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Interview with Clark Cunningham, Author of the Peerless Foursome Children's Golf Series
Some people do open their writing career with a screeching home run. Clark Cunningham has an infectious pen he uses in a good plan to create a page-turning book series that benefits more than just himself.
Whenever I used to wait around for something and had both of my hands free I would subconsciously clasp them into my own twisty style of the Vardon grip (also known as the overlap grip to some players). And if I had enough room and can look out through the window and imagine a golf hole precipitating in the distance I'd have a whiff or two of simulated golf swing and watch my imaginary golf ball streaking off in a high draw that lands with a splash on someone's full coffee cup or crankingly on the chemistry professor's windshield. If you play golf, you know how that goes!
For all that subconscious golf-obsessed nonsense, though, I could hardly stand watching golf on television let alone reading golf books (paralysis by analysis was one of the most dreaded golfing conditions among touring professionals), so imagine my surprise when I sat down to read Clark Cunningham's first ever novel (and a golf-based one at that), The Spyglass Cup, and, was convinced by the time I got through half of it that it is the golf books' rough equivalent of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosophy Stone.
Having finished reading the thing ahead of the trend, though, there is one little regret: I will now have to restlessly wait until the fall for the second book to come out! (You see, I didn't start reading the Harry Potter books until winter of 2003 and didn't have to wait a whole decade for the final book to come out the way many others did). That is a minor glitch, though, since a recent conversation with Mr. Cunningham, who is giving back to the golfing community by helping sponsoring the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program of El Cajon (a junior golf group that I am volunteering in once a week) via his PFS partnership program, reveals that the second book in the series, Palm Spring Break, is coming along well. Here is the rest of the conversation:
Smorg: As addictive as golf is in person, as a spectator sport it tends to bore the pants (or kilts) off many. It is hard for me to imagine being engaged in reading a golf-oriented novel (the last one I touched was 'Quantum Golf' by Enhager and Wallace many moons ago... Only because it was used as a textbook at one of my alma maters, Professional Golfers Career College in Temecula, California), especially from a kid's perspective. You had somehow struck a nice balance in your first book, The Spyglass Cup, and kept me turning the pages as I followed Tom Grant to school, the Pacific Ocean surf, the skiing slope, various girl troubles, and the golf course. How did you come to writing not just a golf novel but a series of it?
CC: The idea for the evolved from my experiences growing up playing golf with my friends. In fact, some of the more humorous scenes actually happened. It was a lot of fun to take real life episodes from my youth and tweak them a bit to fit the contemporary vibe of The Spyglass Cup. I believe the reason the book has been so well received by teens is that it's not just about golf. The readers identify with the characters in the book because they're just regular kids who happen to live in a community with two 18 hole golf courses. I knew from the very beginning that the storyline set up a series quite well and this was confirmed early on by my corps of young "test readers." When I would ask them "how did you like the book?" the common refrain was "I loved it-when are you going to write another one?
Smorg: Even though The Spyglass Cup is set in Southern California, there is a heavy (but wittily well-blended) Scottish theme running in the book. Are these characters based on people you know in real life?
CC: I've been to Scotland and I'm the proud owner of a Cunningham tartan kilt so I guess I've kind of always been into the whole "Scottish thing." That being said, the characters in the book are completely fictional but the reference to the town of Kirkcaldy as well as the minute amount of golf history in the book is real and accurate.
Smorg: Did you play in junior golf tournaments in your youth? How did you go about researching how 13 year old's play in serious tournaments? (you have it quite realistic. There are always a handful of boys and girls who, like Angus and Skip, are quite more advanced than the rest of their age group... though they don't always keep up the gap once they get to college level)
CC: I have a friend who is a golf instructor at a local course so I picked his brain a bit. I have to say that I was a slightly amazed at just how good some of these kids are. Also, I have a nephew who is, by all accounts, "a natural."
Smorg: How often do you golf or hit the range? (Do you usually play by yourself or do you have a usual group you play with?)
CC: I used to play quite a bit for business and I must admit that it was nice to have the opportunity to play nice courses during the week and do so on the company's nickel. That came to an end as a result of the downturn in the economy, but I do get out from time to time. I'm looking forward to spending a fair amount of time in the desert over the next few weeks doing some "research" for the second book titled Palm Springs Break.
Smorg: When I was a kid I had this (severely mistaken, as it turned out,) impression of golf being an old man's sport.... but somehow it had no trouble attracting young kids (especially after they've whiffed their first attempt at hitting the ball). And it does seem that the game has changed quite a bit in recent years (perhaps since Tiger Woods came on the professional scene) and the gallery at professional events has gotten more youthful and markedly rowdier... Among other things. Do you think this is a good change? Or is there something lost in the less-than-gentlemanly direction the game seems to be headed to (or is this shift really an illusion brought on by selective increase in media coverage on certain aspects of the game that hadn't really changed that much at all)?
CC: Great question, and you're right, I think there has been a change in people's perception of golf. I, for one, am absolutely thrilled at the direction that golf is headed. As a player, a fan and an author, I love the youthful exuberance that many of the newer players on the PGA and LPGA tours bring to the sport. It's refreshing to see some hip fashions and spirited personalities out there. I read an article in Coast Magazine last month titled "When did golf get so cool?" In my opinion, golf's always been cool and perhaps we just needed to be reminded. At the end of the day, a relatively small number of rowdy fans and the unsavory behavior of a few players is not going have a lasting impact on a sport as rich in history and tradition as golf.
Smorg: Tell us about your PFS partner program? How many junior golf groups are anticipating?
CC: The PFS (Peerless Foursome Series) program is fairly straightforward. By partnering with junior golf programs throughout the country I can offer what I believe to be a true win/win proposition that requires minimal effort. By promoting The Spyglass Cup through an e-mail or news letter and instructing folks to enter a specific and unique code at "checkout" on the www.thepeerlessfoursome.com website, purchases can easily be tracked. I will donate 40% of the $17.99 cover price ($7.20) directly to the organization for each book sold. There are literally hundreds of junior golf programs, associations and foundations across the country that could stand to benefit from this opportunity. It's also about getting a good book in the hands of the next generation of golfers.
Smorg: How is the next book, The Palm Springs Break, coming along? When can we expect it to be published?
CC: The page following the Partial glossary of golf terms in The Spyglass Cup commits me to "Fall 2020" which is aggressive, but realistic. I've got a few chapters under my belt and try to write as often as I can. In a way, the hard part is behind me. I've created (according to my readers) an entertaining and likable cast of characters as well as an engaging plot line. The Spyglass Cup begins on the first day of eighth grade and Palm Springs Break begins on the first day of high school. With that in mind; the boys are a year older, the stakes are a bit higher and the opportunity for shenanigans that much greater. I think my readers will be delighted.
To find out more about Mr. Cunningham's series and his books, visit The Peerless Foursome website where you can also directly purchase your own copy of The Spyglass Cup. Be sure to enter the PFS code for the organization you would like to support when you buy the book, too!
List of PFS Partners as of April 2020:
- PCRFKYLE for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation
- BFTB for Birdie For The Brave program
- ECGG for El Cajon LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program