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BOOK REVIEW

This golfing mandate isn't convincing

In ''50 Places to Play Golf Before You Die," Chris Santella writes about 50 fabulous courses, scattered around the world. Each one has an advocate, an expert from the world of golf, who deems a round at the course a life requirement.

There are four courses I have seen, and 46 I have not. Clearly, I need to get a move on.

I'm already past the half-century mark myself and the chances I will get to Bhutan (Royal Thimphu Golf Club) are slim. So the chances that I am going to finish the circuit before I die are really slim. Sort of like me. (OK, not like me, but I thought it sounded so nice.)

Books like this -- lists of things that must be done before you die -- are very seductive. Who wouldn't want a checklist that, once completed, marks you as an actualized person. No need to worry any more: You have been there, done that, and you have the checklist to prove it.

But, of course, such lists are subjective. Golf Digest and Golf magazine have featured lists like this for years. They put a new spin on the story each year (50 best resort golf courses, 50 best public courses, 50 best links courses), so the article looks new. And the editors get the fun of picking 50 golf clubs, which, of course, means they must visit all the clubs and play a few rounds.

Santella's compact book feels good in the hands and looks approachable, its cover blessed with a photograph of The European Club in Ireland, a sweet seaside course. But I was disappointed to find only one color picture of the courses inside; I wanted a little more to drool and dream over.

Santella boasts that his golf experts are sharing the world's greatest golf destinations. OK for St. Andrews, OK for Pebble Beach, and OK for Nick Faldo, OK for Pete Dye, and even OK for Cristie Kerr.

But Sugarloaf? Top 50? Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.? Not on my nickel.

And who, exactly, is Bob Vokey, who chose Highland Links in Nova Scotia, or Roger Rulewich, who names RJT in Alabama.

I get the sneaking suspicion that this list has been culled because culling them has given Chris Santella (also the author of ''50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die"), a book to write, and an expense account to visit lots of nice places.

(As it turns out, Rulewich is a golf course architect with a long history in Massachusetts, and Vokey is, according to Santella, ''golf's wedge design guru." My bad.)

And I readily admit, there are some green gems in this book.

How about the Swinley Forest Golf Club in England? I don't even care if the golf course is terrible, I just want to be able to say, ''I'm sorry, I can't take a meeting with you this Thursday, I'm playing golf in Swinley Forest."

Or how about Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand? A quick round there, I think, before the pirates arrive.

And I want very much to get to Miklagard Golf Club in Norway before I go on to that 19th hole in the sky, but I don't need to go to Mirabel in Arizona, and I can even pass on TPC Sawgrass: I've seen it so many times on TV, I can miss my tee shot to that island green in my sleep.

I won't make this 50, not in my lifetime. I'm just not in a hurry to get to Kansas to play Prairie Dunes. But it's fun to wonder why each course was selected, and learn a little bit about some beautiful spots around the world. But next time, more pictures.

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