Golf has been chronicled in greater depth and detail than any other sport.
While there were earlier references, it is understood that the first book devoted solely to the game appeared in England in 1743.
Today, ask a group of players to name three, four or five books they would consider most important in beginning a golf library, and there likely would be as many answers as there were responders.
Two potential entries in this opinionated exercise have shown up in recent weeks and are worthy candidates. They might even make holiday gift-giving easier, too.
One spans the spectrum of golf in this country over the past 100 years; the other focuses on the person given much of the credit for the game's rapid growth during the past 40 years.
"Golf -- The Greatest Game" marks the centennial of the United States Golf Association, which commissioned and partially paid for its publication.
A coffee table book, it includes an introduction by John Updike, reflections on the game by Arnold Palmer, commentaries on various aspects of the game by nationally recognized writers, and about 400 photographs spread over 272 pages.
The book, and a companion two-hour documentary film on the history of the USGA by David Wolper ("Thorn Birds" and "Roots"), are part of what the organization plans as a yearlong centenary celebration.
"Golf -- The Greatest Game," with a preface by Baltimorean Reg Murphy, current president of the USGA, portrays the evolution of the sport in America since the USGA was founded in 1894.
Not only does it immerse even the casual browser in the glories of past championships, but there also are recognizable and little-known courses, celebrities and no-names, the game's mental as well as physical aspects.
For local fans, the pictorial gallery includes defending champion Francis Ouimet congratulating John Goodman after Goodman's quarterfinal-round victory in the 1932 U.S. Amateur at Baltimore CC, and Mary Ann Downey (Cooke) coaxing home a putt during the 1958 Doherty tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
(Edited and produced by Amy Janello and Brennon Jones, published by HarperCollins, 1994, $50 until Dec. 31; $60 thereafter).
Almost as a complement, though not by design, is "Arnold Palmer -- A Personal Journey," by Thomas Hauser.
Unlike the USGA book and its writers, Hauser came to Palmer not only not knowing him, but also with no golf background. As it turned out, the book is probably the better for it.
Hauser, backed by 15 books, including what many consider the definitive Muhammad Ali story, was able to put Palmer's accomplishments, on and off the golf course, into perspective, and explain the values by which he has lived his life. Family members, business associates and friends spoke of his strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears.
The author explained how the project came to be.
"The people at IMG [International Management Group, which handles a portion of Palmer's business ventures] called and wanted to know if I would be interested in doing a Palmer book," he said. "I wasn't a golf fan, had never played the game, and the first time I was on a golf course was when I walked 18 holes with Palmer at the beginning of the project.
"Still, I thought it was important for what he did for golf and for what he and [IMG head] Mark McCormack did for the economics of sports. Besides, it was a chance to explain about the Palmer 'magic.' "
As Hauser says in his preface, "Americans acknowledged that golfers were skilled, but refused to accept them as genuine athletes. And then along came Palmer; vibrant, charismatic, daring; with blacksmith's forearms and unique good looks, swinging from the heels like Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth.
"Arnold Palmer losing a golf tournament was more interesting than almost anyone else winning . . . and he was responsible for a whole new audience becoming interested in golf."
(Produced and created by Opus Productions Inc., published by Collins Publishers, 1994, $40.)