If you happen to be find yourself in the area of planet golf from Miami north to Stuart, Florida this winter, you may well run into a tour pro. Many men and women who play the game for a living reside in the area, which takes in about 200 km. You may run into Ernie Els at a restaurant, or even Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Luke Donald, or Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn. They all live in the area, and play and practice at various clubs.
Dr. Gary Wiren is another pro who lives in the area. The PGA Master professional (http://garywiren.com) turned 77 on Nov. 1st, can still drive the ball 300 yards and break par, and he might be busier than any of the tour pros there. Wiren is the teaching director at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, where he can be found most days on the lesson tee. Wiren will be wearing plus fours, a white, long-sleeve dress shirt, and a tie. He’s one of only three professionals to be inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame and the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. Wiren has serious golf cred.
He also happens to own one of the world’s best collections of golf books and memorabilia. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Gary and his wife Ione in their North Palm Beach home a few times, and to be there is to meander through a vast and deep history of the game. I am always taken by the purpose-built units that Gary had built into the walls of one of the main display rooms. The wooden doors open and slide to reveal his collection of 3,000 books. I never tire of visiting the Wiren home, because I always come across something that I find interesting.
As it happens, the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture at the Delray Center for the Arts in Delray Beach is as of today featuring Wiren’s collection in a comprehensive exhibit. The exhibit will run through April 21st, and will enrich any visitor who spends some time there. I saw a smaller version of the exhibition last winter at a gallery in Tequesta, Fla. and listened one evening as Gary spoke about his collection. He’s an entertaining speaker who has travelled the world and who, by the way, also knows how to play the game. (He’s played the U.S. Senior Open, among many other significant tournaments). There’s no end to his internal library of stories about instruction, book collecting, players - on and on, and always fascinating.
Meanwhile, Gary’s collection of books and memorabilia are featured in the Nov. 5th issue of Golf World. Jeff Silverman, a golf historian with a deep appreciation of the cultural riches that await anybody interested in the game’s storied background, wrote a splendid piece titled Book Worms. Silverman refers to “The buying. The selling. The swapping. The pursuing,” all of which make collecting books so enjoyable.
Collectors aren’t spending nearly as much time in antiquarian bookstores as they used to, given the fact that they can find books on the Internet. But, as Alastair Johnston, whose collection in Cleveland includes 22,000 - yes, 22,000 - books, told Silverman, finding books via the Internet is “more efficient today, yes, but less exciting. For a collector, there’s a thrill to the hunt. With a computer, it’s more like shooting fish in a barrel.”
He’s on the mark there. Johnston, a Scotsman, is the vice-chairman of the International Management Group, which is based in Cleveland. Silverman writes that one of his first jobs involved travel in Scotland, and that he would make sure to seek out used bookstores and “route his morning runs in their direction, always with a backpack to fill.”
Every book collector knows the excitement of coming upon a treasure. Back in 1977, I went to the U.K. to play the British Amateur at the Ganton Golf Club in Scarborough, England. I went over for six weeks, and wandered around Edinburgh bookshops in the early part of my visit. One afternoon I walked down a few steps to McNaughton’s Bookshop, and I soon lost myself in the shelves. I asked Agnes McNaughton about one book in particular that I hoped to find. She didn’t have this rare book in stock, but told me to stop by again after the British Amateur, when I planned to return to Edinburgh.
I returned six weeks later. She had found the book, which was published in 1896 in an edition of only 250 copies. I still have the book; I just turned around and pulled it from my bookshelves to have a look. It’s a centerpiece of my modest collection. Most every book tells a story, in the sense that I can recall when and how I acquired it.
Like all golf book and memorabilia collectors, I could go on and on about the subject. Golf goes back centuries, as do its literature and memorabilia. It’s a game of stories, and its history is indeed rich. I’m looking forward to visiting Gary Wiren’s exhibition in Delray Beach, and to seeing him there. Maybe I’ll see you as well.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein