I received an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from the author or publisher free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This review may be quoted or used elsewhere without my express permission so long as “Writer’s Block Party” or “Lisa Taylor” is given credit and it is linked back to this post.
King of Clubs is the story of J. Smith Ferebee, an eccentric Chicago stockbroker who, really by chance as much as ambition, completed the “Great Golf Marathon of 1938.” As the book sums up, Ferebee played “more than 33 rounds of golf in just 96 hours. He hit 2,858 shots, posting an average score of 85.7 per round, and did not lose a ball.” Oh, did I mention that this was over eight different golf courses in eight cities from LA to New York? Though he flew between the cities, he covered 182 miles on foot just in playing the game.
Okay, even if you’re like I was before reading this and aren’t sure what constitutes a “round” or what a score of 85.7 means, you can still tell that’s a fairly impressive feat. This book not only tells his story of how this stunt came about, but attempts to explain why, who else was involved and how this event affected people and places in our country that are more well known than Ferebee.
Even though this is a non-fiction book, the reader gets to know Ferebee and the other characters fairly well in watching this story unfold, and it is obvious how much research must have gone into this to create such a complete story. So hats off to Jim Ducibella for sticking to it and finding as close to the truth as possible.
The book is well-written, but it is a slow start. To understand Ferebee and all those involved, there is necessarily some background information the reader has to get through, and that’s what constitutes the first few chapters. It’s a lot of learning about people’s backgrounds, history and information of the city, the country clubs involved, etc. It is a non-fiction book, so there is no flowery language or imaginative imagery to get you through that first chunk of information. Jim tells the story how it happened and nothing more…which, I think, is an asset in the world of non-fiction.
Someone who is interested or knows a lot about golf might find this portion more interesting than I did. As someone who has never touched a golf club off of a mini-golf putt-putt course, I had no idea what goes into building a golf course, how far “18 holes” might be or what the score statistics meant. The good news is this; I didn’t have to.
Once I got past the introductory information and the “mini-marathon” of 144 holes in a day that started this whole enterprise, the book picked up. Once the actual marathon started, I didn’t want to stop reading. I picked up terminology such as “birdie,” “bogey,” and “double-bogey” rather quickly and was able to piece together what everything meant despite my limited knowledge of golf. The marathon itself read like a sports movie. One can go to a movie like Remember the Titans with no knowledge of football and still sit at the edge of one’s seat during the sports scenes. This book was the same way. Even picking up the terminology and scoring as I went along, I wanted to know how Ferebee’s marathon ended, and I read roughly the last 80 pages non-stop. (Did I mention this is a short book? 143 pages total with the last 16 pages being sources and author’s notes.)
Ferebee encountered a fair number of obstacles in his marathon, to include injury as well as subterfuge (no, I’m not giving anything else away), and the book makes it clear how much tenacity it required for him to keep going. Interesting information and facts pervade the book, such as the invention of air conditioning and how this stunt was used to promote the new technology. All in all it was fun to read and I learned about some new, interesting people that contributed to things we see around us today. Neat stuff.
The book lost a star in its slow start, but Jim is a practiced and concise writer and I am impressed that his writing is both factual as well as suspenseful (at least for the last two thirds of the book!). If you are a big fan of golf, whether of its history or you just love to play, you will REALLY enjoy this book. If you’re not, but you enjoy sports stories, you’ll still really like it. If you are interested in quirky and interesting historical facts and stories, you’ll enjoy it too. And I don’t know of many people who don’t fall into at least one of those categories. A solid four stars, to be sure.