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A Downhill Lie / Fairway to Hell By Carl Hiaasen

Release date: 17th August, 2008
Publisher: Bantam Books

List Price: £16.99
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Fairway to Hell
By Carl Hiaasen
Bantam Books price: £9.09, saving 32% on rrp

"Golf is life: you just have to keep going." Such preaching and equally profound existence-related comments drift softly across the fairways of most golf clubs on an unusually frequent basis. Metaphors become the amateur hacker's common parlance, a well-tried method of self-encouragement, particularly when leaving a green having registered a double bogey.

Given the game's metaphorical attributes, it's hardly surprising that a number of well-written books have focused upon the 'golf-is-life' theme, their stories developing into micro morality tales, each based upon a common 'don't-give-up' premise. Which is fine and dandy, if a little repetitive, especially if you're no stranger to three consecutive doubles√Ė

In his forewarning to Carl Hiaasen's often extremely funny Fairway to Hell, former golf professional David Feherty suggests the author has come up with something completely different. "It has taken Carl Hiaasen to capture the essence of a game that, like the bagpipes and the kilt, was invented by the Irish and given to the Scots as a joke. Most of the Scots were Presbyterians of course and therefore took it seriously."

To a degree, Feherty is right. After all, most authors writing of the game's inherent trials and tribulations do so from the beginner's perspective, but Hiaasen goes the other way. Three years ago, he made the unusual decision to start playing golf again, having not set foot on a tee-box for 32 years - and even then, he wasn't much good. His self-enforced break has not proved helpful to his game.

Hiaasen, a respected novelist and writer, starts his golfing re-conversion by mistake while on assignment in Barbados. Reluctantly, he plays with an old friend and soon he's spending $170 on a set of second-hand clubs. Within no time, his wife has bought him an expensive putter and he's visiting golf stores in search of the perfect forgiving driver - a frustratingly elusive quest as most golfers would confirm.

Hiaasen's observations can be both accurate and funny, a rare gift for what qualifies as a genuine sports book because it will have great resonance amongst Sunday morning hackers.

Noting how the game has changed over three decades, he writes, "golf manufacturers [have] perfected a lexicon of gentle euphemisms. 'Forgiving' is now the favoured buzzword used to promote clubs designed for the Neanderthal swing√Ėand the 'maximum game-improvement' aisle is reserved for the congenitally hapless."

Later, when describing the (warped) theory of using 'water balls', ie those retrieved from on-course lakes, he suggests the plan is "to provide the shaky player with a perverse sort of immunity. It's a known golfing fact that the odds of dunking a ball decline in direct proportion to its retail value." How true!

As he embarked upon his journey to re-join the hacking ranks, Hiaasen maintained a playing journal, snippets of which drop into the text as softly as a golf ball falling back into a bunker following a failed attempt to make it exit said sand trap.

It's a technique that works well for it ensures the story is not just one of a middle aged man's attempts to play like Tiger Woods and provides him with scope to add his most telling and cutting comments - many of which are reserved for when he's leaving a green having carded a triple bogey√Ė But instead of morphing "into a profane and volatile depressive" he does remember it's only a game. Isn't it?

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