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“The Caddie who Played with Hickory” Book Review

Jul. 15, 2008     By     Comments (3)

John Coyne weaves a tale about golf, love and the pursuit of your dreams that might just make your "must read" list.

Book CoverThe Caddie who Played with Hickory is the newest novel written by John Coyne, author of over 20 books of fiction and non-fiction.

As a former caddie, Mr. Coyne is able to share his experiences of how the caddie system worked at a country club and how caddies of the mid-1900s interacted with the members.

This knowledge is woven into the story of a boy who is just graduating from high school and is trying to determine what to do with his life. For the time being, he's content to caddie and play golf. What happens in the summer of 1946 changes his life forever.

The novel takes place in the post-war Midwest during the summer of 1946 at Midlothian Country Club. This story is told by the main character, Tommy O'Shea, as he looks back at that summer when his life changed dramatically.

Tommy O'Shea is a farm kid who graduated from high school earlier in the spring and is trying to figure out what to do with his life in post-war America. After seven years of caddying, Tom has become the #1 caddie at Midlothian and quite an accomplished golfer as well. His only dream is to caddie for Walter Hagen, returning that summer to Midlothain to play a match to commemorate his U.S. Open win there in 1914.

That all changes when a mysterious stranger, Harrison Cornell, a World War II vet and POW suddenly appears and begins to tutor Tommy on not only the game of golf but also on life, love, and the pursuit of one's dreams. What Tommy later finds out is that Harrison has a past history with Walter Hagen and that is what drives Harrison to teach Tommy to play with hickory-shafted clubs.

The story in offers some fascinating glimpses of what country club life may have been like for both the members and all the behind-the-scenes help that made Midlothian run during the 1940s. You can feel the undertones of tension between the two classes of people who occupy Midlothian: the members and the hired help who help run the country club. While the members enjoy the spoils of the good life, the hired help daily worked on a tightrope where one false move meant swift judgment and banishment from Midlothian.

Offering some mystery, the beginnings of a love story, and of course some great golf shots featuring Tommy, Walter Hagen, and a small host of others, I often found myself finishing a chapter only to decide, "I need to find out what happens next!" so I would continue, which was why I knocked out the book in three days.

As to what happens next, well, go buy the book to find out.

Historical References
What makes the story really stand out is the amount of historical references about tournaments, equipment, and players that Mr. Coyne worked in. Quite often, I would find myself putting the book down and doing an online search so I could learn more about the history behind the story (as well as to find some great books on Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, etc.). So I was able to learn a bit about "Long Jim" Barnes, Joe Kirkwood, Chick Evans, being stymied, how hickory clubs were made and the differences in which one had to swing them compared to the steel-shafted irons we play today.

So while the book is a novel, it also ended up being for me a historical guide that led me to explore the history of golf and the cast of characters who shaped the game of the early to mid 1900s.

The Caddie Who Played With Hickory is a good novel that will not only grab you and not let go until you finish but also may lead you down the path of exploring the history of golf. It's a tale of not only a golf match but also of life and love, the choices we make and the dreams we share.

While golfers will like this book for the golf matches and the historical references, the story will also captivate any reader who enjoys a good tale. One doesn't have to like golf to like this book however if you do like golf, it might give you a greater appreciation for those who shaped the early history of this grand game.


  1. shortgame85 says:

    Well presented, Alan. You have whetted my appetite for this book.

  2. John Coyne says:

    Alan--as the author of this novel, I think you are a genius! Many thanks. I'm thrilled you enjoyed the novel. John

  3. Marty Burns says:

    I've read Coyne's earlier "Ben Hogan" novel; great story, and, as the reviewer points out, fascinating historical stuff on the game...I bought the novel as a gift for golf playing friends & family and will likely do the same with this one....

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