collecting golf books

Joe Murdoch in his library.

Golf books are one of the foundations of the Golf Collectors Society, now the Golf Heritage Society. Co-founder Joe Murdoch is a legend in this field, his 1968 bibliography, The Library of Golf, to this day serving as a seminal work for all collectors. Though no longer in print, copies do surface from time to time.

Murdoch later partnered with Richard Donovan, a book dealer and golf book collector, to produce the 1987 volume The Game of Golf and the Printed Word, a monument of research much prized by collectors for its thoroughness. These two volumes alone are worth the attention of serious book collectors.

We cannot possibly in the space allotted on a simple internet page, offer a comprehensive introduction to book collecting; rather our purpose is to offer a few starting points. The experienced collector will already know the well-traveled byways.

The realm of golf literature is a vast one, dating back many centuries but coming into significant bloom in the mid- to late-1800s. Writing about golf has a fascination for the creative mind that has never waned. 

Expert collectors, with some few differences, categorize the literature into a variety of genres. Author and editor Daniel Wexler’s 2004 book The Golfer’s Library, offers the following: ancient volumes, history, anthologies, tournaments and tours, architecture, courses and travel, instruction, bibliographies, reference/miscellaneous, course and club histories. To this list we might add fiction, from the inspired humor of PG Wodehouse and Peter Dobereiner, to classic pieces from AP Herbert and John Updike. Such works, however, often appear in anthologies, one of the customarily identified categories. A few fictional golf stories, novels, come on from time to time – writers such as J. Michael Veron and Troon McAllister come to mind – but the niche is a small one.

Few people have the means to collect golf books in the general sense. Thousands upon thousands of titles exist. What kind of collection do you wish to build? What kind of resources are at your disposal? Do you have the room to display such a collection? Do you have a patient and understanding spouse?

Alastair Johnston is one who set about the business of collecting everything. He pretty much did, too. The legendary IMG executive and personal agent/representative for Arnold Palmer spent years building an immense collection. It was featured in the book Great Golf Collections of the World, 2013, Georgiady/McDonough; as well as countless magazine articles. In 2020 he donated the entire collection to the British Golf Museum, nearly 30,000 volumes!

No doubt your aim will be more modest. A very good place to begin, for those just setting out, is with Wexler’s book, which identifies some 400 well-chosen titles that feature  “…salient details about content, importance, availability, and price…” Wexler’s expert selection of seminal works provides a sense of the immensity of golf literature as well as how and where to focus. 

That should be as easy as identifying what appeals to you. Do you like books on golf course architecture, or prefer biographies of great golfers? Do you want to collect only club histories, or focus entirely on the works of Bernard Darwin? Do you want a few representative titles from the various genres? Or do you want to collect only books that have been autographed by a famous player?

I know of at least one collector of the works of British humorist PG Wodehouse who has found not only each title, but differing editions of each title, those published both in England and America, hardcover and paperback, and so on. Even with a single author one can go deep into the many iterations of the publications that exist.

We turn again to Wexler’s book, whose section on “Some Advice on Building a Golf Library” cushions the daunting depth of book collecting with such basic information as the basic nature and condition of both hard and softcover books as presented by sellers (a common six-grade standard of Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, and Mint/New), as well as where and how to search, including a list of well-known internet book sites, golf-only book dealers, and some 100 bookshops that focus heavily on golf. Many of those presented in the 2004 volume are now out of business, so view with caution. A few that are still engaged in the book business are presented below.

Books such as Wexler’s are fine places to begin, but we also advise speaking with other collectors and visiting trade shows to broaden one’s understanding of the hobby; watching auctions to gain a sense of current values; and learning to focus efforts on the particular, not the general. What area of books most appeals to you, what authors in particular, what categories?

Internet sources have made book collecting, as well as other collecting categories, much easier than in the past. Murdoch, for example, was collecting some two decades before the internet became the social/economic force it is today. He spent countless hours on the phone and writing to other collectors and dealers to build his 3,000-plus volume library of important titles.

The internet has its positives, but books still shelter in hard-to-reach corners of forgotten personal libraries, antique shops, thrift markets and the like. It behooves a patient and dedicated collector to spend a few moments in these places for that once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

Auction houses, too, present regular online auctions that feature desirable books. A list of these are presented elsewhere under the Resources tab on this website.

Arm yourself with an understanding of your hobby, and of the books in particular you wish to collect, and be patient in the hunt. You will be rewarded many times over both in the friends you will make in the hobby and in the friends you add to your shelves.

Recommended titles for collectors

The Golfer’s Library
By Daniel Wexler
J.W. Edwards Inc. Sports Media Group, 2004
Out-of-print, but copies can be found through such as Amazon and other sources. A great book for the golf collector.

The Game of Golf and The Printed Word
By Richard E. Donovan and Joseph S.F. Murdoch
Castalio Press, 1987
An indispensable volume, one of the best bibliographies of golf’s great literature.

The Library of Golf
By Joseph S.F. Murdoch
Gale Research, 1968
One of the first great golf bibliographies. A game-changer.

A starter list of sources for golf books. – One of the world’s largest online book dealers, based in British Columbia, with millions of books from thousands of vendors. – Based in Emeryville, Calif., the site also claims many millions of used volumes with the ability to customize options for experienced collectors.

eBay – The familiar internet auction site. Desirable books can often be found, but rare and particularly prized volumes will usually go to auction houses or other sites. eBay is “buyer beware” territory. Know your stuff before buying on this site.

Classics of Golf – Specializing in reprints of great golf titles as well as new works. Based in New York, USA. Owned by GHS member Michael Beckerich.

Grant Books – Specializing in reprints of rare, older, works. Based in the UK.

Rhod McEwan Golf Books – Based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Peter Yagi Golf Books – Peter is a GHS member who writes a regular column on new and classic titles for the Society’s quarterly magazine, The Golf. Peter’s golf catalogs list hundreds of titles. He is based in Redmond, Wash.