Review: The Long Golden Afternoon: Golf’s Age of Glory

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Stephen Proctor’s The Long Golden Afternoon: Golf’s Age of Glory 1864-1914 is a book I recently read and breezed through with relative ease. Overall, the book serves a useful demographic, that of the “lukewarm-history buff,” which, in regards to 19th and close turn-of-the-century Scottish golf, I consider myself to be. 

The hardcore history buff – a person, for example, who can riff off all of Young Tom Morris’ victories, and which clubs he used in each and by whom they were built – is not likely to learn anything new from it. Yet, there is enough innate narrative intrigue and enough background information provided so that the novice can still orient himself, enjoy it, and learn from it. 

This volume follows Mr. Proctor’s similarly acclaimed account of Young Tom Morris’ tremendous career and tragic fate, Monarch of the Green: Young Tom Morris: Pioneer of Modern Golf, which was published in 2021. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan on doing so this winter. 

Photo Courtesy: Birlinn Ltd

In the effective sequel, Mr. Proctor relies upon a few threads to move the narrative forward from the birth of the Open Championship to the First World War: the rivalry between Brits and Scots; between amateurs and professionals; and, eventually, between old world and new world. 

Overall, he does an admirable job of balancing some of the more tedious background or secondary information – the kind which can often bog down historical surveys of this kind – with the more dramatic and, for most, interesting scenes of the various early Open Championships. The historical greats of the game, on the whole, are fully formed and fleshed in the work, rendered as characters rather than mere historical figures. On the whole, the book reads more as a novel than as a historical survey, a compliment. 

The back-jacket of the book (photo courtesy: amazon)

However, at times, I wish Mr. Proctor would have put more faith in himself as a storyteller or author rather than as a historian or researcher, opting to recount the scenes from his own hand rather than defer so often to historical sources and newspaper accounts, which makes the book a tad tedious at times towards the end. Moreover, I wish Mr. Proctor would have expanded his foci a little more, going beyond the links, in order to more convincingly explore the effects upon the burgeoning sport brought about by the tremendous social and technological developments of the bustling late-Victorian period. Like too much of the sport’s literature, the golf, in Mr. Proctor’s account of it, comes across as being too insular, as essentially detached from wider culture. 

These quips aside, this is nevertheless a worthy effort and is well worth a read.


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