For a seemingly simple game, golf proves infuriatingly complex, which helps explain why it is the subject of more than 9,000 books in English alone. The number of keepers among these volumes is tiny, but even the most finicky of golf librarians will welcome this new collection of 30 pieces by one of America's most celebrated authors.
Over the past four decades Updike has achieved fame as a distinguished writer of fiction, essays and criticism. That he is a sportswriter is not as well known, but there he is, in the membership directory of the Golf Writers Association of America, smack dab between Les Unger of the United States Golf Association and Marion A. Valanoski of the Hazleton (Pa.) Standard-Speaker. Most of the pieces in Golf Dreams will be familiar to Updike buffs, but to have them in a single depository—between hard covers, protected by a green dust jacket with plaid borders—is a pleasant convenience. Long lines of Updike fans have stood at Xerox machines in recent years waiting to make copies of his "Farrell's Caddie," a short story that first appeared in The New Yorker in 1991 and is included in this collection.
Golf as a dream is a motif for Updike; his golf courses are populated by people who would seem ordinary on the street but who on the links become larger than life. Not surprisingly, Sandy, the Scottish caddie in "Farrell's Caddie," understands the business and romantic entanglements of his visiting American charge, Augustus Farrell, more deeply than Farrell himself.
If you have ever seen Updike swing a club—oddly enough, a free-swinging Updike was once on Nightline as part of a segment devoted to the allure of golf—you know his form is limber and sprightly, unique, alive, just like his prose. Farrell's caddie says, "Ye kin tell a' aboot a man, frae th' way he gowfs"—and that's true. You may also tell a lot about a man from the way he writes. Updike understands golf, keenly, and expresses his understanding with charm and beauty, in words as sturdy as Lee Trevino's stance.