Golf in the Kingdom: The truth seeker’s guide to the game's mystical qualities

Golf in the Kingdom: The truth seeker’s guide to the game's mystical qualities

No site dedicated to links golf would be complete without at least a passing reference to Michael Murphy’s seminal work. So I might as well check this box right out of the, uh, box.

First published in 1971, this ode to the mystical qualities of the game as it's played in Scotland has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into 19 languages—rarified air for a golf book. If memory serves, I first read it in 1985, more than a decade before I made my first trip to the auld country. As such, my preconceived notions about the game’s origins were no doubt influenced by Murphy’s fantastical tale. I, too, longed to play with and learn from Shivas Irons, the mysterious Scottish golf pro at the heart of this story. Who wouldn’t?

However, now that I’ve spent a fair amount of time on actual links courses, my perceptions of the book have changed. It’s still an enjoyable read, but purely as a work of fiction. And while I do believe there is truth in it, the real thing is different—and far more deeply satisfying, in my opinion.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

What’s so special about this book?

It’s important to know that Murphy is a co-founder and now Chairman Emeritus of the Esalen Institute. Nestled in the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, Calif., the idyllic retreat has long been one of the leading lights in the human potential movement. Another key fact: Prior to establishing Esalen with co-founder Richard Price in 1962, Murphy lived for a year and a half at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India—paralleling the book’s protagonist, an American also named Michael.

In other words, the man is a seeker of The Truth, the elusive kind that lies mostly under the surface of tangible reality. Golf in the Kingdomreflects this quest. In fact, as I see it, this is less a golf book than a clever lecture on theEastern mystics’ view of the human condition in contrast to the Western mind’s more “just the facts” take. After all, a scant 20 pages is devoted to playing the game (in broad daylight, at least) at the fictional Burningbush Golf Club.

Writer's Cramp? -- Apparently, this is what happens to your handwriting when you sell a million books and are asked to autograph a bunch of them.

Murphy is preaching here. How you receive his homily depends largely on whether or not you’re in the New Age choir. Many, including some of my more grounded Scottish friends, think it’s an incomprehensible mess. I’m far less dismissive than that. There’s much to be gained here, especially if you approach the game from an Inner Game of Golf and/or Extraordinary Golf perspective, which I do.

It's just that the story bears little resemblance to playing golf in Scotland, at least as I’ve personally experienced it.

How does it read?

At just over 200 pages total, this is no tome—especially when you consider that the narrative (Part I) is only 124 pages long. That’s not to say it’s a quick beach read, however. Far from it. Murphy packs a lot of big ideas into a small space. I frequently find myself reading and rereading key passages, attempting to grasp what he’s trying to say before moving on.

Also, other than the fictional Michael, the rest of the characters are Scottish. Murphy offers their dialogue in the local brogue, which can tend to interrupt the flow of the story. But the overall effect would have suffered greatly if he hadn’t written it this way. It’s worth the extra effort to dial in the sound of their voices. Consider it training for when you go/return to Scotland and converse with the real McCoys.

Where can I buy it?

More than 40 years later, it’s still very much in print—so clearly Murphy has struck a chord that resonates. The easy answer: just click here to order it on Amazon.

Is it worth the price?

With paperback editions going for as little as $10, absolutely! If you love golf—especially the links variety—and have a wee bit of the truth seeker in you, then reading and attempting to decipher this book is a must.

One additional note: A recent movie of the same name had a very limited run in theaters and is now available on DVD. As much as I’d love to recommend it, too, I simply can’t. To self plagiarize a line from above, it truly is an incomprehensible mess.

Overall Rating (Ace high to Double-Bogey low): Eagle

Scotland Bound: I’m headed to the auld country…for two months!

Scotland Bound: I’m headed to the auld country…for two months!

Machrihanish: Worth whatever it takes to get there, and a whole lot more

Machrihanish: Worth whatever it takes to get there, and a whole lot more