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Playing it by the Book - The Art of Collecting Golf Books

Regular readers may be familiar with the name of Peter Dazeley, the award-winning fine art and advertising photographer who also happens to be a single-figure golfer with a lifelong passion for the game. A member of glorious Coombe Hill Golf Club in Surrey, Dazeley turns his attention to an aspect of the game close to his heart – books

As one of life’s habitual hoarders, I started ‘collecting’ golf books by chance. A keen single- figure golfer and a photographer, I went to the 1970 Piccadilly World Matchplay Tournament at Wentworth as a spectator. In those days nobody seemed too concerned about anyone carrying a camera, and I enjoyed a free rein on the course, shooting the great players of the era. I sent what I thought were some of my better efforts to the leading golf magazines of the day, and to my surprise not only did this one of Jack Nicklaus appear in print but I received in the post a cheque for the princely sum of £2.50 – my first published golf picture. A career as a golf photographer developed alongside my advertising work, which resulted in me travelling the world covering tournaments and doing features.

As my library of golf photographs developed, I discovered a big demand for pictures for a whole range of golf books, which is where my interest in collecting books came about. In those days, one of the perks of selling golf pictures to publishers was being sent a free copy of the first edition of the book on publication. So that’s how it all started – and now I have a vast collection of golf books.

For anyone who loves the game of golf collecting is a fun pastime, and although I don’t cover the main tours anymore, I am still amassing books. Two of my favourite items in my collection are: The Funny Side of Golf, published by Punch (although it has no date in it, I believe it was published in 1909). It contains the first collection of Punch golf cartoons ever to be published. My second favourite – if I can include it as a book – is a BBC vinyl LP, published in 1971, called Golf - Famous Players, Personalities and Events, which was Recorded in Britain by the BBC. It’s a fascinating LP featuring interviews with Max Faulkner, Henry Cotton, Joe Carr, J. H. Taylor, Henry Longhurst, Bobby Locke, Willie Auchterlonie, and other leading players and commentators of that era. A delight to listen to.

My own interest in collecting has brought me into contact with many of the world’s most accomplished collectors, two of whom I tracked down to interview for Gi. Regular visitors to the tented village during the Open may be familiar with the name of Rhod McEwan, the antiquarian golf book dealer recognised as one of the leading experts in the field. Another fascinating collector is Alastair Johnson, who for many years worked alongside Mark McCormack at the International Management Group (IMG). I hope you find their stories as interesting as I do – who knows, you may even feel compelled to start a collection of your own.

PD: How and when did you get into dealing with golf books?
RM: I worked at Christies in London for a couple of years after leaving university, and soon made up my mind that I wanted to pursue my own career as a sole trader. Dealing in books seemed a fine way of enjoying ones own company and being able to function from home.

My father was a bibliophile and he has been issuing catalogues for over 45 years. He has always dealt in a variety of subjects, one being golf. If not good enough to compete, then what better than to deal in the literature of that game? I knew that readers of sport really enjoy their subject and therefore love to read and to collect; back then they were not so interested in any possible investment angle.

My first love was cricket but there was no living to be made from dealing in books on cricket, so I took over father’s shelf of golf books. He probably had about 20 titles, all pretty good ones, and I amassed a few more before putting out my first list, catalogues were to follow. I think I typed out the names and addresses of the golf club secretaries in the UK on to index cards and sent them each a list.

Can’t remember how many replied, but very few. This was in about 1987 and pre computers, at least pre my knowledge of computers.

Among the author’s favourites in a personal collection, The Funny Side of Golf, featuring the first collection of Punch cartoons ever to be published (1909);

PD: What are the most desirable books for serious collectors? Do you have a wish list of books you look out for?
RM: As we all know, a list can be of any length, covering any amount of subjects, and the longer it is the more subjective it becomes! But if you asked me what I consider the top six cornerstone books of any serious golf library I would say these, in order of publication:
1875 : Golf: A Royal & Ancient Game - Robert Clark
1887 : The Art of Golf - W. G. Simpson
1890 : Golf (Badminton Library) – Horace Hutchinson
1896 : The Golf Book of East Lothian – Reverend John Kerr
1897 : British Golf Links – Horace Hutchinson
1912 : The Royal & Ancient Game of Golf Harold Hilton & Garden Smith

Five of these six have deluxe editions and they are the crème de la crème. If you wanted to add another eight titles then:
1891 : Golf and Golfers, Past and Present – John Gord McPherson
1899 : Golf Illustrated - any bound volume of 3 months in 1899 (a weekly magazine)
1928 : Green Memories – Bernard Darwin
1929 : The Architectural Side of Golf – Wethered & Simpson
1944 Golf Between Two Wars – Darwin
1948 The Story of American Golf – Herbert Warren Wind
1956 : The Walter Hagen Story – Hagen
2006 : Preferred Lies - Andrew Greig

And two reference books:
1966 The Library of Golf - Joe Murdoch
1993 The Chronicles of Golf – Alastair and James Johnston

Also for book on my wish-list, I’m always on the look out for rarer items, pre 1914, often published privately to satisfy one man’s whim.

