J. H. Taylor

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A member of the Great Triumvirate (along with Harry Vardon and James Braid), John Henry (J. H.) Taylor graced the earth in Devon, England in 1871. He won close to 20 professional tournaments, served as a Ryder Cup captain, and designed numerous golf courses in England.

Taylor became an orphan as a boy and started work as a caddie and laborer at Royal North Devon Golf Club in 1882.  He worked his way into a greenskeeper position and learned about course layout and maintenance.

At the age of 19, Taylor became a professional golfer and a year later won his first professional tournament, the Challenge Match Play in England. Taylor won the first of his five British Open Championships in 1894 and followed that with Open victories in 1895, 1900, 1909, and 1913. His early Open triumphs enticed the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club to name Taylor its golf professional, a job he held until his retirement in 1946.

Taylor finished second in the British Open six times and in the 1900 United States Open, an event he participated in twice. Among his professional victories, Taylor won two British PGA Match Play Championships, a French Open, and a German Open.

In 1901, Taylor co-founded and became the first chairman of the British Professional Golfers’ Association. This was the first professional golf association in the world. The United States Professional Golfers’ Association did not form until 1916.

Another of Taylor’s claims to fame happened in 1933 as he captained the British team to a victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup. He remains the only captain from either side never to have played in the Ryder Cup.

Throughout his golf career and retirement in the twentieth century, Taylor designed golf courses in England. Some of them include Frilford Heath’s Red Course, Hainault Golf Club’s Upper Course and Lower Course, Axe Cliff Golf Club in Devon, Batchwood Hall Golf Club in St. Alban’s, and Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport. Taylor became president of Royal Birkdale in 1957, a course still in the British Open Championship rotation for the men and the women.

Noting Taylor’s keen accuracy and ability to play in adverse weather conditions, the World Golf Hall of Fame inducted him into its facility in 1975. Taylor passed away in Devon in 1963. Cheers to another of the Great Triumvirate!

 

 

Willie Anderson

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Born in North Berwick, Scotland in 1879, Willie Anderson moved to the United States at the age of 16.  He was the first golfer to win four United States Opens—1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905.  He remains the only man to win three consecutive U. S. Open titles, and only Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus can equal his four U. S. Open championships.

Anderson began to develop his golf knowledge and skills at an early age, serving as a licensed caddie at 11 while in Scotland.  While in his teens, he also served as an apprentice club maker. Once in America, Anderson obtained a job as the golf professional at Misquamicut Golf Club in Rhode Island.   He worked at 10 different clubs in 14 years.

At 20 years of age, Anderson won his first professional tournament, the Southern California Open, but the U. S. Open became Anderson’s playground.  He played in the U. S. Open fourteen times from 1897-1910.  Besides winning four times, he finished in the Top 5 in 11 of the tournaments. He used the gutta percha ball to win the title in 1901 but won the other three with the newly invented Haskell rubber-cored ball. He still owns the honor of the only man to win U. S. Opens with the two different balls, one that he certainly will own in perpetuity.

Anderson also dominated the second-largest professional golf tournament in the United States at the time, the Western Open—winning in 1902, 1904, 1908, and 1909.  In the 1902 contest, Anderson became the first professional golfer in United States history to break a score of 300 in a 72-hole tournament.

His peers marveled at Anderson’s club accuracy and concentration under pressure.  These skills and his professional victories, particularly those in the United States Open, served as the basis for his election into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

Anderson died from epilepsy at the age of 31. Cheers to one of golf’s early greats!

The U. S. Open: America’s National Golf Championship

Dustin Johnson Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison

Theodore Havemeyer returned to his summer home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1889, after playing golf in southern France, determined to play the game again somewhere closer to home.  Havemeyer, and others like him, had a limited number of options for a round of golf in the Newport area or in the United States at that time.  While the game of golf had sprung deep roots in Scotland and England, it had inspired limited interest in the United States.  Those who played generally came from wealthy backgrounds and belonged to the smattering of private golf clubs around the country.  The undeterred Havemeyer persuaded some of the area’s upper crust–John Jacob Astor IV, Perry Belmont, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II–to buy a 140-acre farm property in 1893 with the intent to establish a golf club.  That club would become the Newport Country Club.  Not satisfied with a venue for his golfing buddies, Havemeyer wanted to host national championships at his new course.  In 1894, he held a tournament for some of the best amateurs in the United States at the new club.  That tournament would be one of two National Amateur Championships that year, the other held at the Chicago Golf Club.

Hoping for a single amateur championship every year, Havemeyer prompted a meeting in December at New York City’s Calumet Club with representatives of four other golf clubs:  St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island; The Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club.  The representatives agreed that the Newport Country Club would host the first U. S. Amateur Championship, confined strictly to amateurs, and the first U. S. Open Championship, for professionals and amateurs, in 1895.  In addition, the representatives formed the Amateur Golf Association to administer the national amateur championship and the Rules of Golf for the United States.   Soon afterwards the name changed to the United States Golf Association (USGA) to order to include both amateurs and professionals, and Havemeyer became the USGA’s first president.  The U. S. Amateur trophy is named in his honor.

