Hearing his name shouted from the starter's booth, Broadway Books publisher Bill Shinker grabs his bag of clubs and begins to walk toward the first tee on a course that extends for four miles. Without breaking stride, he looks over his shoulder just long enough to say to his guest, "What do you say we walk the course today?" Damn.
Bill Shinker is a golf nut. A fanatic. A zealot. A purist. One thing he's not, though, is alone. While Shinker publishes golf books partly out of his love of the game, he no doubt foresees healthy sales of several golf-themed releases that are coming to stores this fall, thanks to hordes of fellow aficionados who will give and receive the books as holiday gifts.
"The maxim with sports books is: 'The smaller the ball, the better the book sells,'" Shinker said. "Golf is at the top of the list, followed by baseball, and that's no coincidence -- both have celebrated histories and long-established literary traditions. Golf's g s back 100 years, and its following is stronger today than ever."
The most notable tome Broadway will release is Michael Murphy's The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, the long-awaited sequel to Golf in the Kingdom, which is more than a quarter-century old and has sold some 750,000 copies. The new installment, on sale September 15, finds the author once again trekking over ancient Scottish linksland, this time to investigate reports of others' encounters with Shivas Irons. A mystical character who appears only to a chosen few, Shivas visited Esalen Institute founder Murphy 30 years earlier to teach him the connections between the seductive game and the truths about life, passion and human potential.
Having been captivated by Golf in the Kingdom when it was first published in 1973, Shinker vowed to be involved with the follow-up project the moment, two years ago, when he heard that Murphy sought to continue the story and in fact won the book away from original publisher Viking with a substantial bid. Shinker also joined the Shivas Irons Society and has traveled with the group to Scotland, where members can commune with the source of Murphy's inspiration and connect with the game's roots by playing over the oldest courses in the world.
But is The Kingdom of Shivas Irons a book on mysticism or a book on golf? "You can walk into any sports bookstore and find Golf in the Kingdom, and you can go into a New Age or metaphysical bookstore and find it there, too," Shinker said. "The appeal of these two books g s beyond either genre, and the fact that Golf in the Kingdom sells more copies with each passing year says something about the broad popularity that the sequel should have." Shinker plans a 250,000 first printing and an ambitious $200,000 marketing campaign, which will include a 13-city author tour and a tie-in event at the Shivas Irons Society's annual Games of the Links, to be held at the end of September at famed Blackwolf Run course in Wisconsin, where members are likely to play the game with old-fashioned hickory clubs and feather balls. Viking will support the effort with a special 25th-anniversary Penguin edition of Golf in the Kingdom.
Shinker has more golf books in his bag, including a biography of Byron Nelson due this fall. But on this exceptionally hot summer day, when Shinker ambles gleefully over well-manicured expanses, any work-related concerns are far from his mind.
"You have to concentrate to play well, so you can't go thinking about your problems at work or at home," he said while sizing up a six-foot putt. "It'll ruin your game for sure." And for Shinker, that's no fun at all.