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Golf to the rescue

THE PUTT AT THE END OF THE WORLD

By Lee K. Abbott, Dave Barry, Richard Bausch, James Crumley, James W. Hall, Tami Hoag, Tim O'Brien, Ridley Pearson and Les Standiford

Warner, $23.95

Reviewed by PAUL A. BERGIN

In the history of human endeavor, no activity equals golf. Doubt it? Just ask a golfer, any golfer. Rapturous accounts of the health benefits and spiritual enrichment to be derived from clouting a dimpled white pellet across three or four miles of pasture cascade from the lips of these Izod-clad adepts like the Niagara over Horseshoe Falls.

Any game with the power to turn boardroom-level executives and pool cleaners alike into an army of the glassy-eyed faithful, each proselytizing with the manic zeal of an Amway salesman on meth, is a force to be reckoned with. It was only a matter of time before someone got carried away and leaked the secret that every golfer carries nestled in his bosom, the central tenet of his faith.

Golf has the power to save the world.

That's the message of The Putt at the End of the World, a raunchy, riotously funny, nine-author collaborative novel whose wacky, let-it-all-hang-out take on life and golf is infectiously entertaining, the literary equivalent of a pie fight. Software gazillionaire Phillip Bates, rebuffed in his attempt to buy Augusta National Golf Course, has built his own course on the grounds of Scotland's Rathgarve Castle and is hosting an inaugural tournament. Invited are every major head of state and religious leader in the world, media stars of every stripe and Bob Costas.

Also invited are three faded luminaries of the PGA tour _ Alfonso "The Marvelous Mex" Zamora, Rita Shaughnessy and Squat Possum Golf Club pro Billy Sprague. To call the threesome flawed doesn't do them justice. Zamora's sight is so bad, he's begun losing to the executives he now hustles for a living. Rita's been thrown out of every rehab clinic she has entered, and Billy, once amateur champion, can't hit the ground with his hat when money is involved.

Others headed for Rathgarve Castle G.C. include a cross-dressing eco-terrorist with 50 pounds of Semtex plastique, a libidinous Scottish nationalist, a bi-national love triangle of government agents, the foremost sports psychologist in the world, Billy Sprague's ex-wife, and El Puma, a testosterone-charged golf pro whose game has deteriorated to the point that officials now don body armor when he's on the course.

Hovering just offstage as these characters and others converge on Scotland is a shadowy mastermind who sees in the tournament the chance to enslave the world. Mayhem, predictably, ensues.

The Putt at the End of the World is burlesque at its ribald best. A few regrettable instances of subtlety do occur, but are pardonable. Fans of the humor of P.G. Woodhouse or James Thurber would be well advised to look elsewhere for entertainment, but aficionados of the comic carnality of Terry Southern, the frenetic slapstick of Monty Python or the hallucinatory excess of early William S. Burroughs will be delighted to find themselves back in hilariously familiar territory.

It is giving nothing away to reveal that golf does indeed save the day, and as the surviving characters stroll hand-in-hand into the bomb-cratered sunset, the reader will likely find himself hoping that the authors will soon return to try their hand at another game.

Tennis, anyone?

Paul A. Bergin is a writer who lives in Sarasota.

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