The U. S. Open started as almost an afterthought.  It took place the day after the U. S. Amateur at the Newport Golf Club in 1895.  Both tournaments were originally scheduled for September but were pushed back to October so as not to interfere with the America’s Cup yacht races, a more established Newport competition.  The first U. S. Open unfolded over a nine-hole course at the Club in a single day. Ten professionals and one amateur competed in the 36-hole competition for an overall purse of $335 and a $50 gold medal.  Englishman Horace Rawlins won the first tournament and the grand sum of $150, plus the gold medal.  By contrast, 2016 winner Dustin Johnson took home $1.8 million.

Because Rawlins was an assistant golf pro at the Newport Golf Club, the Club received the USGA-sponsored Open Championship Cup trophy.   Winners of the U. S. Open today take possession of the trophy until the next Open when it must be returned to USGA officials.

For a decade and a half British professionals won the U. S. Open Championship, but in 1911 John J. McDermott became the first American winner.  McDermott accomplished the feat again the next year before American amateur Francis Ouimet pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  At the Country Club of Brookline in 1913, Ouimet defeated in a playoff arguably the world’s best professional golfers of the day–Britain’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.  Considered one of the great upsets in sports history, Ouimet’s victory spurred an interest in golf in the United States that eventually would lead to the obsession that it is today.  After Ouimet’s triumph, the sport moved from that of the ultra-rich to a game shared by people from many different socio-economic levels.  According to USGA historian Michael Trostel, Ouimet’s conquest prompted the addition of about two million Americans to the list of golf participants over the next decade.  Also, more golf courses, both public and private, emerged in the United States to meet the demand.

The prestige of the U. S. Open grew rapidly and players from around the world competed for one of its coveted spots.   The USGA began sectional qualifying in 1924 to meet the demand.    The tournament ‘s and the sport’s popularity skyrocketed again in the 1920s as amateur Bobby Jones won three U. S. Open titles and then a fourth in 1930 on his way to winning the Grand Slam–U. S. Open, British Open, U. S. Amateur and British Amateur.  Only five amateurs have ever won the U. S. Open:  Jones, Ouimet, Jerome D. Travers (1915), Charles Evans, Jr. ( 1916), and John Goodman (1933).

The design of the U. S. Open courses over time has allowed only the best to win the tournament, and amateurs now have very little chance.  The courses today generally are very long with  narrow fairways and high primary rough around those fairways.  They also generally include undulating greens.  An example of such greens can be found at Pinehurst No. 2, of which NBC analyst Johnny Miller compares trying to land a shot on the greens to “trying to hit a ball on top of a VW Beetle.”  The vast majority of U. S. Open courses play at par 70.  All of these elements normally lead to a winning score somewhere close to par.  Because of this the U. S. Open has the reputation as the most difficult of the four majors–U. S. Open, British Open, the Masters, and PGA Championship–to play.

The U. S. Open format has changed several times since the inaugural tournament in 1895.  In 1896, the championship became a 72-hole contest with 36 holes played each day for two successive days.  The format changed again in 1926 with participants playing 18 holes for two successive days, then 36 holes the next day.  The current format took hold in 1965 as the contestants began to play 18 holes over four successive days.

Ties after 72 holes are decided by the players involved playing an additional 18 holes the next day.  If after 18 holes a champion has not been crowned then sudden death ensues. The first player to win a hole outright is declared the winner.  The U. S. Open is the only major that uses this playoff format.

While the U. S. Open’s four-day format provided more exposure for the tournament, television helped launch it to new levels of popularity beginning with ABC’s live coverage of the final two rounds in 1977, then ESPN’s live coverage of the first two rounds in 1982.  NBC became the first network to provide live television coverage of all four rounds.  Currently, Fox Sports televises the four-day spectacle.

Four men who have won the U. S. Open four times:  Willie Anderson (1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905), Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930), Ben Hogan (1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953), and Jack Nicklaus (1962, 1967, 1972, and 1980).  The United States has produced 82 U. S. Open champions with the rest of the 34 winners divided among England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina.

Fifty-one private and public courses have hosted the 116 U. S. Opens—Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania has hosted 9; Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey boasts 7; Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan can claim 6; while Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York; Merion Golf Club in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania; The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California; and Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California have all hosted 5 U. S. Opens.  The 117th edition will be played at Erin Hills, in Erin, Wisconsin, a public course.

Today, more than 9,000 golfers participate in sectional qualifiers across the world hoping to claim one of the available spots in the 156 player field.  Qualifiers are open to men and women, both professional and amateurs.  However, an amateur must have a USGA Handicap Index no higher than 1.4 to participate in one of the sectionals.

