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Although I drive past the Ouimet museum every day on my way to work, have contributed to the Ouimet Scholarship fund for caddies for many years and thought I knew all about the 1913 Open, this book was an eye opener for me. Almost everything I thought I knew was incorrect in some important detail, and the best parts of the story were unknown to me until I read this well researched and exciting book.
While I'm not sure that the 1913 Open was the greatest game ever played, I do know that The Greatest Game Ever Played was the best sports book I read in 2003. I heartily recommend it to any golf fan and those who love to read about the underdog rising to the top.
Before discussing the Open, let me comment that this book has a format that most will find unusual. There is extensive background on the origins of golf, the backgrounds of the players, the development of golf in the United States and the social history of the time, as well a lengthy section on aftermaths of the players and individuals involved. You will learn about unexpected subjects, such as how tuberculosis was treated before there were antibiotics.
The story-telling style is in the best tradition of fictional dramatizations. Some of the dialogue is invented. The author indicates that "in employing dialogue to bring these scenes to life, I used source material for direct attribution whenever possible. In its occasional absence I attempted to infer intent from prose or reportage . . . . In rare exceptions, with a dramatist's license, and in the utter want of an eyewitness, I took the liberty of elaborating on those perceptions beyond what I could absolutely verify." It's impossible to know which dialogue material is a quotation and what is invented, so don't take the dialogue too literally. It's like watching a made-for-television movie about the Open. One of the strengths of the dramatization is to capture the psychology of the event in what read to me like realistic terms.
During the matches, there's a tremendous amount of detail about the shots that were taken. I was impressed by the amount of research that went into capturing the drama of the occasion.
If you don't know the story, Harry Varden was the greatest star of his day. He was touring the United States with Ted Ray to earn money and to establish British superiority over the Americans by winning the Open. Before he was done, he would win six British Open championships despite having lost many years due to World War I and his illness with tuberculosis . . . and its permanent effects on his putting. Varden was Ouimet's idol, in fact. Their backgrounds were very similar in coming up as caddies from poor, working class families. Golf had been a game for the privileged rich until a small class of professionals rose up. Ouimet's victory was exceptional in that he played as an amateur and because he was so inexperienced. His victory had large ramifications for the sport in encouraging its further development in the United States and in attracting future stars to the game like Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones.
The venue for the competition was The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Ouimet lived across from the 17th hole and learned to play on three holes that he and his brother built in their backyard. Ouimet got his first golf club by trading used balls he found on the course. Golf fans will be delighted to know that the 17th hole has been important in three major tournaments at TCC, the most recent being the long putt that Justin Leonard made there to win the Ryder Cup in 1999.
To me, one of the most delightful parts of the story involved tiny 10-year-old Eddie Lowery caddying for Ouimet after the first day of qualifying. Eddie was no taller than the bag and had to dodge the truant officer to get to the course. He had injured his foot before the Open and the wound bled through his bandage every day. Anyone who has ever had a young caddy will be reminded of the pleasures of working with a youngster and how that joy adds to the fun of playing.
Mr. Frost is an exceptional story teller, and I hope that he will write other historical dramatizations in the future.
As I finished the book, I realized that I should be sure to look for well researched versions of historical subjects to test my understanding of those events. Otherwise, my beliefs will often be wrong . . . and I will miss out on the drama of the real story.
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on 15 April 2005
The Greatest Book about the Greatest Game, September 1, 2003
Reviewer: Geoff Urie from Paisley, Scotland
Having read widely on all aspects of golf, including classics such as A good walk spoiled, Final Rounds, Golf in the Kingdom, Four-iron in my soul, the Legend of Bagger Vance, the Miracle on the 17th Green, To the Linksland and A Duel in the Sun - to name but a few, I can declare that Mark Frost's book "The Greatest Game Ever Played: Vardon, Ouimet and the Birth of Modern Golf" is in my opinion the most informative and entertaining of all. It brings to life a vital chapter in the development of the game both in Britain and the United States. For anyone wishing to learn about how the game of golf was played in the early years this is the book for you.
Harry Vardon is one of the greatest golfers of all time but the general golfing public probably know very little about him and the difficulties he overcame.
Francis Ouimet has always been an obscure name from the past - this book will explain that his standing in world golf was no fluke result.
I thoroughly recommend this book - you will not be disappointed.
For any film makers reading this - If you roll The Natural, Tin Cup and Chariots of Fire together it will not come anywhere near the story of Ouimet versus Vardon !
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 October 2011
My daughter, a flautist, once asked me in her teenage years to take her to a great flautist's concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London; on the journey back, she asked how I had enjoyed the concert. I told her before asking her the same question. What followed was a detailed description of the music's complexity and the instrumental skills required to play it. I wondered if we had attended the same concert - her flautist's eyes and ears had been aware of so much more.

