Beloit author Warren mixes religion, golf in novel

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BELOIT - Emeritus Professor Tom Warren retired from Beloit College in 2001 after 31 years of teaching Education and Youth Studies.

That doesn't mean he still isn't teaching ...and learning.

"I think to really learn something you need to teach it," Warren said. "Students may not always learn it, but you do."

Another way to learn? In Warren's case, you write a book about something you're extremely passionate about. In the research and the writing, the author can't help but become thoroughly absorbed in a topic.

For Warren, past books have featured "discoveries" - of the game of golf while growing up in Rockford, of the lure of Lake Superior and his beloved Western Upper Peninsula in Michigan and finally, of the state of investigative journalism in small-town America.

His most recent work, a novel called "The Learner: Confronting God, Golf, and Beyond" combines two of his life-long passions: religion and golf. Warren, who once played on a state championship golf team at Rockford East High School, is convinced by hitting the links on a regular basis one can truly become closer to God.

He says many golf club-carrying clergy he knows agree with him: Golf and God can go hand in hand. His story is about an eager young pastor in a community on the Wisconsin-Illinois border called Belle Waters, Wis. (right, it's what you think) who struggles with the many expectations of his new job while also trying to become a respectable golfer.

While it certainly helps, you don't need to be a golf lover to enjoy the book. Anyone interested in learning about challenges churches face in today's society will find it an interesting read.

"I worked with a lot of ministers in preparation for this book, including a number of them who are golfing ministers," Warren said. "They know first-hand what sort of issues a young minister faces and they also know what it's like to be hooked on golf. The greatest compliment I get is when someone says, 'In this book, you're speaking for a lot of ministers by the way you touch on the dilemmas they face.'"

Throughout the book, the young pastor's trials and tribulations involve the pulpit as well as the putting green. In his job, he must serve both the young and old of his church despite their often contrasting ideas and goals. He is also drawn to the plight of his community's homeless and how his church should be involved with them,

Golf is interwoven through the story. It is a way for his central character to stay grounded and for the author to try to break down some of the stereotypes concerning his favorite sport. Instead of a game for the rich, Warren sees golf as a sport very much for the masses.

Other than his fictional pastor's trip to Rockford to meet real-life pastor Denver Bitner of Zion Lutheran Church, Warren's cast of characters is merely a compilation of many people he has known. He said Mardie Farr of the Beloit Junior Golf Club was his inspiration for Keyshawn Gentry, an African American golfing guru in Belle Waters who gives out sage advice on both the links and life. Of the other characters, you'll likely swear you've met some of the congregation in your own church.

Spoiler alert: There is even a little romance to go with the golf, although Nora Roberts has nothing to worry about.

Next up for Warren? Something called "Cleaning the Basement," which shouldn't get his wife Ann Marie excited because it will have nothing to do with actually cleaning the basement. It will be how items in a basement unlock memories to past anecdotal stories in one's life. Bet there will be an old golf club down there somewhere.

• Editor's note: The book is available on line via Wipf & Stock Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will soon be available at Turtle Creek Book Store and Visit Beloit.

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