After its meager beginnings in Newport in 1895 as a secondary sporting event, the U. S. Open now plays on some of the most majestic courses in America and holds the attention of the sporting world for four days in June every year.  Theodore Havemeyer would certainly be amazed at how the acorn he planted over 100 years ago has grown into the mighty oak that it is today.

 

America’s First Great Golfer: Francis Ouimet

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With all due respect to Bobby Jones, the title of “father of amateur golf” in the United States belongs to Francis Ouimet (pronounced wee-MAY).  Ouimet’s stunning victory in the 1913 United States Open spurred the growth of golf in America and a love affair with the sport that continues today.

Ouimet was born in May, 1893 in Brookline, Massachusetts during a time when golf in America had few players, no public golf courses, and only the wealthy could afford to play. He grew up in a working class family. The family moved across from the 17th hole at The Country Club of Brookline when Ouimet was four years old, and he showed interest in the game at an early age.  By 11, Ouimet had secured a job as a caddie at The Country Club.  Using old clubs and balls, Ouitmet taught himself how to play the game.  His natural ability earned him the reputation as one of the best high school golfers in the state.  Ouimet’s father believed golf and school offered very little future for his son and told Francis to find a job.  Francis landed a position in a dry goods store before landing a job with a sporting goods store owned by baseball hall of famer George Wright, one of the original players on the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves.  Wright encouraged Ouimet to continue playing golf.

In 1913, Ouimet won his first tournament of any significance, the Massachusetts Amateur Open.  That win propelled him to the United States Amateur Open where he lost in the quarterfinals at the Garden City Golf Club in New York City in September.  Soon afterwards, Robert Watson, president of the United States Golf Association, asked Ouimet to play in the United States Open later that month at The Country Club of Brookline, a course Ouimet knew very well.  The U.S. Open that year changed its playing date from June to accommodate the schedules of the first and second ranked golfers in the world at the time—British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Ouimet had never played in a U.S. Open but found himself tied with the two British stars after 72 holes.  In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Ouimet beat Vardon and Ray the next day in the rain during an 18-hole playoff.  A 20-year old amateur beat the two best golfers in the world—Ray by six strokes and Vardon by five. Ouimet’s stunning victory became the catalyst for the growth and popularity of the game in the United States.

Players from England and Scotland had dominated the sport in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  In America, mostly members of private clubs played the game during this time and very few public courses existed. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, about 350,000 Americans played golf in 1913. Ten years later, over two million Americans played golf and private and public courses sprang up across the country to keep up with the demand.

Ouimet won 27 tournaments as an amateur, including the 1914 and 1931 U.S. Amateur Opens.  He came close to winning several other U.S. Amateur Opens during the 1920s, but many of those championships belonged to another great amateur, Bobby Jones.  Ouimet was the first person to win both the U.S. Amateur Open and the U.S. Open.  Also, Ouimet played on the first eight Walker Cup teams and was Captain of the next four. His teams compiled a record of 11-1.

Because of his ambition to move up into the middle class, Ouimet remained an amateur his entire life and focused his attention on the business world.  Golfers in Ouimet’s era found it difficult to become wealthy playing golf.  How times have changed!

Only ten years after winning the U.S. Open, Ouimet had become a banker and stock broker.  In later years, he became a successful financial adviser.

In 1949, a group of Ouimet’s friends started the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.  The Fund gives college scholarships to young caddies in Massachusetts.  To date, more than 5,100 young men and women have received over $26 million in scholarship money.

Ouimet, in 1955, received the Bob Jones Award–the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The World Golf Hall of Fame inducted Ouimet along with Jones, Vardon and six others into its first class for men in 1974.

The “father of amateur golf” passed away in Newton, Massachusetts in 1967 at the age of 74. Cheers to the great Francis Ouimet, America’s first golf hero!

 

Harry Vardon: One of Golf’s Greatest

 

 

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James Braid, J.H. Taylor, and Harry Vardon formed the Great Triumvirate that ruled the golf world in the mid-1890s through the mid-1910s. Arguably, Vardon was the best of the three. He is the only person to ever win six British Opens. Also among his 62 professional victories was the 1900 United States Open. The World Golf Hall of Fame (inducted Vardon in the original class of 1974) calls Vardon “golf’s first superstar.”

Born in Grouville, Jersey in 1870, Vardon learned the game as a caddie during his teen years and later took a job as a greenkeeper at Studley Royal Golf Club in Ripon, Yorks in 1890.   A year later, Vardon took the job as club professional at Bury Golf Club, a position he held for five years before taking the same position at Ganton Golf Club in Yorkshire.

