A debut historical novel offers a fictionalization of the origins of golf.
An aging pirate and mandolin player named Mulligan returns to Ireland after many years at sea and adopts a boy who he suspects may be his illegitimate son. The stuttering, bullied boy, named Bogie, offers an opportunity for Mulligan to begin his life anew, away from the ocean. But how does a man make his living on land? Mulligan recalls “the idea he had heard some time ago that Scotland could give him a great opportunity to make lots of money carrying sticks for a French game called colf.” With that, Mulligan and the young Bogie set out for St. Andrews in Scotland, where the two find work as caddies for the gentlemen who play the game there—which, as they soon discover, is called “golf.” Bogie’s talent for the game creates tension between the traditional players of the sport—who see it as an activity unworthy of the lower classes—and the caddies who wish to be given a shot at conquering the links. As Mulligan and Bogie go up against the status quo, they have the opportunity to leave their marks—as well as their names—on the game for centuries to come. The novel serves as an origin myth, and Hellman treats his subject as a tall tale, teasing his events to farcical heights in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels or Tristram Shandy. The lighthearted plot is entertaining enough if one can get through it: the novel is long, digressive, and rather monotonous in terms of tension and pacing. The characters are colorful and compelling, but the dialogue is an inconsistent blend of phonetic renderings of Scottish dialect and standard English that is both ridiculous and difficult to read. Numerous anachronisms (including slang such as “guy,” first names like Kelly and Shannon, and the presence of Earl Grey tea) further distract readers, keeping them from ever becoming completely immersed in Hellman’s story.
An imaginative but uneven tale about golf’s legendary roots.