So it is with Mark Frost's 2002 book. Although many readers may enjoy it just as a story, only a golfer will understand and appreciate it fully.

Frost is a skilful story-teller who knows how to keep readers in suspense and often, while striding down the narrative's fairways towards a long, straight drive out of the screws, he leaps into the rough and just as annoyance begins to fester, a brand-new, once-hit golf ball appears. At the risk of more mixed metaphors, Frost tells his tale but tangentially throws facts, people and events in which become fascinating in themselves: in the build up to the 1913 Open, we read a succinct description of the ways in which golfing standardisation and terminology developed, e.g. par, bogey and standard scratch (P 177-8); the first press tent was erected at the 1913 Open (P 194); in 1913, plugged balls had to be played as they lay until 1960 and pitchmarks on greens could not be repaired.

He describes all the events in great detail and breathes vivid life into the characters of all the players; he looks into their eyes then reads their minds in the crucible of competition at the highest levels.

"Walter, (Hagen) throughout his life always came off as a bit of a rogue. Not in the dishonest sense; more in the style of an adored, risqué uncle, who'd spin tall tales about exotic ports of call while he dazzled you with effortless sleight of hand magic tricks, the tang of peppermint on his breath not quite camouflaging the three whiskey sours he'd downed at lunch." (P 186 He is not portrayed very favourably in the film "The Legend of Bagger Vance" either.)

However, it is for Harry Vardon and Frances Oimet that he retains his fulsome praise, players he obviously admires greatly; his descriptions of Vardon do not ignore his less admirable traits but they are mentioned with the delicacy, subtlety and prudence typical of the press of his day. His meticulous portrayal of Oimet gradually builds in intensity until he fills the pages. Their match is described in minute detail, obviously after comprehensive research.

For anyone interested in the modern advance of this great game, the national rivalry still under-pinning the Ryder Cup's friendly meetings, the names which fill the Royal and Ancient's history, the development of the golf club and ball and the nature of the game itself for the players who play it in national competitions and on the lowliest of fairways today, Frost has written a wonderful book. It is difficult to believe my copy made its way from America in three days, for less than the price of a decent golf ball; what a bargain and it will certainly live longer!