Vardon became the first professional to wear knickerbockers, famously worn by Payne Stewart in more recent times. Sporting his unusual attire, Vardon won the first of his six British Opens in 1896. He would win the Open again in 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, and 1914. He finished second four times. Vardon played in three United States Opens, winning in 1900 and finishing second in 1913 and 1920. At the 1913 US Open, 20-year old American amateur Francis Ouimet stunned the golf world by defeating Vardon in an 18-hole playoff. Ouimet’s upset is generally credited as the reason behind the game’s increased popularity in the United States.

Besides his sartorial splendor, Vardon is known for his club grip. The Vardon grip is the one most used by professional golfers today. With this grip, the golfer places the little finger of the upper hand between the index and middle finger of the lower hand while gripping the club. This grip, upright stance, and relaxed swing helped Vardon hit his shots higher and longer than his contemporaries. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Vardon had “a swing that repeated monotonously.” Both the PGA Tour of America and the European Tour award trophies named for Vardon—the PGA of America awards the Vardon Trophy to the player with the lowest adjusted scoring average for the year and the Harry Vardon Trophy now goes to the winner of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, similar to the FedEx Cup in the United States.

In 1903, Vardon was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was in and out of medical facilities battling the disease until 1910. Afterwards, his hands shook while putting. Even though he won two British Opens after contracting the disease, golf historians wonder how many more tournaments Vardon could have won if not for tuberculosis.

In his later years, Vardon designed golf courses, coached golf and wrote instructional books. He passed away in 1937 after a bout with either pleurisy or lung cancer, and in 2000, Golf Digest ranked Vardon the 13th best golfer of all time. Cheers to one of the greats, Harry Vardon!

Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris

 

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Old Tom Morris on the left and Young Tom on the right

Two of the early pioneers of golf made their mark in Great Britain in the nineteenth century.  They just happened to be father and son—Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.

Old Tom was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1821 and later became an apprentice to Allan Robertson in the city. Robertson is considered by golf historians to be the first professional golfer. He made balls stuffed with feathers and taught the skill to Morris. Legend has it that when the two played together against other golfers, they never lost. However, when the gutta percha ball came into being, this caused a permanent rift between the two men. Robertson steadfastly adhered to the feathery ball and wanted Morris to do the same, but Morris realized that the new ball would change the game for the better and moved to Prestwick Golf Links in 1849.

At Prestwick, Morris became the “greenskeeper.” Prestwick hosted the first British Open in 1860 and Morris finished second. However, Morris won four Opens in the decade—1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867.

Morris returned to St. Andrews in 1865 as the club’s greenskeeper, a position he held until 1904.  He also established a shop for making clubs near the 18th green. Today, the 18th green at St. Andrews is named in his honor.

Besides being known as a skillful keeper of the grounds, Morris designed or remodeled about 75 golf courses, including Pestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal County Down, Nairn, and Cruden Bay. In 1899, Morris had an apprentice groundskeeper by the name of Donald Ross, widely known as one of the best golf course designers in the history of golf.

Morris still holds two British Open records—oldest champion (age 46 in 1867) and largest victory margin (13 in 1862). He also participated in every Open through 1895. Old Tom Morris passed away in 1908, but he outlived his son by about 30 years.

Young Tom Morris was also born in St. Andrews, in 1851.  Many golf historians consider Young Morris the best golfer of his time. He trained under his father at Prestwick and beat his dad for the first time at the age of 13.  At 14 Young Morris played in the British Open for the first time and at 16 he won a professional tournament at Carnoustie.

Young Morris won his first British Open in 1868 at the age of 17.  He still holds the record for the youngest to win one of the four major championships –British Open, United States Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship. Old Morris finished second, which marked the only time that a father and son finished first and second in any major event.

Young Morris captured the Open title again in 1869 and 1870. The winner of the Open during this period received a belt entitled the Challenge Belt. However, the rules stipulated that if anyone won the belt in three successive years then that person would permanently own the belt. Morris took the belt after his 1870 title, which left the Open with no prize to give out the next year. In fact, the Open did not take place in 1871 largely because officials could not decide on what to give the winner. For the 1872 Open, the officials came up with the Claret Jug, which is awarded to the Open champion to this day. Fittingly, Young Morris won the first Claret Jug in 1872.

Morris died on Christmas day in 1875 of an unknown ailment. Several months earlier his wife and baby died while she was giving birth. Many people at the time surmised that he died of a broken heart.

Both Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. They both played an integral role in the development of the game during the last half of the 19th century and laid the foundation for the game as it moved into the 20th century. So raise a pint in honor of two golf pioneers!

Lord Byron Nelson: The Gentleman from Waxahachie

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Byron Nelson impacted the game of golf for decades.  He played as a child into his 90s, established a record win streak that may never be broken, became the first professional golfer to have a PGA TOUR tournament named after him, served as a golf commentator for ABC, mentored young golfers such as Tom Watson, developed the modern golf swing, and performed as an honorary starter at The Masters for years after he retired from playing.  However, his gentlemanly demeanor that set the standard for sportsman-like conduct may be his greatest contribution to the game.

