Apr 13, 2017

Old York at Chesterfield member turns golf passion into (many) pages

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Fifty-two years, zero books published.

Two years, two books published. Quite a turnaround for golf enthusiast John Sabino.

The Old York Country Club at Chesterfield member released “How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs” in 2016. His latest, “Golf’s Iron Horse,” hit shelves in February.

“I just love the game,” Sabino, 53, of Princeton Junction, N.J., said. “The first book I did to sort of give back. This one [came about because] I just like the history of the game. I sort of got pulled into it as I was researching. The stuff I found in terms of golf history that is starting to be forgotten, to me, is interesting to dig into.”

By day, Sabino is more of a numbers guy. He’s worked in the financial service industry for 30 years.

A gift some 12 years ago brought Sabino into the words realm. Sabino received a pegboard that ranked the Top 100 golf courses. He already crossed 20 off the list; the other 80, he thought, may be worth a try. During his course quest, Sabino documented each experience via his blog, Playing the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World.

“Originally, [the blog] was just to keep track of the trips with my friends. We’d come back from playing in Ireland or Scotland somewhere. It was a way to remember the trips,” he said. “It started to get a decent amount of readers, and at some point, halfway thru, I started to get more serious about it. I took more pictures, did more research on the courses.”

Skyhorse Publishing caught wind of the blog and asked Sabino about turning online thoughts into hardcover copy.

“Originally I wasn’t all that interested because I don’t think people care about my rounds of golf. But [Skyhorse] said, ‘Do it as a how-to book,’” Sabino said. “The actual writing took less than a year because I went through and had a lot of the underlying information. I just had to reformat it a little bit.”

“How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs,” as the title suggests, guides readers through the gates of pristine destinations such as Augusta National, Muirfield, Pine Valley and more. Yes, actually setting foot on each of the world’s Top 100 golf courses is as difficult as it sounds. Sabino certainly encountered his share of roadblocks along the way.

“[Getting access to courses in] Japan and France was difficult because of the language barrier,” he said. “Some of these clubs that don’t have a lot of members, like Chicago Golf Club and Cypress Point, were very difficult. It took a while to find members. I played nine holes at Oakmont, and then there was a massive thunderstorm. They closed the course. The pro there was really nice to invite us back to play later in the year. I did play in rain quite a few times.”

With those challenges came personal lessons learned as “How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs” took form.

“I’m more resilient than I thought,” Sabino said. “I actually didn’t think I’d play the Top 100 just because it’s very difficult to make connections.”

Sabino also learned of Ralph Kennedy, a founding member of Winged Foot Golf Club, during the research process.

“I went to the USGA headquarters quite a bit. I was pulling scorecards and talking to one of the librarians, and she showed me who they came from,” Sabino said. “They came from Ralph Kennedy, who played 3,165 different golf courses around the world. He kept a scrapbook of what he did and donated that, plus all 3,165 cards, to the USGA. I just started looking through this treasure trove of stuff.”

What Sabino found inspired the telling of Kennedy’s story through “Golf’s Iron Horse.” Kennedy, a textbook illustration of an avid golfer, began his course quest after meeting Charles Leonard Fletcher in 1919. When Fletcher informed Kennedy that he played more than 240 courses in his lifetime, Kennedy perceived it as a challenge. Between 1911 and 1953, Kennedy played more than 3,165 different courses in 48 states, nine Canadian provinces and more than a dozen countries. Such a feat that prompted the New York Sun to declare him “golf’s Lou Gehrig” in 1935.

“One of the intriguing things is he did this in a difficult era compared to today, where you can Google things or use GPS. He took trains or taxis to most of the courses he played, and he would walk,” Sabino said. “Another thing that intrigued me is the access he was able to get. He played Augusta three months after it opened. He played most of the top courses in the country.”

Leave it to Kennedy’s biographer to follow suit. Sabino admires Kennedy’s dedication and love of the game.

“He would go out of his way to play all types of places,” Sabino said. “He’d play nine-hole courses that played sand greens. He didn’t care. He would play five to six courses in a day. He took it to a whole other level. One thing that struck me was his stamina. He played into his 70s and never seemed to slow down. At my age, I’m starting to slow down. The iron horse name was a good one for him.”

“How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs” is available on Amazon. All proceeds will primarily go toward the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Sabino said. “Golf’s Iron Horse” is also available for online purchase via retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Retail price ranges from $13.99 to $18.99.

Could a third Sabino book arrive in 2018?

“An idea has to just hit you and really be compelling,” he said. “I don’t have anything cooking right now but if something stumbles across my desk or I find something really interesting, I haven’t dismissed the idea.”

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