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Monday, December 30, 2019

THRILLING GOLF


THRILLING GOLF!
STORIES FROM THE SPORTS PULPS
This was where he belonged, he knew – on sudden-death green, with a putt, a prayer—and an impossible par to bust for a dewbird’s last challenge—or a champion’s blazing round!
Par Buster by W. H. Temple,
Sports Novels Magazine—July, 1950

Exploding out of sand traps filled with purple prose, the action packed golf stories of the early sports pulps enraptured readers for over thirty years. From the late-twenties to the mid-fifties, these short melodramas, complimented by over-the-top teasers invariably ending with an exclamation point, are the inspired ancestors of today’s golf fictioneers. However, along with all genres of pulp magazines, the once widely popular sports pulps have long been extinct.

Paperbacks and hardcovers, of course, have more than adequately filled the fiction void left behind by the pulps. And, within these modern tomes, sports-centric genre fiction continues to find a wide audience.

Prior to the millennium, baseball dominated the pantheon of sports novels. In the eighties, football rightfully took over the silver medal position. Boxing stories, track tales, hockey yarns, and even basketball novels were forced to trail far behind. What the purveyors of baseball and football fiction failed to notice was the competitor coming up on their arrogant blind side. Mirroring the explosion of golf’s public popularity, the post 2000 output of fictional links and fairways dramas was threatening to snatch the sport fiction crown.

The once immortal edict from baseball’s Field of Dreamsbuild it and they will come—had changed to, write it with a fairway, a bunker, a hole, and a flagstick, and readers will flock to its pages. Today, Hardbellies, The Green, The Foursome, Scratch, Missing Links, The Big Tour, and uncountable other golf novels have found fans in ever increasing numbers.

Mystery novels employing golf as a background are becoming an epidemic. Cut-Shot, Take Dead Aim, Deadly Divots, and Final Round, are only four entries in the birdies-and-murder sweepstakes, which has a documented history of over six hundred titles.

One stroke down to destiny, he faced a hundred
invincible opponents—the phantoms of golfdom’s great,who mocked him, ‘Any fairway bum can give hisall for a legend, are you champ enough to be one?
Heartbreak Fairway by Roney Scott
Sports Novels Magazine—May, 1950

The success of early mythical golf tales such as The Legend of Bagger Vance, Golf in the Kingdom, or The Greatest Player Who Never Was, was matched by rude-and-raucous golf novels, which can all trace their conception back to Dan Jenkins’ seminal—and hilarious—Dead Solid Perfect.

All of these novels, however, still owe their existence to the overly dramatic, yet extremely readable golf yarns from the now forgotten pages of the sports pulps.  Monthly publications of such titles as Street & Smith’s Sport Story Magazine, Fictioneers’ Sports Novels Magazine, Popular Publications’ Dime Sports, and over fifty other sports specific pulps enthralled the nation from the late 20s until the death of the entire pulp genre in the mid-50’s—passing quietly away as the result of a fatal dose of television.

Produced on cheap pulp paper with ragged edges, their covers exploding with primary colors, the sports pulps blew off the newsstand shelves in record numbers. Readers willingly parted with small change to be thrilled by stories of comeback teams, championship drives against all odds, underdog competitors, and big game finales. While many of the stories were traditional sports tales, the hyped-up teaser to each story always promised high drama and deadly consequences.

He was a never-guy par-buster who couldn’t find himself, or the greens, until a links king called for a showdown to carve outa better man’s glory—or snuf out a has-been’s comeback!
Tee-Off Terror by Giles Lutz
New Sports—December, 1948

Unlike their some of their contemporaries, the sports pulps have been almost lost to the public consciousness. By comparison, the history of the better known and highly collectible hardboiled detective pulps—such as Black Mask, Dime Detective, Phantom Detective, and a hundred others—has been meticulously documented. The same collectability and documentation has been applied to the adventures of such pulp heroes as The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, and dozens more.

Pulp collectors have driven the prices of original issues from these genres into the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars. Collector interest has also produced numerous reprints, especially for early stories written by icons such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Louis L’Amour, Giles Lutz, Max Brand, Robert H. Howard, and John D. MacDonald—all of whom started out being paid by the word in the pulps.

There were pulps produced for every interest imaginable. Aside from detectives and heroes, the sports pulps also battled Western pulps, romance pulps, war pulps, flying pulps, and hundreds of other genres for the reader’s attention. At the height of their popularity, there were over six hundred individual pulp titles produced monthly—approximately fifty of which were dedicated solely to sports fiction.

Golf in the pulps started as a difficult sell. Bringing the inherent, overblown drama needed to write tantalizing stories was easier with a baseball or football setting. Golf with its slower pace and lack of physical confrontation was not tailor-made fictional fodder. Gradually, however, tales drawing their suspense from both the inner game of golf and the tension of tournament play began appearing.

When the field is knotted and the birdies are hard to find,and you stand at the last windswept tee with only one more par between you and golfdom’s greatest crown,you can remember, ‘You can lick any bad break in the world, bub, but you gotta lick yourself first!’
Par Buster by Theodor J. Roemer
Sports Novels Magazine—October, 1941

2 comments:

  1. And you probably should mention that "Roney Scott" was William Campbell Gault...perhaps the most honored of the sports fiction writers in the latter pulp era, and who wrote a lot more crime fiction after the YA sports novel market, which he moved into after the pulps folded and there were few reliable magazine sports fiction markets, also dried up after the mid-'60s or so...

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  2. I suggest that, particularly as so many of the pulp publishers were moving into paperback publishing, paperbacks and to a limited extent digest-sized fiction magazines basically killed the pulps, as the smaller formats were less awkward to distribute and for the purchaser to store, if so inclined--even though the digests were easier to overlook on newsstands...and the books didn't Quite have the same short shelf life as the magazines, at least potentially (though they shared mostly the same distributors, and as late as the '70s, a Whole Lot of paperbacks had damned well better connect with their audiences in the first week or so of being on the spinner racks, when most of them were sold in the drugstores and such).

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