Born in Waxahachie, Texas in 1912, John Byron Nelson, Jr. learned at an early age the tenets of Christianity from his parents.  His faith dictated the way Nelson carried himself and treated others throughout his life.  His fellow golfers considered him to be the perfect gentleman, which inspired The Atlanta Journal’s O. B. Keeler (Bobby Jones’ friend, mentor and biographer) to give Nelson the nickname of “Lord Byron.”

Nelson began learning the game as an eleven-year old caddie at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.  Three years later Nelson defeated fellow caddie and future golf great Ben Hogan in a tournament at the club.

By 1932, Nelson had elevated his game to that of a professional and earned a job as the golf professional at the Texarkana Golf Club two years later.  During the early 1930s, Nelson, like many golfers, switched from hickory-shaft woods to steel ones. He quickly realized a difference between swinging wood-shaft clubs and steel-shaft clubs.  With the way hickory shafts curved in the backswing, a golfer had to keep his lower body mostly still and generate power with his hands. Nelson recognized quickly that to be successful with steel-shaft clubs his swing would have to be redeveloped.  Nelson began to stand more upright and use his legs and feet to generate power.  He found that taking the club back straight, keeping his left arm rigid and with very little torque, he could keep the club head square through the hitting plane. Nelson then ascertained that he must keep his head still while his body shifted past it during the downswing.  Once he mastered his redesigned swing, Nelson found that he could repeat it easily and precisely.  He also found that his swing hit the ball with a more direct impact, which caused it to travel farther.  Consequently, Nelson is credited with developing the modern golf swing.  He also receives credit for designing the modern golf shoe and inventing the golf umbrella.

He joined the PGA TOUR in 1935 and won the New Jersey State Open that year for his first TOUR victory. That victory began an eleven year run that would witness 52 tournament championships, including the 1937 and 1942 Masters Tournaments, the 1939 United States Open, and the 1940 and 1945 PGA Championship titles.

The 1945 season for Nelson established him as one of the all-time great golfers.  He won eleven tournaments in a row and seven others, and he averaged 68.33 strokes per round, a record that stood until 2000 when Tiger Woods averaged 67.8.

Nelson retired from the TOUR to become a rancher in 1946, but never strayed far from the game.  He played on the 1947 United States Ryder Cup team and captained it in 1965.  Nelson came out of retirement briefly in 1951 to play the Bing Crosby Pro-Am and won the tournament for his last PGA TOUR victory.  He would play The Masters numerous times after retiring from the TOUR, finishing 15th in 1965.  While managing the ranch, Nelson also had time to mentor young golfers such as Ken Venturi and Tom Watson and serve as a golf commentator for ABC television in the 1960s into the 1980s.

His most enduring accolade may be the golf tournament renamed for him.  The Dallas Open became the Byron Nelson Classic in 1968 (it is now called the AT&T Byron Nelson).  The Salesmanship Club of Dallas organizes the tournament.  Much of the tournament proceeds go to help at-risk youth at the Salesman Club Youth and Family Centers in the Dallas area.  Nelson’s tournament has raised more than $100 million for the charity and became a special interest to him for years. Nelson in 2000 stated, “It (the tournament) has meant more to me, golf-wise, than anything.”

The gentleman from Waxahachie became one of the original eleven male inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 and passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.  Lord Byron arguably contributed more to the game of golf than any one individual and did so with a charm and grace unparalleled in the sport.  Some golf historians claim Nelson was the greatest golfer that ever lived.  While that may be debatable, everyone who ever encountered him would agree that Nelson had a gift for making people feel special, and that may be the greatest compliment one person can give to another.  Cheers to Lord Byron Nelson!

The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass

 

 

Courtesy of Craig ONeal

Courtesy of Craig O’Neal

Professional golf split into two organizations in 1968: the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.  Founded in 1916, the PGA of America consists of local club and teaching professionals at golf courses throughout the country.  This group focuses on growing the game of golf and working closely with amateurs.  Also, this organization oversees the PGA Championship each year.  The PGA TOUR operates as the organization for professionals who play in tournaments. It hosts almost 50 events each year and consists of the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, and the Web.com Tour.  The PGA TOUR does not host one of the professional Majors:  the Masters, the British Open, the United States Open or the PGA Championship. The fact that the PGA TOUR hosted no signature event led to then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman’s brainchild:  the Tournament Players Championship.

Beman sought to have a championship for the PGA TOUR, much like the PGA Championship for the PGA.  Only recently split from the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, according to Beman, needed to establish important events that would lure the television networks and the money they could provide.  The Tournament Players Championship became the first of such events.  Later, the World Series of Golf (currently, the WGC-Mexico in Mexico City, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, TX, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH, and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China), Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge became PGA Tour mainstays.  All of these tournaments helped establish credibility for the PGA TOUR and attract much needed television revenue.

