Around the world in 18 holes

May 13, 1994|By John Steadman

Under the attention-getting allure of playing a global round of golf (the adventure is intriguingly called "Around the World in 18 Holes"), a semi-middle-aged sportswriting twosome tees off on a bizarre odyssey that leads to a treasure chest of discoveries, anecdotes, whimsy and, yes, a sentimental tear or two.

Both men -- Tom Callahan and Dave Kindred -- represent the best their craft has to offer, so it's not exactly an upset they authored what has every right to be the most enlightening and entertaining sports book of this or any other year.

Callahan and Kindred are average golfers, holding 14-handicaps, but have a profound passion for a game that traces its lineage back through centuries of heather-choking antiquity. Their self-motivated challenge was to find 18 diabolical golf holes, which isn't hard to do since every course has them. It's a matter of degree. But the tour was extensive, achieved via visits to 21 countries on four continents covering a total of 37,000 miles.

It was rather like running away from home to join the Globetrotters, or the circus, forgetting the problems of deadlines and the trauma that nagging assistant managing editors can induce for the chance to swing a golf club in some of the most remote parts of the universe. They were compatible; otherwise, it would have been a sure way to fracture a beautiful friendship by burying a 5-iron in the other's skull.

By way of re-introduction, Callahan was educated at Immaculate Conception School in Towson, Loyola High School, Mount St. Mary's College and the Country Club of Maryland caddy yard, where he got his Ph.D. His first regular job was with The Evening Sun. It led to later newspaper moves to Cincinnati, San Diego and Washington, where he is a special columnist for The Post and contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report and Golf Digest.

Kindred, the only sportswriter from Atlanta, Ill., who grew up to write in Atlanta, Ga., has similarly striking credentials. He worked as a columnist in Louisville, Washington and for The National, plus holding positions with Golf Digest and The Sporting News. These two traveling companions, carrying golf bags on their shoulders, had to like each other or the book-writing mission never would have worked.

They found, in this ambitious effort, the proper worldwide diversification of courses, the testing holes that would drop a stevedore to his knees begging for mercy. Off they went to fulfill an incredible itinerary.

Callahan and Kindred alternated the 18 chapters, describing the difficulties they encountered but painting a travelogue mostly about the people they met and situations encountered, including everything from riding elephants in Thailand to evading crocodiles in Bophuthatswana to interviewing prostitutes in Moscow and stepping around the goatherds of Calcutta.

A poignant moment in the book occurs after they ride the Orient Express to Macon, France, to play a golf course constructed to match the anatomy of the designer's mistress, located on the verdant landscape adjoining a chateau. Then it was on to a mission in Belgium, where the search was directed to solve the mystery of a name found in an address book Kindred's late father carried home from World War II.

The family of Lily Bemelmans, living in Namur, Belgium, had befriended John Kindred during World War II. Letters from Lily are re-printed but there are no moral implications, just the remembrances of a young girl enamored with a member of the heroic American military and the appeal he represented. Kindred's son wanted to find her to learn what dad was like when the world was at war.

Alas, he could only locate an older brother, learning from him that little Lily had died of cancer in 1967.

When Kindred and Callahan later got to the Royal Antwerp Club, considered a golfing masterpiece of the world, the host captain was interested in why they were there.

Kindred let it be known his father had been stationed in Namur, Belgium, in 1945, to which Robert Van Blerk, the man doing the questioning, replied, "Ah, one of the American soldiers who gave us the life we have today by pushing Germans out. Welcome, welcome."

Before and after the sentimental journey to Namur, they stopped and played at Portrush, Northern Ireland; Akureyri, Iceland; St. Andrews, Scotland; Macon, France; Antwerp, Belgium; Gotland Island, Sweden; Moscow, Russia; Sun City, Bophuthatswana; Lemorne, Mauritius; Kathmandu, Nepal; Calcutta, India; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Singapore; Beijing, China; Tokyo; and, in the United States, to Pebble Beach, Calif., Fort Worth, Texas, and Augusta, Ga.

They wrote in Fort Worth as a stop because it afforded a chance to meet and thank Ben Hogan, whom they found to be the subject of acclaim in many remote corners of the world for his achievements and what he represented to golf. It was their personal way for two vagabonds to say, "Thanks, Ben."

Everything about the book (even the cover) is an exciting experience -- a couple of sportswriters taking their readers on vicarious visits to faraway places difficult to find even on a map. Their story creates a new relationship between golf, travel, a good time and the beauty of words when utilized with such eloquence and elegance.

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