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A Century of Golf Books: Best Lessons from Each Decade

century of golf books

Over the past century, golf instruction books have aimed to help golfers improve their games by imparting wisdom from the sport’s legends. From Bobby Jones in the 1920s to Tiger Woods in the 2000s, these books provide invaluable lessons on golf fundamentals, course strategy, and the mental game. Offering more than just techniques—they encapsulate a legacy of wisdom passed from one generation to the next.

Looking back at some of the most influential golf instruction books published in the last 100 years, we can see how the keys to a good golf game have evolved yet remained grounded in core principles. These texts serve as a testament to the enduring nature of golf’s core principles, as well as a reflection of how the game mirrors life’s broader lessons.

By delving into a handpicked selection of these literary gems—one from each decade—we not only sharpen our game but also connect with the rich tapestry of golf’s history and the universal truths hidden within its practice.

Let’s examine the timeless tips and techniques from these classics of golf literature, with one selection from each decade. Before we start, don’t forget to check out some of our past posts and curated Golf Book / Audiobook lists:

golf books generations

100 Years of Golf Books: Our List

1920’sBobby Jones on Golf
by Bobby Jones (1927)

Summary: Bobby Jones on Golf compiles wisdom from the legendary golfer on grip, stance, swing technique, shot-making, and course management. Jones advocates developing a smooth, rhythmic swing by learning to “swing easy” and not overpower the club. He provides shotmaking tips for the draw, fade, punch, and chip, advising golfers to work the ball. Jones also shares his mental approach, stressing patience, carefree confidence, and enjoyment of golf for its own sake. The book focuses on sound fundamentals, clever strategy, and the mindset that Jones believes leads to peak performance.

1930’s – Ernest Jones Swing the Clubhead Method
by Ernest Jones (revised 1930)

Summary: Ernest Jones’ 1922 and 1930 golf instruction book focuses on coordinating the motion of the body to develop an efficient, compact golf swing. Jones emphasizes keeping the wrists firm, maintaining proper posture, and clearing the hips through impact. The book uses photographs and drills to teach ideal positions in the takeaway, backswing, downswing, and follow-through. Jones advocates swinging smoothly in rhythm, letting the clubhead accelerate naturally rather than using pure muscular power. This technical guide provides step-by-step lessons on building sound fundamentals into an effective, repeating golf swing.

1940’s – Power Golf
by Ben Hogan (1948)

Summary: Ben Hogan’s instructional book “Power Golf” provides step-by-step lessons on building a powerful, repeating golf swing through proper technique. Hogan breaks down the full swing into grip, stance, backswing, downswing, and follow-through, advising golfers to practice each part of the motion individually. He advocates generating power not through brute strength but by coordinating the proper sequence of movements from arms, shoulders, hips, and legs. With a focus on fundamentals over stylistic form, Hogan believes any golfer can develop a consistent, effective swing by mastering key positions and motions outlined in the book. The core message is that solid mechanics lead to power and control in the golf swing.

1950’s – Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf
by Ben Hogan (1957)

Summary: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” is a classic that outlines his building blocks of winning golf. The book focuses on the five fundamentals Hogan believed were essential to a powerful and accurate golf swing. Each chapter of the book explains and demonstrates a different fundamental with clear illustrations, making it easier for readers to visualize the proper techniques and positions. The book has endured the test of time and is still relevant today.

1960’s – The Search for the Perfect Swing
by Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs (1962)

Summary: Using photographs of 23 top professional golfers, Cochran and Stobbs analyze differences in grips, stances, and backswings in this 1968 instructional book. The authors encourage golfers to find what works best for their body type and abilities rather than conforming to a single ideal set of positions. They focus more on swing principles like rhythm, balance, and coordination rather than demanding golfers copy specific techniques. With a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach, the book argues there is no one perfect swing, and players should develop a style matched to their strengths. The Search for the Perfect Swing emphasizes that sound mechanics differ between players, and success comes from applying core principles correctly.

Personal Note: Any time someone asks for a book recommendation, this is the one I give them. I have spent countless hours with this book over the years. After my first read, I developed a predilection for center-shafted putters that has continued to this day.