The Tournament Players Championship (TPC) teed off in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club.  Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural tournament in early September and would win three out of the first five TPCs.  The event moved to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for 1975, then in 1976 to Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The event moved to Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for a mid-March date in 1977 and remained there until 1982 when the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass opened.

Before the construction of the Stadium Course, Beman envisioned a special and unique site for the Players Championship.  He believed the players of the PGA TOUR should own the event and the host site.  Beman sold his idea to landowners Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who liked it so much that they offered to sell 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp to the PGA TOUR for $1.  This land served as the basis for the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.

Beman told Dye that he wanted a course that would favor no specific player or style of play.  The course had to be balanced; must contain a selection of short, medium and long holes within the categories of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; and had to have right and left doglegs.  Also, the course must not have two consecutive holes played in the same direction so that wind direction would have a more balanced influence on the players.

Because the site was to be built on wetlands and amidst heavy woods, Dye created lakes for strategic play of a hole and for fill necessary to create contours of play and “stadium” mounding, according to TPC.com.  Spectator viewing became an integral part of Dye’s design. Strategic viewing areas lined the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th greens.  These mounds allowed thousands of spectators to have unobstructed views of play.

The famous 17th island hole came about by accident.  Dye originally designed the green near a small pond. However, constructors continually dug out valuable sand around the pond until the green was surrounded by water, and arguably the most famous par-3 hole in golf emerged.

The event changed its name to the Players Championship in 1988.  The event and TPC Sawgrass are indeed owned by the players and the tournament has the richest purse of any tournament on the PGA TOUR, $10 million in 2015.  The field consists of 144 players chosen by various criteria, including rankings, PGA TOUR victories and Majors titles.  Players can also receive invitations from the Players Championship Committee.  Winners of the Players Championship receive exemptions of five years on the PGA TOUR, three-year exemptions for the Masters and British Open, and an exemption for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship later that year.

Beginning in 2007, the Players Championship moved from its March date to its current May date in a restructuring that accommodated the new FedEx Cup, which concludes with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in September.  Players now have a significant event for six consecutive months beginning in April (The Masters in April, The Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August, and the Tour Championship in September).

The Players Championship has become known as golf’s fifth major because of its lucrative purse, exemptions and FedEx Cup points awarded (the same as the four Majors). TPC Sawgrass offers a challenging, yet fair, golfing experience for players of all levels, professional and amateur, while the course contains one of the most famous par -3s in golf, the 17th island hole.  It may have taken a few decades, but Beman and the PGA TOUR found their signature event.

 

 

A Brief History of Golf

 

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Millions of people play golf every day around the world. Young and old, men and women, enjoy the game that traces its roots as far back as 100 BCE in Rome. Through the magic of television, live streaming on the internet and other forms of media, people today see the majestic beauty of Augusta National, the ancient links of the Old Course at St. Andrews, the splendor of Pebble Beach or any one of the hundreds of courses on which today’s professionals showcase their super human skills. Certainly, golf course design, the technology, and the players have come a long way since the nascent years of the game. The following will examine some of the history behind the game of golf, specifically its development into what we know as golf today.

The earliest form of golf can be traced to ancient Rome where people played a game called paganica around 100 BCE. Players hit a stuffed leather ball with a bent stick. During the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) in China, participants played chuiw an, which was played with several clubs and a ball.

A 1261 manuscript of Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant referred to a game with a ball and club. The reference may have been to the Dutch game called colf or kolf during which four players hit balls over a certain distance with the winner being the one who reached the starting point of one of the other players. Some colf or kolf games lasted multiple days.

However, the modern game of golf can trace its roots to Scotland. In a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, the game of gowf (golf) received its first mention. The Act prohibited the game because King James II saw it as a distraction from archery practice, necessary for the defense of the country.   Further mention of the game can be found in government documents in 1471 and 1491 banning the sport. By 1500, Scotland lifted all bans and within a couple of years King James IV purchased balls and clubs to play the game. At that time, balls were made of wood or hard leather while clubs were made of wood, mostly beech, holly, pear and apple. In 1724, various documents referenced balls stuffed with feathers.

Royalty provided the impetus for the spread of golf in Europe.  With King Charles I’s blessing, the game took root in England in the sixteenth century.  Mary Queen of Scots, while studying in France during this same period, introduced the sport there.  Interestingly, the term “caddie” comes from her French military aides, referred to as cadets.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG) established the first rules of golf in 1744. Twenty year later, the Old Course at St. Andrews reduced its total holes from 22 to 18, establishing the format for today’s game.

