Publicity from the campaign for the first edition of
Being the Ball

Sports Section
The Hot Corner

20 July 00

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Being the Ball"
Author: Billy Balata (real name Billy Muster)
Publisher: T.t.B. Entertainment
Price: $9.88 (also available on audiotape, $15.99)

This self-help golf satire of barely more than 100 pages is an easy, fun read for anyone addicted to the game. Maybe the most important piece of advice is on page 67 under the heading "Why Do You Play Golf?"

The author says every golfer falls into one of two categories.
(1) You are a scratch golfer who spends five horus a day on the driving range in hopes of playing on the PGA Tour.
(2) You play golf to have fun with friends and relax outdoors.

Then comes this question: "If you're not out to play on the tour, why do you take golf so damn seriously?"

The author offers three golden rules of golf:
(1) Golf friends will be your best friends.
(2) Winners always buy in the 19th hole.
(3) Every golf round is perfect as long as you either win money or aren't hit by lightening.

The author, who calls himself B. Balata, was in the corporate rat race for 10 years when he quit his high-paying job. Duirng most of the 1990s, he played every day and got his handicap down from "a sandbagging 12" to scratch. But his dream of playing in the U.S. Open never materialized.

In the book, he deals more with golf attitude than the golf swing.

"I've seen golfers whose relationships with friends and co-workers improved immediately after their golf attitude improved," Balata writes.

The book is available at most bookstores or through most book-selling Web sites.

-- Larry Stewart

The Course Clown Through Humor, Billy Balata Tries
Teaching People How to Enjoy Golf

by Vince Kowalick
Times Staff Writer
16 June 00

Billy Balata grew tired of putting for dough. Too much strain on the nervous system.

Now, he putts for show. He drives for show, too--right through the front door of bookstores behind the wheel of a golf cart. Then he sets up his kooky putting green and the fun begins.

Customers of all ages and sizes try their hands at sinking three putts beneath the "broken golf club mobile" for prizes like T-shirts and playing cards.

Sometimes, Balata--his real name is Billy Muster ("I never even used Balata balls," he said)--slips the contestant a lopsided ball that wobbles like an egg when struck. Customers giggle, but the golfer gets a break.

"How'd that one get in there?" Balata says. "Just for that, you get a mulligan."

The schtick is part of a book signing, of course. Balata, who will appear at Borders in Northridge at 2 p.m. Saturday, is there to plug his paperback, "Being the Ball: A Self-Help Golf Satire."

But he tends to spend more time clowning with customers than signing copies of his book.

That's the goal," he says. "People take golf too seriously."

Balata, 42, reached that conclusion while knocking his head against the cart path - that's only a slight exaggeration - trying to become a pro. Finally, he gave up, adopted a pen name and went from competitor to humorist.

"There was a time in my life people wouldn't want to play with me," he said. I was an extreme case. I got so close to the flame, I got upset about everything. I was too wrapped up up in the game."

Balata was born in Encino but grew up in Phoenix, where he competed as "just another high school golfer." He failed to make the Arizona State team as a walk-on and gave up the game for several years.

At 28, Balata, figuring practice would make perfect, began playing 36 holes a day and started competing again. He never broke 70, but he broke more than a few clubs.

He walked away from competition for good after taking a 16, believe it or not, on a par-four hole at Oro Valley Golf Course in the Arizona stroke play championship.

"I hit a three-iron out of bounds, a five-iron out of bounds, a seven-iron out of bounds . . ." he said. "I threw each [club] out of bounds."

Among the book's tongue-in-cheek chapters is "Anger and the Fine Art of Club Tossing," which includes throws like the "tomahawk" and "helicopter." Illustrations are provided.

Through poking fun, primarily at himself, Balata says he's just trying to get golfers to lighten up.

"It's a lot of joking around, teaching people to laugh at their shortcomings," he said. "But it teaches people to enjoy the game."