1970’s – Golf My Way
by Jack Nicklaus (1974)

Summary: Golf My Way provides a comprehensive overview of Jack Nicklaus’s approach to every aspect of the game, from swing fundamentals to course management to the mental side of golf. Nicklaus explains his unorthodox upright swing in detail, advising golfers to develop a technique matched to their natural abilities rather than copy a rigid model. He shares wisdom on shot selection, practice routines, concentration techniques, and strategically playing to one’s strengths on each golf course. While some advice is outdated, Nicklaus imparts timeless golf insights on work ethic, confidence, and optimizing performance under pressure. Golf My Way offers a fascinating look inside the mind and methods of one of history’s greatest golfers.

1980’s – The Inner Game of Golf
by W. Timothy Gallwey (1981)

Summary: The Inner Game of Golf applies Gallwey’s “inner game” principles of mental coaching to golf, providing strategies to overcome nerves, build confidence, and achieve optimal performance. Gallwey advocates clearing the mind of technical thoughts, focusing energy on the target, and trusting instincts to play freely without self-judgment. With simple yet profound advice on visualization, concentration, and overcoming interference from the conscious mind, Gallwey believes any golfer can access their best golf by getting out of their way. The Inner Game of Golf keeps instruction uncomplicated, emphasizing feel over mechanics and liberating one’s true potential by quieting the ego and negative self-talk. This classic book on the mental side of golf has helped countless players overcome anxiety, play instinctively, and enjoy the game to its fullest.

1990’s – Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons And Teachings From A Lifetime In Golf
by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake (1992)

Summary: Dubbed the “golf world’s ultimate manual,” Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book is a treasure trove of wisdom from one of the game’s greatest teachers. Unlike most golf guides focusing solely on the mechanics, Penick’s masterpiece delves into the nuances that make golf more than just a game. This audiobook serves up a lifetime of lessons in golf’s mental and strategic aspects.

Penick’s sage advice isn’t just about hitting the ball; it’s about playing the game as a game. From how to stay focused on a bad day to the art of the short game, you’re getting knowledge that comes from a lifetime in golf. If you’re in the business of refining your mental edge on the golf course, this audiobook is a must-listen. So, grab your earbuds, head to your favorite practice spot, and let Penick elevate your game.

2000’s – How I Play Golf
by Tiger Woods (2001)

Summary: In his instructional book, Woods reveals the physical, mental, and emotional techniques behind his golf mastery. From proper grip and swing mechanics to training regimen and focus.  Blending golf strategy with philosophical insights, Woods aims to help readers improve their game by adopting his meticulous, disciplined approach to practice and competition. While few can match his skill, Woods believes anyone can benefit from his strategic insights and methods for mental toughness, making “How I Play Golf” an invaluable resource for golfers of all levels. With detailed lessons and personal anecdotes, this book provides a comprehensive look at the record-shattering methods of one of history’s greatest golfers.

2010’s – The Plane Truth for Golfers: Master Class
by Jim Hardy (2012)

Summary: Jim Hardy’s instructional book The Plane Truth for Golfers classifies all golf swings into “one plane” or “two plane” motions and provides tips for correcting common errors based on a golfer’s swing plane. Hardy identifies proper setup positions, backswing motions, and downswing sequences for each swing plane, using tour player examples and video analysis to illustrate proper mechanics. The book includes Hardy’s theory of two distinct release moves – “late wrist set” and “rolling release” – corresponding to one plane and two plane swings, respectively. With a customized approach focused on individual swing characteristics, Hardy’s system aims to build an efficient, repeating golf swing tailored to a player’s natural abilities and swing plane. The Plane Truth for Golfers provides an insightful new paradigm for analyzing and improving any golfer’s swing technique.

2020’s – The Four Foundations of Golf
by Jon Sherman (2022)

Summary: Elevate your golf game by mastering the four foundations outlined by John Sherman. This transformative audiobook covers:

  1. Manage Expectations: Master setting realistic goals and understanding the scoring system. It will improve your golf game and increase your happiness.
  2. Strategy: Strategic thinking is essential in golf. Use a framework to select the best targets for each club and improve your score.
  3. Practice: Receive detailed, step-by-step guidance to enhance your skills and seamlessly transition from range practice to the course. Improve your swing without fixating on technique.
  4. The Mental Game: Mental techniques like staying calm, building routines, and being confident can help golfers improve their performance.

You can visit Jon’s website at PracticalGolf.com for more.

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