Highly recommended.
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on 1 September 2003
Having read widely on all aspects of golf, including classics such as A good walk spoiled, Final Rounds, Golf in the Kingdom, Four-iron in my soul, the Legend of Bagger Vance, the Miracle on the 17th Green, To the Linksland and A Duel in the Sun - to name but a few, I can declare that Mark Frost's book "The Greatest Game Ever Played: Vardon, Ouimet and the Birth of Modern Golf" is in my opinion the most informative and entertaining of all. It brings to life a vital chapter in the development of the game both in Britain and the United States. For anyone wishing to learn about how the game of golf was played in the early years this is the book for you.
Harry Vardon is one of the greatest golfers of all time but the general golfing public probably know very little about him and the difficulties he overcame.
Francis Ouimet has always been an obscure name from the past - this book will explain that his standing in world golf was no fluke result.
I thoroughly recommend this book - you will not be disappointed.
For any film makers reading this - If you roll The Natural, Tin Cup and Chariots of Fire together it will not come anywhere near the story of Ouimet versus Vardon !
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on 17 November 2003
This is a truly superb book, chronicling a defining moment in golf history. This should be required reading for any student of the game. I had a vague awareness of the 1913 U.S. Open and the participants, but Mark Frost brought a inspirational tale to life vividly and illuminated the brilliance of Harry Vardon (truly the Tiger Woods of his time) and the greatness of Francis Ouimet. I am amazed that this book was not shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, because, in its own way, it is as good as Seabiscuit, which is very high praise indeed in my opinion. To anyone reading this review, the message is simple, buy this book, you will not be dissapointed.
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Although I drive past the Ouimet museum every day on my way to work, have contributed to the Ouimet Scholarship fund for caddies for many years and thought I knew all about the 1913 Open, this book was an eye opener for me. Almost everything I thought I knew was incorrect in some important detail, and the best parts of the story were unknown to me until I read this well researched and exciting book.
While I'm not sure that the 1913 Open was the greatest game ever played, I do know that The Greatest Game Ever Played was the best sports book I read in 2003. I heartily recommend it to any golf fan and those who love to read about the underdog rising to the top.
Before discussing the Open, let me comment that this book has a format that most will find unusual. There is extensive background on the origins of golf, the backgrounds of the players, the development of golf in the United States and the social history of the time, as well a lengthy section on aftermaths of the players and individuals involved. You will learn about unexpected subjects, such as how tuberculosis was treated before there were antibiotics.
The story-telling style is in the best tradition of fictional dramatizations. Some of the dialogue is invented. The author indicates that "in employing dialogue to bring these scenes to life, I used source material for direct attribution whenever possible. In its occasional absence I attempted to infer intent from prose or reportage . . . . In rare exceptions, with a dramatist's license, and in the utter want of an eyewitness, I took the liberty of elaborating on those perceptions beyond what I could absolutely verify." It's impossible to know which dialogue material is a quotation and what is invented, so don't take the dialogue too literally. It's like watching a made-for-television movie about the Open. One of the strengths of the dramatization is to capture the psychology of the event in what read to me like realistic terms.
During the matches, there's a tremendous amount of detail about the shots that were taken. I was impressed by the amount of research that went into capturing the drama of the occasion.
If you don't know the story, Harry Varden was the greatest star of his day. He was touring the United States with Ted Ray to earn money and to establish British superiority over the Americans by winning the Open. Before he was done, he would win six British Open championships despite having lost many years due to World War I and his illness with tuberculosis . . . and its permanent effects on his putting. Varden was Ouimet's idol, in fact. Their backgrounds were very similar in coming up as caddies from poor, working class families. Golf had been a game for the privileged rich until a small class of professionals rose up. Ouimet's victory was exceptional in that he played as an amateur and because he was so inexperienced. His victory had large ramifications for the sport in encouraging its further development in the United States and in attracting future stars to the game like Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones.
The venue for the competition was The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Ouimet lived across from the 17th hole and learned to play on three holes that he and his brother built in their backyard. Ouimet got his first golf club by trading used balls he found on the course. Golf fans will be delighted to know that the 17th hole has been important in three major tournaments at TCC, the most recent being the long putt that Justin Leonard made there to win the Ryder Cup in 1999.
To me, one of the most delightful parts of the story involved tiny 10-year-old Eddie Lowery caddying for Ouimet after the first day of qualifying. Eddie was no taller than the bag and had to dodge the truant officer to get to the course. He had injured his foot before the Open and the wound bled through his bandage every day. Anyone who has ever had a young caddy will be reminded of the pleasures of working with a youngster and how that joy adds to the fun of playing.
Mr. Frost is an exceptional story teller, and I hope that he will write other historical dramatizations in the future.
As I finished the book, I realized that I should be sure to look for well researched versions of historical subjects to test my understanding of those events. Otherwise, my beliefs will often be wrong . . . and I will miss out on the drama of the real story.
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on 10 December 2003
As the General Manager of a Golf Club I have recommended this book to a number of staff, members and friends and dozens of copies have been circulating around the Club. This book is simply superb , a social commentary of the ealry days of the game and yet a compelling story involving dozens of players. Mark Frost gets inside the head of players and explains what motivated them. I totally defy anyone who plays the game of golf not to enjoy this book. Buy it immediately for yourself or for any relative who plays golf
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on 27 August 2003
An absolutely brilliant book! I have just finished reading it and could not put it down.
The story (based on actual events), gives the background of the early lives and careers of Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon leading upto the 1913 US Open Championship where they went head to head with Ted Ray in a playoff for the title.
Unlike most documented books on true life golf, the reader isn't bored with results and bogged down with meaningless scores. Instead this is a very personal account of the heroes of the day. Not only does it portray the accounts leading upto and including the US Open but it gives a great prologue on the lives of many of the people involved in the story and a superb epilogue of the years that followed the tournament, recounting the impact on the golfing world of the American amateur's win and the lives (successes and otherwise) of the players, upto their deaths in many cases.
Others that were essential to the story were the likes of Walter Hagen, Bernard Darwin the sports writer, and many of the top golfers of the era.
My opinion is it ought to be made into a film, but please don't take anything out!
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on 7 November 2003
'The Greatest Game Ever Played' is the story of the 1913 US Open Championship which is attributed to igniting the flames in interest in golf in America.
British legend Harry Vardon was at the peak of his powers at that time, yet found rank outsider Francis Ouimet, a US amateur 23 years his junior, to be his fiercest competitor.
Theirs was one of golf's definitive confrontations, pitting local boy against all-conquering hero and Mark Frost's account looks set to be considered one of the sport's conclusive accounts.
Undoubtedly this clash changed world golf forever. We might think now how great it would be if Brits dominated the global game, but the sport would have been much duller without Ouimet's win.
A real eye opener on the birth of a phenomenon in America and a book so beautifully put together you don't have to be a golf fan to enjoy it.
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on 10 August 2004
As the title of this review suggests for once this book matches and exceeds the expectation of a book of this type. This is the account of a truly, globally important sporting event that changed golf forever.
The author sets the event up very skillfully with detailed backgrounds of the all the main protagonists which gives a real flavour of the time and the mood.
Some of the crowd reaction described as the competition reaches it's climax is a reminder of the scenes at the same course (Brookline)at the last Ryder Cup in the US a few years back.
Surely somebody with the necessary skills could turn this into the best Golf Film ever.
I recommend that you do as I intend which is to give a copy to all close friends who play the game, it's a real must read.
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