read.  It is a gripping page turner which may sound odd given it describes a friendly four-ball 60 years in the past.  But the images it creates and the stories told will live with you for a long time.