Cara Kilgallen reviews the new release of The Golfer's Wife: from Birdies to Quadruple Bogies and the Rough In Between by Janet Thompson
This clever craft of creative nonfiction appeals to a growing golf audience, as well as to a wider reading public seeking valuable life lessons beyond the course. Author and amateur golfer Janet Thompson sets out to write a nonfiction narrative that blends biography with her own autobiographical account of learning the game to appease her husband. Resigned to the fact that Steve’s obsession for golf is unyielding, Thompson becomes resolved to share in his passionate pastime. Through this notable memoir, she hopes to inspire other women to do the same: “I hope it makes a difference in other golf spouses’ love/less-than-love relationship with the game and, beyond that, entertains both the golfer and non-golfer” (2). Entertaining and engaging, The Golfer’s Wife provides a very welcome read especially in light of an increasingly troubled world that could benefit from some healing.
Thompson’s light-hearted book contains a series of golf narratives told from the perspective of women, all wives of players (both professional and recreational). Interspersed with advice on marriage, parenting, family, and friendship, The Golfer’s Wife alternates between the author’s experiences as a golfing spouse and her interviews with wives to professional golfers. The narration shifts back and forth between first person point of view and third-person perspective. Following her introductory chapter on “Why I Play” (1-12), Thompson spends much of her story sharing the lives of elite golfers’ wives: Ellie Day (13-20); Lisa Lye (37-52); Jan Jacobsen (73-87); Mandy Snedeker (111-124); Stacy Hoffman (139-149); Sarah Strange (177-196); and Kristy Weibring (203-218). These wonderful women are not merely supportive wives, but also inspiring human beings who have pledged to make a difference in the world.
Over the past twenty years or so, the game has become more accessible and affordable to players from wider walks of life; however, there is still a long way to go. Like the professional golfers’ wives whom she interviews, Thompson voices her commitment to give back through golf and in a world beyond the links. The author selects stories about inspiring women, and her pledge to provide the book’s proceeds to their chosen charities is admirable. The Jacobson Youth Initiative, for example, empowers younger folks to learn the game and develop fundamental life skills in the process (222). Furthermore, the Brandt and Mandy Snedeker Foundation promotes athletic and recreational opportunities for underprivileged youth.
As an author of her own story, as well as a character within it, Thompson expresses passion for family, friendship, and the game of golf. Toward the end of her chapter on mothers and daughters, Thompson affirms that “family is a top priority” (201), and golf goes a long way to secure this more treasured bond. As a reader, however, I would love to see smoother transitions between sections and stories. How does “Living Like a Celebrity” (chapter nine) lead us into “Male Bonding” (chapter ten), for example? As a contrast, the fourteenth chapter on “Being a Golfer’s Wife” follows quite clearly from the thirteenth, which focuses on the relationship between mothers and daughters. Thompson’s collection of material is vast and impressive, but the connections between accounts are not always apparent. A more explicit roadmap for readers would thus go a very long way here.
The focus on female experiences with the game is unique and original, particularly since women’s writing on golf is not abundant. Female voices are significant, and their experience on the links deserve recognition within literature. The Golfer’s Wife, however, would be enhanced by a consideration of somewhat more diverse experiences. Why not include a story about a working woman who takes up the game in between shifts at the course? How about a single mother who teaches her child to play on a public course? Thompson could have included and incorporated such stories, or at least accounts of golfers from wider walks of life. This is not to say that the perspectives here are not enlightening or worthwhile; the section on “Caddies” is particularly intriguing as it explores a unique component to the game: for many, golf is leisure, but for countless others a day on the links is labor.
Including more female voices could enrich and enliven the book, as would some revisions in relation to style and form. Thompson’s book contains such a high level of detail, some of which seems extraneous, so more showing and less telling would work well. For example, when the author writes about joining the ladies’ leagues, she could weave in more imagery and descriptive language to write about her friends and fellow golfers. The Golfer’s Wife certainly improves as it progresses, however, and the humor becomes less forced and more natural toward the middle to end of this narrative. The Golfer’s Wife is overall an accessible book, and the author’s beautiful character shines through its pages.
Thompson, Janet. The Golfer's Wife: from Birdies to Quadruple Bogies and the Rough In Between. 185 pp. $26.95 US / $33.00 CAN Amplify Publishing
Cara Erdheim Kilgallen is an Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of Languages & Literature at Sacred Heart University.