THE DOWNHILL LIE by Carl Hiaasen

Book Quote:

“The most insidious thing about golf is the one or two fine moments it bequeaths every round…It surrenders just enough good shots to let you talk yourself out of quitting.”


Book Review:

Reviewed by Mary Whipple (JUN 8, 2009)

Returning to golf thirty-two years after he gave it up, author Carl Hiaasen, famous for his off-beat and hilarious South Florida mysteries, shares his struggles to relearn the game of golf and maybe, even, learn to have fun with it. Golf is not a natural “fit” for Hiaasen—”I was just as restless, consumed, unreflective, fatalistic, and emotionally unequipped to play golf in my fifties as I was in my teens,” he admits. So why did he do it? “I’m one sick bastard.”

He starts “on the path to perdition” in November, 2002, when Sports Illustrated asks him to go to Barbados to write a humorous piece about the photo shoot for the swimsuit issue. During the considerable downtime of the shoot, his editor disappears to play golf and Hiassen finds himself unexpectedly bored, until one day, hearing that Hiaasen has played as a teenager, his editor convinces him to play, using rented clubs. Unfortunately, for Hiaasen, he plays well for the front nine, and on the last hole, which ends in front of a clubhouse filled with gawking tourists sipping cocktails, he has a great shot to the green and then a two-putt for par. He is hooked.

Hiaasen and his family have moved from the Keys, where he was an avid bonefisherman, to Vero Beach, and he believes he needs another “unhealthy obsession” in this new location. Starting with second hand clubs, he begins to play golf with friends, and soon gets caught up in the golf-mania of trying various types of clubs, learning all the adjustments that can be made to them, experimenting with “rescue” clubs, and finding the perfect golf ball for his swing. Learning when to use a “water-ball,” which might be lost, he works toward establishing a handicap.

Admitting that he suffers from “Wildly Unrealistic Expectations,” begins reading books by sports psychologist Bob Rotella, golf legend Harvey Penick, and teaching guru David Leadbetter, along with golf magazines, and how-to golf books. His experiences in using the launch monitor so that he can be fitted for the best clubs for his swing (which is wildly erratic), are hilarious, and he reflects the disappointments and frustrations of all beginning golfers as he describes playing in front of strangers (badly), having to play a new course for the first time (badly), and playing in a tournament (badly).

Describing himself as a “reclusive, neurotic, doubt-plagued duffer,” he keeps a diary for almost six hundred days, obsessively recording, often in salty language and off-the-wall imagery, the rounds he plays with his friends, including Mike Lupica and CBS’s David Feherty. Like so many other obsessive golfers, he buys anything he thinks might improve his game—a pendant that will reduce stress, herbal remedies to improve his concentration, and every golf gadget ever invented. He expects that he will improve, and like every other golfer, he does—on some holes, on some days, and under some conditions. And also like every other golfer, he is terrible—on the next day, under the very same conditions.

As anyone who has read a Hiaasen mystery knows, one of his favorite subjects for mockery is the failure of politicians to protect the environment in Florida. Here he talks about the growth of golf communities, with high-rises beside golf courses and every open acre of land in Florida for sale to the highest bidder. Wildlife—bobcats, deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes—find their habitats gone, sometimes overnight, to make room for golf villages and golf courses. Though the chemicals used on a golf course may not be healthy when they leach into the ground, Hiaasen discovers that golf courses may actually help to save the environment, and he reminds the reader that one golf course could have been “two thousand, zero lot-line houses.” He has scorn for the politicians who have gone on golf junkets to St. Andrews paid for by the likes of Jack Abramoff, who is on his way to jail, and he muses about how many bribes may have been paid on the golf course.

Hiassen’s persona in this book is somewhat different from that of his off-the-wall mysteries. Hilarious in his descriptions of his efforts to learn the game, he is also serious about his frustrations with it. He suffers, he tells us from “the most corrosive fundamental of golf, the Suck Factor.” But then his wife begins to take lessons—and loves the game, and his seven-year-old son thinks that golf is the most fun he’s ever had. Hiaasen is reminded of his own golf experiences with his father, and despite his “own foolish and overwrought tribulations,” he begins to see “warmer days ahead.” Perhaps he will also begin to love this game–and love sharing it with his family.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 104 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; 1 pb edition (May 5, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mary Whipple
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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June 8, 2009 · Judi Clark · 2 Comments
Posted in: Florida, Humorous, Non-fiction

2 Responses

  1. Rosemary Simm - July 15, 2009

    I will read Carl Hiaasen’s writings in any form. I love his mysteries, and find political humor in his newspaper columns, but never pass on reading what he has to say. This new book will probably give me a new side to his life, and that opens up a very interesting story, in its self.

  2. Mary Whipple - July 17, 2009

    Hi, Rosemary. This Hiaasen book is quite different from all the other Hiaasen books, but it does give an insight into the kind of person Hiaasen is. It is also, however, a book about golf and golfers, and the humor is related to his golf game, something that other golfers may respond to differently from a reader who is not a golfer. Best, Mary

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