By 1826, hickory, imported from the United States, became the wood of choice for club shafts in Great Britain. About 20 years later, the gutta percha ball became the ball of choice. The ball makers placed strips of gutta percha (dried sap from a Sapodilla tree) in boiling water then molded the ball by hand before submerging in cold water to harden it.

The first British Open Championship was played at Prestwick in 1860. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club established the British Amateur Championship in 1885–Hoylake hosted the first tournament.

Montreal established the first permanent golf club in North America in 1873, the Canada’s Royal Montreal Club, while in 1894 the United States Golf Association (USGA) was  formed in New York with five charter members—St. Andrew’s Golf Club of Yonkers, New York; Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, New York; The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois.  A year later, the Newport Country Club hosted the first United States Amateur Championship and United States Open.  The USGA maintains the official rules of golf for the United States and Mexico.

By 1900, persimmon became the wood of choice for club heads while aluminum became a popular alternative. Groove-faced irons, which promote increased backspin, entered the market two years later.  Around the same time, the rubber-cored Haskell ball joined the list of new equipment. This ball revolutionized golf because it traveled farther than the gutta-percha ball and cost much less to manufacture. Golf enthusiasm and participation soared to new heights. By 1910, 267 clubs claimed USGA membership.

In 1916, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was  formed and the first PGA Championship took place at Siwanoy Country Club in New York. Five years later the British team won the first Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. However, the United States team won the first Walker Cup in 1922 at Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York.

Golf technology continued to evolve and the Royal and Ancient (R&A), the recognized stewards of the rules of golf for everywhere except the United States and Mexico, accepted steel-shafted golf clubs for the first time in 1929. The next year, Bobby Jones became the only person to achieve the Grand Slam of golf with victories in the United States Amateur, the British Amateur, the United States Open and the British Open. Not long afterwards, Jones was instrumental in designing Augusta National Golf Club, where the first Masters took place in 1934. In 1939, the Royal and Ancient indoctrinated the 14-club rule to promote individual skill and to prevent golfers from using an inordinate amount of clubs.

Women shared the golf spotlight with the men beginning in 1932 when the United States team defeated the team of Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England.   The United States Women’s Open was staged for the first time in 1946 at Spokane Country Club in Washington and four years later the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association (LPGA) was formed.

Since 1952 the R&A and the USGA have worked together to produce a common set of rules for golfers worldwide called the “Rules of Golf.”  The rules are revised every four years.

More equipment changes followed World War II. Influenced by research in synthetic and composite materials, golf club manufacturing changed. In 1963, the casting method for manufacturing club heads was introduced.  This new technology lowered the costs of golf clubs, which led to increased participation in the sport. Graphite shafts hit the market in 1973, which were lighter and stronger than steel shafts. TaylorMade introduced the first metal woods in 1979. Callaway owns the honor of the best-selling golf club in history, the Big Bertha, which hit the market for the first time in 1991.

Golf has a long and rich history. The game may have its roots as far back as ancient Rome and China. Certainly, the game as we know it today can be traced to Scotland in the fifteenth century. As the technology changed over the years and equipment costs fell, more and more people began to play the game. Arguably, it is the one sport that people can truly enjoy well into their later years in life.  Play the game once and you will probably be hooked. Just remember to yell “fore!” after an errant shot.

The Birth of the Masters

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For Bobby Jones, the time had come to retire from competitive golf in late 1930.  He had just completed the Grand Slam—United States Open, United States Amateur, British Open, British Amateur—and the strain of competing in major championships had taken a physical and mental toll on him.  Playing as an amateur, Jones won 13 major championships between 1923 and 1930 .  He was the overwhelming favorite in any tournament he entered.  Thousands of fans followed him from one hole to the next, and he wished he could just play golf somewhere with his friends, out of the spotlight.  So Jones announced his retirement at the age of 28 to shocked fans across the globe.  However, golf was still in his blood. A conversation over a drink with friend Clifford Roberts set in motion the wheels of destiny that would eventually lead to Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.

Roberts had moved around the country while growing up and eventually became a Wall Street stockbroker.  The market crash of 1929 hit Roberts very hard, but his financial abilities would prove invaluable as Augusta National tried to become a viable and sustainable operation.  He and Jones had met in the 1920s through mutual friends.  While sharing a drink one day, Jones informed Roberts of his wish to build a golf course in the South that would reflect Jones’ golf values—the course must be strategic and full of options for players of all skill levels.  Roberts suggested that Jones look in Augusta, Georgia for land.  For several decades, Augusta had served as a winter destination for wealthy northeasterners.  Roberts had been a part of some of these groups and believed these people could form the core of a national membership for the new club.  Jones had visited Augusta on numerous occasions and liked the thought of a private club in that city in part because the climate was warmer in Augusta during the winter months than Atlanta, which would allow more playing opportunities and better course conditions.  Roberts told Jones he would work with Jones on making his dream a reality, but only if Jones agreed to allow Roberts to handle all of the financing for the project.  Jones wholeheartedly agreed.

