Most people have never heard of J. Douglas Edgar, a professional golfer from England, who moved to Atlanta in 1919 and was murdered in 1921. Author Steve Eubanks from Peachtree City hadn’t heard of him until longtime AJC reporter and columnist Furman Bisher told him the tale at the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake a while back. What was known was passed on to Eubanks and it was enough to get him inspired to research and write “To Win and Die in Dixie: The Birth of the Modern Golf Swing and the Mysterious Death of Its Creator.” The book has enjoyed some top notch reviews from numerous publications and Eubanks is enjoying the best response to one of his books. Eubanks did write Lou Holtz’s biography, which made it to number four on the New York Times Bestseller List, but “To Win and Die in Dixie” is something entirely different.
“Furman told me he wrote about Edgar in 1964 or 1965,” Eubanks stated. “He told me to come by his house and see if I could do anything with what he had.” Among the items he had were original interview transcripts with golfers Bobby Jones and Tommy Armour and Eubanks started doing his own digging, doing research at the Atlanta History Center, Emory university’s library as well as a library in Newcastle, England. He pored over club minutes and census data, letters, postcards, diaries and more, as well as the family papers for Comer Howell, the man who found Edgar’s body in the street.
The original theory was that Edgar was the victim of a hit and run, but many belived that he was having an affair with a married woman and a jealous husband did him in.
“The case was never solved, but the police belived they knew who did it and followed him until his death in 1930,” Eubanks said.
Over the course of the year it took to create “To Win and Die in Dixie,” Eubanks, a former college golfer and PGA Club Pro, learned a lot about golf in the early 20th century, incuding Edgar’s influence on some of the greats of that era as well as on the modern game itself, but he also got to dig deep into what the world was like in the 1920s. Police investigation was obviously different, as there was no forensic science to rely on.
“It was very primitive,” Eubanks said. “There were no fingerprints to collect becuse what would you match them up to?”
Eubanks was also surprised at how different newspapers were 90 years ago.
“The language they used and what got reported and what didn’t was very revealing,” he said.
Because of the age of the story, Eubanks often had to rely on documents that family members kept and he was fortunate that Edgar’s daughter kept everything, including letters and ship manifests. It could have been unwieldy to go through so much paperwork, but Eubanks found it fascinating and now readers are finding it fascinating as well.
Eubanks found journalism and writing almost by accident. A friend of his started Links Magazine and got Eubanks to do some writing. That gig led to others and now he is the author of 30 books, writing college football columns for FoxSports and articles periodicals like Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated.
Eubanks describes himself as a project driven writer, especially when confronting a book, often slipping into “book mode,” where he writes manically and can often forget what time it is. Writing books has led to some incredible experiences for Eubanks though. In addition to spending time with Holtz while writing his biography and playing golf with Arnold Palmer. He also spent a year with Jeff Gordon and his team. That experience led to two more books, novels set in the world of stock car racing.
Eubanks is now doing some talks about “To Win and Die in Dixie” and book signings. He will be at Omega Books in Peachtree City this Friday from 5:30-7 p.m. Phone 770-487-3977 to reserve your copy.
There are more books to be written by Eubanks, who would like to venture into the world of fiction some more, and with college football around the corner he will be traveling around the game, especially around the SEC, this fall. Like always, he’ll keep his eyes open for the stories that don’t get told too often. Those are the ones that tend to be hidden gems anyway.