The Greatest Game Ever Played :
Harry Vardon , Francis Ouimet , and the Birth of Modern Golf

by Mark Frost

Book Review


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The Greatest Game Ever Played :
Harry Vardon , Francis Ouimet , and the Birth of Modern Golf
by Mark Frost
Hardcover - 498 pages
First Edition, November 2002
Published by Hyperion
ISBN 0-7868-6920-8 / ISBN 0786869208

Try this sports trivia question on your friends. What were the year and circumstances when most people became aware that the game of golf exists, and quickly adopted it as a popular sport?

It happened suddenly in 1913 after the New York Times of Sunday, September 12th gave front page coverage to the U.S. Open. The highlight was the playoff between amateur Francis Ouimet (1893-1967) of Brookline, Massachusetts and professional Harry Vardon (1870-1939) of Jersey, England. The Boston Globe responded by covering the story on page 1. Soon, most of the large newspapers in America and Europe were making it their major story. The public was enthusiastically receptive, and golf rose from obsurity to fame in a matter of weeks. Talk about the influence of the news media!

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Mark Frost, author of The Greatest Game Every Played takes us back to life in 1913. The phonograph was everyone's new toy. Ragtime had largely evolved into jazz, and the Charleston became the popular dance. At the theater, Charlie Chaplin was a major star. The clothing industry introduced a new concept called live fashion models. Suffragettes marched in the streets, demanding the right of women to vote, which they would win six year later. Margaret Sanger kept getting herself arrested for distributing information about birth control. A law guaranteeing the right of black people to vote was still forty years away. W.E.B. Du Bois and the new NAACP called for stronger measures than the milder politics of Booker T. Washington. Working conditions in the U.S. were intolerable, and workers everywhere were breaking the law by forming unions, then considered an act of rebellion against the country. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line to make the Model T, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average bounced between a low of 72 and a high of 89.

Former President William Howard Taft had played a relatively unknown game called golf, and he had traveled with his golf clubs during his 1908 campaign. His old friend by the name of Teddy Roosevelt sharply criticized Taft for it, on two counts -- first, that golf was a game that only rich people would play, to flaunt that they were better than everyone else, and, secondly, it was a game for sissies. With such moral faults as these tainting Taft's personality, Teddy just had to oppose Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912. Teddy was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin and went straight to make an hour and a half campaign speech, bleeding all over the stage. Teddy Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1913.

Against this cultural backdrop, Francis Ouimet had grown up on a large piece of land which his father, a French-Canadian immigrant, a Catholic who had fled from Protestant majority rule, had purchased to grow vegetables and raise chickens. Their new house was on Clyde Street in Brookline, near Boston. It was across the dirt road and weeds from a country club for affluent private members, appropriately called The Country Club. As a small boy, Francis found a mysterious white ball, small and hard, that had soared over the weeds. The dimpled ball had the words Vardon Flyer printed on it. He learned that it was the invention of a man in England named Harry Vardon. He treated it as a "magical talisman", Frost says, and kept it in a tin box. Francis began to caddy at the country club so that he could collect the golf balls lost in the woods at the perimeter. His brother Wilfred acquired one golf club. The two boys punched holes in the dirt with their boot heels, and began to practice. Frost writes, "Geography may be destiny, but in the case of Francis Ouimet, destiny may have been more a result of real estate."

When Ouimet was born, The Country Club, established in 1882, had built a six hole golf course two months earlier, and the particular set of rules called "American golf" was only five years old. Ouimet was one year old when Vardon, then 23, played in the first British Open. In 1913, Vardon, 43, was the undefeated golf champion and a six time winner of the British Open, when Ouimet, 19, challenged him. Ouimet had been a caddy just three years before. The playoff is now considered a great moment among all the stories of underdogs versus champions.

The Greatest Game Every Played is the first work of nonfiction by Mark Frost, who was the scriptwriter for the TV show Hill Street Blues, the show that earned him a Writer's Guild Award and an Emmy nomination. He was also one of the creators of Twin Peaks (note that Warren Frost, the Dr. Will Hayward character on Twin Peaks, is his father). Frost began his writing career with the the 1970s science fiction TV drama, The Six Million Dollar Man.

Mark Frost also wrote the 1993 bestseller The List of Seven , a novel about a Victorian era detective who inspires Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.

Variety magazine of June 1, 2002 announced that Touchstone Pictures purchased the right to make a movie of The Greatest Game Ever Played , with Frost as the scriptwriter.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

8-page 2-column index. 26 B&W photographs.
Additional reference: Golf instruction books by Harry Vardon

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This is an Amazon.com link for
The Greatest Game Ever Played : Harry Vardon , Francis Ouimet , and the Birth of Modern Golf
by Mark Frost
ISBN 0-7868-6920-8 / ISBN 0786869208

Book Description from the Publisher

Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet came from different worlds and different generations, but their passion for golf set them on parallel paths that would collide in the most spectacular match their sport has ever known. Through hard work, courage, and determination, Vardon had escaped a hopeless life of poverty in Britain to achieve universal recognition as the greatest champion in the game's long and storied history. Ouimet, a virtual unknown from Massachusetts, was only three years removed from his youthful career as a lowly caddie. He worshiped Vardon, a man twice his age, innovator of the modern grip and swing, daring only to dream of following in his herds footsteps.

When these two unlikely opponents finally came together in their legendary battle at the 1913 U.S. Open, the world's reaction to its remarkable drama and heartstopping climax gave rise to the sport of golf as we know it today.

Weaving together the stories of Vardon and Ouimet to create his narrative, Mark Frost has crafted a uniquely involving, intimate epic; equal parts sports biography, sweeping social history, and emotional human drama.

Reviews

"Frost's final chapters on the last two rounds of the 1913 Open have all the page-turning excitement of a blockbuster novel."

-- Publishers Weekly

"The most compelling sports book since Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling Seabiscuit .

-- Booklist

"Book of the Year"

Scottish Golf Magazine

"Anyone who loves golf, history, or just a great story will relish this wonderful book."

-- Scott Turow

"Put on a pair of soft slippers and get into your favorite chair. You are about to drift back to the era of gutties and wooden shafts. Mark Frost made me sit down and stay put as golf history comes to conversational life in this very entertaining book."

-- Gary McCord , author and CBS golf analyst

"Francis Ouimet's showdown with Harry Vardon was a watershed moment that changed the face of golf. At least this remarkable story has been give the epic treatment it so richly deserves."

-- Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' coach

"This is one of the best sports books I have ever read. If I had known there was this much excitement in golf I would have started playing earlier."

-- Billy Crystal

"The story of the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline needed to be told again, especially today, and Mark Frost has done a wonderful job of capturing the moment of golf's awakening in America. His work is thoroughly researched and he has brought out the characters splendidly -- as well as the excitement of young Francis Ouimet's victory."

-- Ben Crenshaw, 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup captain

"I am a traditionalist and if you are a traditionalist, you will enjoy this book. It will give you great insight into how golf got its start in America, and the man who really introduced golf to America: Francis Ouimet."

-- Ken Venturi, former CBS golf senior analyst and 1964 U.S. Open champion

Please click here to check the book price and shipping information ...
This is an Amazon.com link for
The Greatest Game Ever Played : Harry Vardon , Francis Ouimet , and the Birth of Modern Golf
by Mark Frost
ISBN 0-7868-6920-8 / ISBN 0786869208