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Hitting the Links from Your Living Room

By Karin Pekarchik It happens every spring: A seemingly endless stream of golf books enters bookstores, to be eagerly browsed by devotees of the mystical but maddeningly elusive game. This season's fare offers everything from the handsome coffee-table looks of The Ultimate Golf Book to the scientific explanations of Newton on the Tee. All will doubtless become dog-eared as summer unfolds.

So, now that the U.S. Open (and another victory by Tiger Woods) has officially signaled the beginning of summer for golfers, here's a look at four of the better books. Caution: They're as varied in approach and style as are golfers themselves.

BIG HIT. Let's start with the undeniably striking The Ultimate Golf Book (edited by Charles McGrath and David McCormick, historical text by John Garrity, Houghton Mifflin, 258 pages). The oversize beauty delivers the goods in almost every way. Its mix of gorgeous pictures, fascinating historical text, and personal musings from a variety of talented writers will delight golfers of all stripes.

There's nothing spoiled about this good walk down golf's familiar byways. The introduction describes coffee-table books as "golf's equivalent to porno," and it seems fitting for this particular work, though it's the kind of titillation that actually encourages users to read the text as well as look at the pictures. And that's good, because the book tackles some of the long-hushed unmentionables of the sport: the difficulties faced by women and blacks, and the rise in the importance of TV in shaping the game, for example.

Other chapters cover what golf is like in other countries, such as Japan, and, of course, the wonder that is Tiger Woods. All in all, this handsome hardcover is lovely to have lying around -- inviting to look at and interesting to read.

GETTING TECHNICAL. John Zumerchik's Newton on the Tee: A Good Walk Through the Science of Golf (Simon & Schuster, 239 pages) is wholly different. It's the type of book you read for wisdom, rather than for sheer entertainment. At the same time, it's easy to picture your own swing motions as you slowly digest Zumerchik's methodical explanation of why the little white ball behaves the way it does.

This one is definitely for golfers interested in engineering a better swing. It fully explains technical aspects of golf, such as how swing power relies on maximizing momentum and acceleration, using both baseball and boxing analogies to drive the lessons home. "Superior putting, chipping, and iron play can all be cultivated with practice," Zumerchik writes, "but the power game largely relies on exploiting physical gifts."

Under his tutelage, you'll understand how best to use these physical components when you next hit the links. The lessons will likely stay with you, too.

A YEAR TO REMEMBER. Tour '72 (Hyperion, 272 pages), by veteran golf writer Michael D'Antonio, focuses on 1972, a memorable year on the PGA tour -- when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player all fiercely battled for honors, money, and titles. The year was also fascinating for the slice of American history it provides, brought to life through D'Antonio's vivid prose. "Of course, sports does not live in isolation, and it's important to note that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, America endured tumultuous social change," he writes.

Through the microcosm of golf, D'Antonio explores the tensions of the time, from Vietnam to the emergence of the Mexican-American Trevino as a full-fledged golf superstar and Player's struggle to distance himself from the issue of apartheid in his native South Africa. Plus, D'Antonio weaves in the rise of the Zen of Golf, exploring such topics as Nicklaus' early use of what would eventually be referred to as visualization to prepare for competition. Today, visualization is a given on the tour. Just ask Tiger.

A Pulitzer Prize winner, D'Antonio knows how to write a page-turner. Even those who don't love golf will enjoy.

WHERE IT BEGAN. Then there's Oakhurst: The Birth and Rebirth of America's First Golf Course (Walker & Co., 192 pages) by Paula DiPerna and Vikki Keller. This slim volume covers the tale of West Virginia's Oakhurst Links, the country's first course. The authors' job is twofold: telling the charming tale of golf's start in Scotland and its spread to America, and the impetus behind this legendary course's loving restoration, where a "modern player can now experience the scale, dimensions, and feel of the game at the beginning of its American history."

It's a quick read, and, at $23, an old-fashioned bargain at a time when a single driver can easily cost $300, an 18-hole round can run $160, and players get multimillion-dollar sponsorships.

A final note: I don't play golf, and I don't like golf, but I really liked these books. You might want to give them a try.

The Ultimate Golf Book: A History and A Celebration of the World's Greatest Game

Edited by Charles McGrath and David McCormick, historical text by John Garrity

(Houghton Mifflin, $40, 258 pages, publication date Apr. 9)

Newton on the Tee: A Good Walk Through the Science of Golf

By John Zumerchik

(Simon & Schuster, $23, 239 pages, publication date June 3)

Tour '72

By Michael D'Antonio

(Hyperion, $24.95, 272 pages, publication date May)

Oakhurst: The Birth and Rebirth of America's First Golf Course

By Paula DiPerna and Vikki Keller

(Walker & Co., $23, 192 pages, publication date May) Pekarchik is a BusinessWeek Online contributing correspondent

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