In the spring of 1931, Thomas Barrett, the vice president of the Bon-Air-Vanderbilt Hotel in Augusta, suggested a piece of property to Roberts that could be converted into Jones’ course.  The 365-acre property turned out to be the old Fruitland Nurseries, which had ceased operations in 1910.  The Berckmans family bought an old indigo plantation and turned it into a nursery in the 1850s.  The family imported trees and plants from all over the world, including the azalea plant.  The property, mainly because of the Depression, could be bought very cheaply.  Jones stated in Golf Is My Game (Doubleday & Co.:  New York, 1960), that when he first saw the property it was an “unforgettable” experience and further declared, “It seemed that this land had been lying here for years just waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it.  Indeed, it even looked as though it were already a golf course.”  With Jones’ blessing, Barrett and Roberts handled the financing for the purchase of the property.

With the property secured, Jones needed to decide on a designer for the course.  Jones wanted someone who shared his values on the game of golf.  Alister MacKenzie sent a book he wrote to Jones in 1927 entitled Golf Architecture Economy in Course Construction and Green-Keeping (Originally published in 1920.  Republished by Coventry House Publishing: Dublin, OH, 2017).  Jones remembered that the book detailed similar views to his on how a golf course should be designed (the book is on display today at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta).  MacKenzie believed that a course should preserve all natural beauty and emphasize strategy as well as skill. He also thought that a course should be challenging and interesting for golfers of all skill levels.  Clearly, Jones and MacKenzie shared a common vision.

MacKenzie, a Scotsman, became a golf course designer after practicing medicine and serving as a civil surgeon for the British Army in two wars.  The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews hired MacKenzie as a consultant for the Old Course in the 1920s.  He came to California in the mid-1920s where he was commissioned to design Cypress Point Golf Course near Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Not long after, Pebble Beach management hired MacKenzie to re-design the eighth and 13th greens.  He was next commissioned to design Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz.

In 1929, Jones headed to California to play in the United States Amateur held at Pebble Beach.  He went out early to play several of the courses in the state, and one of those was MacKenzie’s Cypress Point.  After Jones was upset in the first round of the U.S. Amateur, he decided to play Cypress Point one more time.  On this occasion Jones spoke with MacKenzie about course design.  Jones then played Pasatiempo, where Jones gained further appreciation for MacKenzie’s talent.

With these memories etched into his head, Jones knew that MacKenzie was the man to design Augusta National.  After a meeting at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York, MacKenzie agreed to a formal offer of $10,000 to design Augusta National.  Roberts helped secure some funding for the course construction.  With Jones’ input, MacKenzie began the design of Augusta National in 1931.  The course was completed in less than two years with the formal opening in January 1933.  With the suggestion from one of the Berckmans, distinctive trees and flowers were planted on each hole of the new course.

After MacKenzie made several requests for payment after the completion of the project, Roberts finally gave him $2,000.00 to appease him, but MacKenzie never received the money originally agreed to in New York.  He died at his home on Pasatiempo in 1934.

Augusta National struggled financially after the course opened.  Getting members to join became a problem.  Grantland Rice, the famous sportswriter, agreed to become a member and recruit others. Finally, Roberts and Jones came up with the idea to host a golf tournament in order to raise much needed capital.  Originally, they thought of bringing the United States Open to Augusta National but that idea dissipated because of scheduling conflicts and Augusta’s summer heat.  So Roberts and Jones decided to host their own tournament.  As a means to attract participants and to lend credibility to the event, Jones agreed to participate.  The city of Augusta gave $10,000 to support it.

The first Augusta National Invitation Tournament took place in the spring of 1934.  Horton Smith won the inaugural event while Jones finished 13th.  Jones, Roberts and all involved deemed the tournament a success.  The next year, the tournament gained more notoriety when Gene Sarazen scored a double eagle on the par five 15th hole in the final round to force a play-off with Craig Wood.  Sarazen defeated Wood the next day for the victory.

Through the diligence of Roberts, increased membership and the income from the tournament, Augusta National’s finances stabilized in the coming years.  The Club would become the viable and sustainable organization that it is known as today.

Roberts unofficially called the tournament the Masters in the early years but that moniker did not become official until 1939.  The tournament became a success because of the work of Roberts and Jones.  Early April became the ideal time of year for the event.  The beauty of the trees and flowers that lent their names to the 18 holes was magnificent that time of year.  Moreover, recognition from the national baseball writers could be garnered in early April as they made their way North after spring training in Florida.  Many of them stopped in Augusta for a brief respite, the Masters tournament, and the hospitality of Roberts and Jones.  Additionally, no other major golf event occupied the calendar during that time of year.  All of these factors helped establish Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters as the golf venue and event known universally as golf’s finest!