PD: Is there such a thing as a ‘Holy Grail’ for the serious collector?
RM: Yes, there certainly is – The Goff, a Heroicomical poem in Three Cantos by Thomas Mathison, a thin volume of 24 pages. It was published in 1743, 1763 and also 1793. There are probably only about two dozen copies of this book in the world (including all editions). It is the first book entirely devoted to golf and tells the story of a match between the author and an Edinburgh gentleman, and it mentions many prominent players of the day.

PD: What is the most expensive book you have ever sold?
RM: That would be The Goff at $115,000. Sold another for $110,000. These were both sold at a premium simply because the provenance was superb and the condition likewise. World record price, I think, for a golf book.

PD: Is collecting golf books a good financial investment for the future?
RM: Prices in golfing memorabilia have suffered, like most other sectors in the retail and antique trade. Books have experienced a slight downturn also, but because their prices have not been as high, relatively, as other aspects of memorabilia their values have not fallen so far.

The rarer and more expensive books still hold their value, as books continue to offer a rich hunting ground for the budding collector and are certainly the safest option for collecting in the golf memorabilia market. Prices can only go up; what seems expensive today can seem cheap tomorrow.

PD: How do you go about acquiring new books for your collection?
RM: There are a number of ways – auction, word of mouth, private collections, advertising, referrals. I have been the only person perhaps foolish enough to deal full-time selling golf books for over 20 years (there was an American equivalent who sadly died about ten years ago) and I suppose one gets a certain reputation in this vacuum! I have also exhibited at the Open Championship since 1992, during which time I’ve met many hundreds of interesting people from all around the world. I have been offered many private collections over the years – buying is the easy part, it’s the selling that is difficult. From starting out with 20 titles I reckon to have about 8,000 at present, too many.

If you consider an average collection to have 300 books, in the good old days I would look to sell perhaps 50 fairly quickly.

Multiply this equation a few times over and you can see how quickly books amass. Golf has, I believe, more literature than any other sport (in English, and discounting chess) with in excess of 13,000 titles, constantly being added to. I send my catalogues to over 50 countries and have established an interesting assortment of international collectors.

The 1971 BBC vinyl LP Famous Players, Personalities and Events featured Henry Cotton, Max Faulkner and Henry Longhust, among others;

PD: Which is the most popular – instruction, biographies, architecture, fiction or golf course books?
RM: Instruction has always been popular – you only need to look through the pages of Golf International today to see this reflected. Golfers are keen to improve and instruction from the game’s great players is highly valued. Architecture is popular but also expensive as there is little on the subject prior to about 1990. Many players see golf course architecture as their second career and there is huge interest generally in this aspect of the game. Fiction I enjoy but there is little demand for it. Similarly, biographies can offer fascinating insight – the American biogs after the Second World War are particularly racy.

I have established a small publishing arm alongside the selling. To date I’ve published five golf books, the last of which was Tom Morris of St Andrews – The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908, by David Malcolm and Peter Crabtree. The book received the USGA annual H. W. Wind award for best golf book of the year in 2008. Before that I issued the esoteric Rusty Staples, a record of one man’s collection of golfing pamphlets. My favourite reprint has been two of the humorous golfing trilogy by George Nash, Letters to the Golf Club Secretary and its follow up, More Letters.

PD: What is the best deal you ever made?
RM: Among a collection I bought some time ago there lurked at the bottom of an old box, a small pamphlet, without its covers. It was a privately printed, circa 1895, pamphlet and, once sold, paid for my petrol for a whole year.

PD: What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to start a collection?
RM: It is important to know the limitations of one’s pocket and to have the discipline to keep within that budget. There is much to learn about collecting books and mistakes will inevitably be made, even if its just a matter of one’s changing tastes, so start off prudently. With time and handling comes knowledge, awareness of values and different books’ significance in the golfing library. There are many subjects to think about and it is advisable for the collector to gather titles that will interest him or her; the field is huge. The library should reflect the interests of the owner with this caveat: every serious library should contain a smattering of old books to lend distinction to the holding. While there are modern tomes that offer a perspective on history, a sniff of the old is vital to form a sort of armature around which the library sits.

Get hold of a friendly and knowledgeable dealer who will answer your questions and guide you in the right direction. Bookselling is more than a matter of merely selling books, and the professional dealer will be happy to advise and impart his specialist experience.

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Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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