Interview with golf author Byron Kalies

Tenby golf

 

A few weeks ago, I put together a list of the best golf blogs you can find online, and one of them was a the website of golf author and indeed golfing author Byron Kalies – who has written for a number of publications including Golf International and Cambria Magazine.

Byron KaliesByron has golfed his way around some of the finest courses in Wales, and documented the adventure in his book, Tenby to Celtic Manor: A History of Golf in Wales. Even his fiction has golf running through its veins. His latest novel, It’s About a Murder, Cariad, is about a private investigator  unravelling the mysteries of a murder in Mynydd Eimon, a village defined by golf and religion.

It brings me great pleasure to bring you the first in what will hopefully be a series of interviews with golfing enthusiasts offering different insights into the beautiful game.

How did you get into golf?

I didn’t play golf until I was in my early thirties. Golf wasn’t a sport for the likes of us working class kids growing up in the Welsh valleys in the 60s and 70s. I woke up one Sunday morning after a particularly tough rugby match playing for Cefn Fforest Rugby Club, against local rivals, Markham and decided that I was too old for this. I was aching everywhere.  The only decision I had, after this momentous one was – what do I do on a Saturday afternoons? A friend of mine was married to a girl whose father had recently converted his farm into a golf course and so a few of us ex footballers, rugby players decided to give it a try.   Several lessons, weeks, tantrums, frustrations and a fair amount of money later I became a member of a golf club – Bargoed Golf Club.  A club I joined and immediately lowered the average age by at least 2 years.

The sport is a prominent feature in your latest book, ‘It’s about a Murder, Cariad’. Can you talk a bit about the influence it’s had on your writing?

I had always been looking for a theme for writing a book. I have had numerous false starts over the years. One day it all seemed to click – pulp fiction detective novels, Welsh fiction, a ‘lost’ type story and then golf. Golf seemed to tie them all together and make it unique. I had read a few golf novels – Dan Jenkins for instance, and they were all pretty dire. It seemed that seventy years on from PG Wodehouse golfers are still a cast of cartoon characters – the port-swilling major, the randy, immoral golf pro and so on. Now, I’m not denying some of these characters exist, but it does seem a little stereotypical 1930s.  So, nothing here to beat, I thought, and I decided to give it a go. It was a lot harder than I thought. With other elements – e.g. Pulp Fiction, there are modes and rituals. With golfing element, if you exclude the stereotypes, it’s a new world. It was interesting. For many of us golfers the golf club can be a kind of focus point for a strange little community with our own language and modes of behaviour. It was interesting trying to capture elements of that.

 

Murder

 

What inspired you to write Tenby to Celtic Manor?

‘Tenby to Celtic Manor’, my non-fiction story of Welsh golf was a delight from beginning to end – I wish. It was hard. It was frustrating and after seven months of narrow country lanes, sat nav-free areas and suspicious club secretaries, I swore I’d never write a follow up.  It started when I began reading books on great golf courses. Very quickly it was clear that there were few books about Welsh golf. The only decent writer I found was John Hopkins.  It was the start, in Wales, of Ryder Cup fever so I had a whole year to explore the courses of Wales, choose the best 18, get it printed, published and I would have a nice little earner to peddle around Newport in September / October 2010.


Can you tell us a bit about the process of writing and researching the book?

From the beginning there were a lot of problems. Some of the clubs weren’t very co-operative. One, in particular, felt they should have been the first club in Wales, not Tenby, and declared they were going to write their own version. Some of the secretaries didn’t believe me – I think. I’m sure they listened to me trying to determine what I was trying to sell them.  Taking photographs was often difficult – it rains a lot in Wales. Getting clubs to part with photographs, or dig out old documentation was difficult. Later, editing the text, using the photographs and setting the book proved far more onerous than I had dreamed. It seemed to be one step forward, twenty-seven steps backward.

 

Tenby

 

What did you learn about the history of Wales, and what role did golf have alongside the changing times?

Each chapter of the book focused on a golf club, in chronological order. The idea as to have a, sort of, history of Wales running in parallel to the history of golf, in Wales. This sort of worked. However, rather selfishly and uncooperatively, golf clubs weren’t being founded in a nice logical order. They were clustered. In a decade there would be thirty of forty appearing, then a decade of just one or two. It did cover the changes in Wales – socially, industrially, democratically and you can see this as the book develops from an incredibly elitist pastime for the few to a (fairly) democratic game for the many.

What was your favourite course you played on while travelling across Wales?

My favourite course? Tough question. I have yet to find a golf course with something I didn’t love. There are a few that stand out though – for very different reasons. I loved the smaller courses – Rhosgoch and Tredegar & Rhymney. These were golf courses with a real ‘family’, community feel. The members struggle hard to keep it open, but that did. The courses aren’t beautiful, or easy to find, but they have a real quality about that. At the other end of the spectrum, Celtic Manor, and Royal Porthcawl were something else.

Celtic Manor golf

"Celtic Manor and Royal Porthcawl were something else" - Byron Kalies

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As I said the book was written in the year of the Ryder Cup and it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached Celtic Manor – they seemed a little bit busy.  They were outstanding. They gave me access everywhere. The head greenkeeper gave me a long interview and a tour. They even provided the cover of the book. I was truly astounded.

However, in terms of a place to play golf for the rest of your life I would need to say – Royal Porthcawl. I know it’s not for everyone, and as a life-long socialist I guess there is a part of me that should object. However, it is amazing. The course is magnificent, the staff are polite, wonderful and helpful. It was a truly historical place. It also gave me the memory I have used more than any other. I asked how much membership was. I was informed, with a smile, that if I had to ask, then I couldn’t afford it.

 

You can find out more about Byron on his website.

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