Good Book Material
Golf's burgeoning popularity has had an
impact on books relating to the sport

By John Reger
06 July 2000

It was a great idea for a golf book, Billy Balata thought. He just had to make everyone else realize it.

Balata did what thousands of authors do every year: He put up a cardboard table and some copies of his book, "Being the Ball," and held a book signing. He didn't well one book.

"I figured I would do a book signing and everyone would come," Balata said. "I realized that wasn't the case."

So Balata, who lives in Phoenix and is a scratch golfer, took his bachelor of science degree in marketing from Arizona State and applied it to the sale of his book.

The next signing, Balata used a couple of girls in bikinis to spark some interest and sales immediately picked up.

With the game of golf more popular than ever, so is the writing of the sport. Book stores are filled with books relating to every conceivable subject in golf, from jokes to anecdotes to self-help to biographies to places to play. Competition is tough, but the books just keep coming.

Bob Gransee is the national sales manager for The Booklegger, a company that has distributed golf books and videos from its Grass Valley warehouse to more than 9,000 bookstores, pro shops and specialty stores for the past 25 years. Gransee, who is one of four people who decide what books and videos the company will distribute, has seen the industry explode.

"We have seen tremendous growth in golf books," Gransee said. "Especially in the last decade."

Gransee said his company currently is handling more than 700 products.

"In 1974 when we started, there wasn't much out there," Gransee said. "Now you see books on every subject imaginable."

That includes multiple titles on the same subject. There are currently three biographies on Payne Stewart, the PGA Tour player who died tragically in a plane crash in October 19999, including a best seller from his wife, Tracey.

"Biographies do very well for a while, then tend to slow down," Gransee said. "But self-help books are the most dominant."

Of the Booklegger's top five sellers, three are books that help your game, including Ben Hogan's "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentalists of Golf," a book that the famed golfer wrote in 1957 and was reprinted in 1989.

The web site, which has been selling books online since 1995, has also had success selling golf books via the Internet.

The company ranks its books, and eight of the top 20 on's sports best seller list are about golf, including four of the top five. The company's top selling sports book is "Dave Pelz'z Putting Bible," by the noted short-game instructor.

"The most important criteria usually is having an author that is known," Gransee said. "That will usually translate into a successful book."

That was the problem Balata ran into when trying to get his book published. He had written a humorous look at golf, but also combined a self-help topic into the book. Getting a publisher to buy the book, Balata found, was difficult.

I have a very nice wall of rejection letters from publishers," Balata said. "I finally decided to publish it myself."

Not only did Balata publish it himself, he also did the marketing, bookkeeping and self-promotion. Book signings that Balata conduct include a mobile of broken clubs to get buyers attention and a putting green.

"The book tours are difficult," said Balata, who will be participating in the L.A. Book Festival on July 22-23. "But I have done pretty well. I also have sold the books to charity golf tournaments for tee prizes."

Of the 12,000 books balata had published he has sold 9,000. He also has put out an audio version of the book as well.

Established authors have much less to worry about. John Strege, who works for Golf Digest Magazine, has just written his second golf-related book, "Tournament Week," and has watched the book go to its fourth printing.

Strege, who wrote a book on Tiger Woods that had six printings and was published in nine other countries, has just signed another book deal to write on the U.S. Open.

"A publisher once told me, 'The smaller the ball, the bigger the book sales,' " Strege said.

Local bookstores will certainly back up that statement.

Bog Roth, community relations coordinator for Borders in Brea, said the store stocks more than 250 golf titles, as opposed to 100 for football.

"Baseball has some books, but golf ranks at the top," Roth said. "We have an entire section in sports devoted to the sport."

So does Brad Phome, manager at the Barnes and Noble in Irvine.

"We are a pretty small store, but we have a few shelves just for golf books," Phome said. "They are always selling well."

Which gives Balata and authors like him, the incentive to keep writing golf-related books.

"I have been paired up with hundreds of people playing golf," Balata said. "Some of them were awful, but there must be something about it they love."

August/September 1999

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