With Halloween just around the corner, it occurred to us that golf is replete with the potentially macabre. Take the terms "hook" and "slice," for example. In keeping with the season, we sought out golf murder-mystery writer Roberta Isleib, whose series of books include Six Strokes Under, A Buried Lie, Putt To Death, and Fairway to Heaven. A fifth novel set at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open is also in the works.
The series' heroine, LPGA player Cassandra Burdette, has seen all manner of murder throughout the series, thanks to her creator. Isleib, who is also a clinical psychologist, was happy enough to sit down with us to answer a few questions - essentially everything we wanted to know about golf and murder, but were afraid to ask.
KC: The USGA and other golf organizations are very concerned with golf manners. What kinds of etiquette problems have you come across in the process of planning murders on the golf course?
RI: Naturally, any polite murderer should dispose of his or her victim without inconveniencing other golfers. Bodies in bunkers, for example, can be a nightmare for the foursome that follows if not handled with special care. First, make sure they are buried deep enough so as not to create an unplayable lie in the bunker. (See Putt to Death.) Second, if your golf course superintendent uses a rock and moisture barrier several inches below the surface, you may need to consider an alternate plan. Always, always rake the trap when you are finished. And finally, even with these extra responsibilities, make sure you complete the round at a reasonable pace--as we say at my course, keep it under four!
KC: Hypothetically, what sort of layout lends itself best to offing your playing partner and disposing of the body: links, heathland, or parkland? Any favorite course in particular for this? I would suggest Kauri Cliffs or Kidnappers Cove in New Zealand--just push em off the edge...
RI: A carefully manicured course, such as Augusta National, makes for a more difficult murder. Those pesky groundskeepers are always wandering about, spraying chemicals, snipping wayward weeds, and syringing greens. (Of course, if you're not in a particular hurry, the chemicals alone may eventually do your victim in, with no extra effort on your part.)
On the other hand, some of the links-style courses could absorb a corpse with very little impact--think tall grasses and deep bunkers. And don't overlook seaside courses with steep cliffs--even Pebble Beach!--as you have suggested, one push, one misstep, and you are there...
KC: A lot of swing aids are out there that aim to groove a player's swing. In Six Strokes Under, your character uses her nine-iron to protect herself from a murderer. Do you have a favorite drill for grooving a swing that'll allow you to use your irons this way, if needed?
RI: It may sound gruesome, but grooving your swing to defend yourself is all about visualization. Don't tell me you haven't imagined your boss's face (or that of the girl/guy who just dumped you) on your golf balls at the driving range. The idea here is to pick a target and visualize the details of what you will be hitting. Then swing easy...
KC: When you look around the PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tour, which appears to have the most homicidal maniacs playing on it? Anyone in particular make the hair on your neck stand up? I'm guessing someone on the Champions Tour - those old buggers just don't care anymore, know what I mean?
RI: This one I'm not touching with an extra-long driver.
KC: You've written four golf murder mysteries so far and read many more. Have you ever encountered someone being killed with a golf ball?
RI: Killing someone by hitting them with a golf ball is a very low-probability method, even for a single-digit handicapper. Most murderers use something more reliable, such as including a Colt .45 as their fifteenth club (A Buried Lie). If you're looking for a method that might appear accidental, cutting the golf cart brake lines at the top of a steep hill might do the job, as illustrated in Putt to Death. And don't forget, the murder does not have to occur on the course: poison in your opponent's celebratory libation at the 19th hole is a time-honored option. (See Fairway to Heaven, coming in March!)
KC: Finally, if Tiger, Elin, and Steve Williams went down in a plane crash and found themselves starving in the Andes, who do you think would eat whom first?
RI: You really are a sick man...but I'll try. Steve has the edge at the outset, with his larger physical presence and strength and his proven willingness to lash out. Tiger, on the other hand, is an astonishing physical specimen and probably quite capable of subduing a larger man. But let's face it, neither one of them stands a chance against Elin...a woman's wiles...
Read more about Roberta Isleib's golf mysteries on her Web site, www.robertaisleib.com. A comprehensive bibliography of golf mysteries is available through the Waterboro (ME) public library: www.waterborolibrary.org/mystlists/golfmyst.htm
October 26, 2004
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.