Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review in Irish Times - 15/9/09

[Photo: Scrabo's par four 1st]

They say that any publicity is good publicity... as a marketing person I'm not sure I agree with that. I doubt Pepsi felt that way after Michael Jackson's hair went on fire. Anyway, I've been trying to get the Irish Times to do a piece on my book and they have duly obliged: Philip Reid has been running a 'book club' where he reviews a book every week. This week it was my turn. It's positive for the most part, although the scoring system serves to confuse once again. I've added my own comments at the bottom.

GOLF BOOK CLUB: PHILIP REID reviews Hooked By Kevin Markham

Useful guide to Ireland's courses, but where's the craic in that?

YOU MIGHT wonder if there was a need for yet another golfing guide to Ireland: the book shelves are choc-a-bloc with them. In fairness to Kevin Markham, the author of Hooked: An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland, he has done things differently by playing every 18-hole course in the country – with a couple of exceptions – and, as well as summarising each course, getting to the nitty-gritty of grading them.

A bit like the Eurovision, the grades awarded to each course are a little addictive and (in some cases) also more than a little perplexing. Athlone and Ballinrobe, for instance, ranked ahead of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and The K Club? In devising his grading system, Markham awarded points to courses in different categories. He gave marks out of 20 for Course Design and for Golf Experience and out of 10 for Course Appeal, Greens/Fairways, Bunkers/Water, Location, Facilities and Value for Money.

So it was that Co Sligo (Rosses Point) came out on top with the following rankings with 97 points out of a possible 100: CD- 19/20; A- 10/10; G/F 10/10; B/W- 10/10; L- 10/10; F- 8/10; V- 10/10; G Ex- 20/20 . . . . while the poor folk of Dublin Mountain Golf Club will hardly be rushing out to find what mark their course was awarded. Let’s just say that the author didn’t find the experience appealing in any way.

Markham’s idea was a bloody good one. Travel around Ireland in a camper van (distance travelled: 6,800 miles), play every 18-hole course (with the exceptions of Killeen Castle, where he wasn’t allowed play at the time, and Bunclody, which was still under construction, and he only walked around Galway Bay) and wear out three pairs of golf shoes in the process of walking an estimated 2,100 miles while playing the courses.

Next to winning the Lotto, it is any golfer’s dream of utopia.

Unfortunately, I believe this was also a missed opportunity in another way. He can clearly write. But rather than relate the stories of his travels and the incidents encountered and people met along the way, which you’d imagine would have made for a great page turner, Markham has gone for the more direct route of detailing every course (which he does well) and, while it is certainly a useful addition to the line of golf reference books, it is also a bit clinical.

What of the punctures along the way? The breakdowns? Living in a camper van with no heat in minus degree temperatures? The lost golf balls? The great shots? The terrible shots? The craic? Still, his feat in playing all 349 courses in an 18-month period is admirable and the guide is definitely comprehensive . . . and honest. In admitting that Portmarnock is “one of the must play courses for links fanatics,” Markham passes on the advice that golfers should, “for a bigger thrill, at smaller green fees, go to The Island” (up the coast in Donabate).

[Photo: approach to Portmarnock's 14th. The best hole on the course]

Also, having played his golf at Greystones since the age of five, he declined to give any ranking to his home course in the belief that no matter what score he gave would not go down well.

Markham doesn’t hand out the top marks for “Golf Experience” lightly, but does award a 20/20 to Co Sligo, Ballybunion, Enniscrone, The European, Royal Co Down, Adare Manor resort and Mount Juliet.

Five of the magnificent seven are links courses . . . which only makes you wonder all the more why he was so harsh on Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, who trail well behind.

Questions for Readers

1 Do you believe that Markham displays a social conscience in his rankings of the likes of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and The K Club?

2 Markham attempts to convey his golf course observations from an amateur’s perspective. Does he succeed?

3 As a guide, does this book encourage you to be more adventurous in your golfing travels around Ireland?

4 Do you think that the author would have been better to write this book as a travelogue?

5 How would you rate this book out of a top mark of 10?

[Photo: Portarlington's par three 3rd]

Obviously I was delighted to be reviewed at all, but my overall impression from the review was that Philip didn't quite appreciate the purpose of the book. It was never going to be a travelogue (although that might be my next book), because the purpose of the book was to assess EVERY course against one set of criteria, and give EVERY course a full review. Yes, I've played golf at Greystones all my life but you won't find more than a passing comment (if at all) in any golf course review book out there. If I hadn't written this book I wouldn't have been able to tell you about the great but little-known courses at Rathcore, Portarlington, Portumna, Scrabo - courses that are unlikely to be discussed by the golfing fraternity - but I could easily tell you about Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, because 90% of golfers already know about them and have read about them elsewhere. This was about finding courses that I, as an amateur, would love to play.

And now I'll be off to get started on that 2nd book.


  1. Kevin,

    Perhaps he did miss the point of the book. But he wasn't too harsh, I guess.

    I'm also weary of reading marketing brochures that corporate clubs such as K-Club publish and promote in the media. As an amateur I will always listen to the views of a fellow player in deciding where to play and how much value is out there - and a great example is indeed Portarlington which I played recently - Portarlington are unlikely to host a Ryder Cup (and enjoy a massive media publicity blitz), but they have a fantastic facility that most golfers will enjoy and find testing. This is where Hooked pays its way. And pay its way, it does.

    And as I mentioned before, some travelogue or narrative would be nice for book 2, best of luck with it. I'm sure with all the golfers you met in your travels, there must be great tales in abundance! I'd say blockbuster movies could be made from the goings on in Tullamore this week!


  2. I played with an interesting bunch alright - 1 guy who played squash for Ireland and continued playing even after having a lung replaced; a lady with two plastic hips who scored her third par ever playing with me - plenty of great golfing stories for sure. Thanks for the feedback Eoin

  3. Kevin -the book whilest only 3 months old is already getting dog-eared!! Its strength for me lies in how it determines what courses are suitable for certain situations eg a family break with golf is completely different than say a society outing but my experience thus far shows the book to cater for these 2 disparate senarios. Also its great to see how a couse one played say 10+ yrs ago stacks up today. Well done - come back to Tullamore GC - which got rave reviews this week in the Cups & Shields-& we'll show you once again what a real course looks like!!