Reading about the history of golf by Mark Frost in his book The Greatest Game Ever Played – Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf combined both of my interests. This is an in depth book of how the popularity of golf began in America in the early 1900’s. It took off when an unknown young amateur defeated two well known British golfers in the 1913 U. S. Open Tournament. Mark Frost is very descriptive in this non-fiction book and has done much research to fill in all the information concerning many of the people involved in the event. The author does admit to using his own imagination on some conversation in the book but it does not distract.
In the beginning of this book, the author list all the people that will be included in this book along with all the players of the time either professional or amateur plus the press covering the events. The author does go into great depth in describing each player especially the English, Scottish and American pro’s and amateurs. Sometimes I thought this went into too much detail with some of the lesser known players. I did enjoy the background and the similarities of the two main characters Vardon and Ouimet as to how they started playing the game of golf. The author covered their families and how this game of golf became their life and their final pairing in the U. S. Open Tournament.
Mr. Frost is a very accomplished writer and a best seller of fiction and television programs. The author wove this book into an interesting read as he went from one to another of Vardon and Ouimet’s life from poverty into a successful career playing golf. Jumping from one to another as the book progresses and climaxed at their meeting in the tournament played at The Country Club course in Brookline, Massachusetts. Francis Ouimet lived across the street from this course. His parents did not belong as it was for the more affluent members who could afford it. Harry had a passion for collecting stray golf balls and the Vardon Flyer ball was his prized possession.
Francis made his clubs from tree branches and tried to emulate the golfers he watched on the course. He was not allowed on the course, but he would play it late in the evening or on days with rainy conditions. His father thought his passion for the game was folly and let him know about it often. Francis became a caddie and learned more about the game. Francis background was similar to Harry Vardon as Harry was born on the Isle of Jersey to a very poor family and their shack was eliminated when a developer built The Royal Golf Club. After the golf course opened his father ordered him to apply there as a caddie.
The U. S. Open itself was played in terrible conditions, a northeasterner came through and the game was played in cold, wet and windy conditions. This was something Francis was used to but so were the British players. The tournament itself ended up in a tie with Francis Ouimet, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray with an 18 hole play-off scheduled the next day. The weather had not improved and Frances won with some remarkable shots and putts. The author includes many pictures which helps tell the story of golf in those days.
All in all I enjoyed the book when a young amateur can keep his composure and win against two well known British professional golfers. The ending of this book takes each character in the book and tells what happened to them in later life. Francis remained an amateur golfer and played in several other golfing events. Harry already an older man when the U. S. Open was played continued as a professional and amazed many at how skillful he was as a player. Today with the new equipment, manicured golf courses and many chances to study and learn this great game, it shows how far we have come in golf.