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Reviews: 3 Whodunits for Golfers

by Bob Weisgerber

Tired of the run-of-the-mill mainstream, stuff, best sellers by formula? Ready to try something right down your fairway? Here’s a trio of murders by pen to consider. They were written by a legitimate golf writer--if such a thing is possible--who knows the game and the characters that populate it. James Y. Bartlett has written all three. Think you might like them. Bartlett is the kind of golf writer who gets around--with style. He has contributed to such sterling publications as Caribbean Travel and Life, Luxury Golf, Forbes, Hemispheres (United Airlines), Esquire, Travel ad Leisure Golf, Private Clubs, and so on. What a life! No wonder he knows about country clubs, which he satirizes pretty nicely in his latest book, described below.

Death at the Member Guest: A Fun Whodunit!

Have you ever played in a member-guest invitational? Sure you have. Have you ever been paired with someone that embodies all the worst aspects of the game? You know the kind: loudmouth, cheater, self indulgent, foul mouth, temper to burn, including club tossing. Great guy, huh? So if he happens to be rich, like really rich, and oh yes, he happens to be President of the golf club? Does that ease the pain?

What happens if Mr. Not-So-Nice guy, otherwise known as Vitus Pappageorge, turns out to be your opponent in the member-guest tournament? You’re gonna love the part where

“Vitus tried to hack his ball up and over the hill, but the rough was so thick and his backswing was restricted by the nearby tree. His ball skittered forward just 30 yards. . . Thwock! He slammed his club against the offending tree trunk and the club snapped neatly into two pieces. The part with the clubface went spinning off into the woods. The caddy started dutifully after it. “Leave the GODDAM thing,” Vitus screamed. He threw the grip end after the first, kicked the ground hard enough to dislodge a toupee-sized divot, and stalked off after his ball. If Vitus had a dog waiting at home, I hoped the poor thing had Blue Cross.”

By the time you’ve gotten to the first turn, you’d probably be ready to kill the guy, right? Be careful now, you could end up being a suspect. Now factor in your partner, who is tossing so many down he practically plays one-handed. Add to the mix the fact that you are playing in the member guest without the knowledge of your boss--who thinks you are doing you’re duty as a reporter at a PGA tournament. But your name, as the hero of this story, is Hacker. Figures.

Trouble is brewing everywhere you look. So here’s Hacker’s job. Figure out how to stay alive while you solve the murder, without getting in too deep with the deceased’s attractive widow and not getting found out by your boss. Throw in golfer dialogue, a mix of butchered shots and great shots, a little rough stuff and some wisecracks and you soon be on the trail right along with Hacker, the ex-PGA player turned golf writer. Hard to believe, isn’t it? This book reads just like a string of birdies feels.

Big Trouble on Tour, but Tom Kite Wins!

A Revised Edition of Death is a Two-Stroke Penalty

We golf fanatics check out the TV and box scores faithfully to find out who’s doing what. It was no different back in 1991, when Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Paul Azinger, Jerry Pate, Hubert Green, and Lanny Wadkins, not to mention Jack Nicklaus, were the flavor of the day. But in this murder mystery those are bit players (fortunately) even though the main characters play the game as though it was life and death instead of entertainment.

James Y. Bartlett, a golf writer with long experience in the ways of the Tour, knowledge of the competitors, the supporting traveling casts, and the hangers on, weaves an attention-holding story in Death is a Two-Stroke Penalty.

The story features such diverse characters as Brother Ed Durkee, a preacher who “tends” his flock of “God Squad” tour players, Jocko “Drugstore” Moore, a caddie who supplies “ludes” to the needy, Jean MacGarrity, a wannabe lover of John Turnbull the hottest player on tour, who is married to gorgeous and ultra-smart Becky, a financial wizard. You get the idea--a potential zoo.

Bartlett chooses a low-country (South Carolina) setting for this whodunit and if you have ever been there you’ll recognize it immediately. The humidity of the climate parallels the tempo of the story. Pete Hacker, a former pro player turned golf writer for a Boston newspaper with a pain-in-the-arse editor, holds the story line together as murder threatens to abort the tournament. But never fear, the revenue to be made from the tournament outweighs the need for police procedure.

Hacker turns philosophic at one point, after he has been asked whether he misses playing on tour. The answer is no. But the rationale offered includes these profound thoughts.

“Our Cities are full of drugs and death and despair ...more than half the world lives in abject poverty ...governments are out there killing people and manipulating us in various ways. Life is basically chaos everywhere you look. But golf is still a world of order. It’s based on a system of honesty and values.”

In helping to bring the bad guys to heel, Hacker ploddingly pursues one lead after another to bolster the information gathered by the local gendarme. Talk about timing--Hacker seems to be right in the center of where the action is (and I don’t mean the tournament). Everybody knows him but he’s not universally popular. Ah me, the things a golf writer has to go through to make a buck. Try this one for light bedtime reading--if you don’t want to go to sleep!

The LPGA--Caught Up In a Life and Death Battle!

A Revised Edition of Death From the Ladies Tee

Remember when Patty Shehan, Betsy King, Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, and Rosie Jones were going at it hammer and tong on the LPGA Tour? That was back in 1992. Now, Death From the Ladies Tee, by James Y. Bartlett, has been revised and reissued in 2005.

The LPGA is playing at Doral in Miami. They need publicity as the ladies tour is not attracting either the kind of big-buck sponsors it deserves nor the amount of TV airtime they need to promote themselves nationally. So what do they do? They invite a veteran reporter down from the cool north to the humid south to cover the event.

Normally on duty with the PGA Tour, Pete Hacker is not thrilled with the idea. But a collusion of events makes him agree. Little does he know what lies in store. What lies in store is a tour that is bitterly divided between players who are “in control” and those who are being controlled. Unfortunately the Bad Gals are in charge.

Poor Pete Hacker walks into a buzz saw when he checks in for duty. Things immediately go down hill--for Hacker has this funny idea that the First Amendment gives him the right to write his story as he sees it, not as he is ordered by the “Alpha Bitch.” Aside from assorted assaults and murder here and there, the major underlying theme of the book is what we currently call “life style” choices, but in 1992 was primarily revolving around homosexuality and heterosexuality and the conflicts between the two camps.

James Bartlett’s version, as told through the eyes of Pete Hacker, the reporter sleuth, tries to straddle the fence. But the Bad Gals here are clearly on one side of the fence and the Good Gals are on the other. It presents an interesting challenge to take such a volatile, emotionally charged issue and overlay a murder mystery and a golf tournament on top of it. Does Bartlett succeed? You be the judge.

I’ll simply say that Bartlett surely paints his characters with strong coloration. You either like `em or you can’t stand `em, and that’s the whole idea. I read the book in two sittings. You can too.