The match

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.