Book review: King of Clubs - The Great Golf Marathon of 1938

By Jeffrey A. Rendall

WILLIAMSBURG, VA – If not for award-winning author Jim Ducibella, one of America’s great golf legends may have been permanently lost to history.

Ducibella sweated over six years of exhausting research to present the story of J. Smith Ferebee, a Depression-era stockbroker with a penchant for accepting bets on wild endurance challenges – and nearly wrecking his life to win them.

Ferebee’s most famous wager -- and the one depicted in Ducibella’s book, King of ClubsThe Great Golf Marathon of 1938 -- involved the payment of a $20,000 mortgage on 296 acres of waterfront land in what is now Virginia Beach, Virginia. The land had special sentimental value to Ferebee, which added additional urgency to the situation.

Jim Ducibella

But most salient to the story was Ferebee’s unwillingness to back down from a challenge – any challenge.

In September, 1938, Ferebee agreed to complete 600 holes of golf in only four days – which would have been a remarkable achievement on its own when considering the golf courses he agreed to play (and he also had to be lower than 100 strokes in every 18-hole round as well as having to walk/run the whole way). But the trickiest part involved the location of those golf courses – in eight cities stretching across the country from Los Angeles to New York.

Ducibella’s depiction of Ferebee’s epic adventure is the heart of King of Clubs. Along the way, Ferebee meets a host of colorful characters, including industrial titans, wealthy entrepreneurs, Hollywood celebrities, famous newspapermen, shady gamblers and common folk – and even Robert Ripley of Believe it or Not fame. The richness of Ducibella’s narration brings each person to life and leaves the reader with an unquenchable desire to keep reading.

Many of us don’t have the time – or frankly, the attention span – to read books these days, but Ducibella’s colorful reporting held my attention the entire time. King of Clubs delved not only into Ferebee’s incredible story, but also the culture of pre-WW II America. Similar to the tale of the racehorse, Seabiscuit, Americans needed distractions such as Ferebee’s marathon to take their minds off of hard economic times at home and the growing threat of war overseas.

Photo from VMI archives.

With only one major “character” from the marathon still alive to furnish the details, Ducibella traveled the country to dig up tidbits of the story from libraries, archives and relatives of the deceased participants. It was an exhausting pilgrimage that would have forced most people to give up the chase – but Ducibella didn’t allow himself to quit.

It’s good that he didn’t give up, because the Ferebee story should not be allowed to die. King of Clubs reminds us of the days when Americans strove to dream big dreams and accomplish great things. In our contemporary world where it’s all too easy to dismiss work ethic as a major part of any achievement, Ducibella reassures us that success is more perspiration than inspiration.

J. Smith Ferebee and caddies.

And also that great things cannot be done alone. Ferebee’s sizeable cast of helpers deserve almost as much credit for their contributions to his quest for greatness.

King of Clubs is a truly remarkable story, a must-read for golf enthusiasts and students of the American spirit.


King of Clubs – The Great Golf Marathon of 1938
By Jim Ducibella
Published by Potomac Books, 2012

Click here for Ducibella’s introduction to the book on YouTube.
Click here to buy the book on

Click here to buy the book from Potomac Books.

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