J. H. Taylor

Braid_Taylor_Vardon

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!

 

 

Lord Byron Nelson: The Gentleman from Waxahachie

Byron_Nelson_by_Acme,_1944

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!

A Brief History of Golf

 

800px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers

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.

A Look at the Ryder Cup

 Courtesy of Dan Perry

Courtesy of Dan Perry

Samuel Ryder made his money selling seeds in packets in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  By 1908 Ryder began to experience health problems and at the behest of a local church minister started to play golf for exercise. He joined the Verulam Golf Club in St. Alban’s near London and quickly fell in love with the game.  Ryder hired Abe Mitchell, a professional golfer, to coach him.  Over a decade later, in 1921, a group of 12 American golfers came to the Gleneagles Golf Club in Scotland hoping to showcase their skills in order to compete in the British Open a couple of weeks later.  Ten Americans actually competed against a team of 10 British golfers, including Mitchell, on June 6.  The two sides competed in foursomes in the morning and singles in the afternoon.  The British team scored a resounding 9-3-3 victory.

The Walker Cup, a match play event featuring amateur American golfers against amateur British golfers, began the next year.  Ryder believed a similar event should take place between professionals and offered to present a special trophy to the winning side.  In 1926, another group of American golfers agreed to compete against a group of British golfers at the Wentworth Club in England as a tune up for the British Open. Again 10 golfers competed on each side.  The event consisted of five foursomes on the first day and ten singles on the second day.  As in 1921, the British scored a lopsided victory, this time by a score of 13-1-1. Mitchell again played for the British.  Some historians believe this outing was meant to be the first Ryder cup match and that Ryder would present a trophy to the winning team.  However, according to Golf Illustrated, it was unclear how many Americans would be able to compete in the contest because of a national strike in Britain, so Ryder decided to present a trophy the following year.

The first official Ryder Cup match took place at the Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts from June 3-4.  A formalized Deed of Trust detailed the rules of the match well before the contest and the respective PGA organizations selected the teams. Players were not to be paid for their participation in the event. Each team carried nine golfers.  The format consisted of four foursomes playing alternate shot on the first day and eight singles matches the second day.  Led by team captain Walter Hagen, the American team won 9.5-2.5.  According to www.europeantour.com, Ryder paid 250 pounds for the construction of a 19 inch solid gold cup with a golfer on the top resembling his longtime coach, Abe Mitchell.  Even though Ryder could not make the match because of health reasons, the Cup was still presented to the American team.  Officials from both sides agreed that future matches would be held every other year because of the impracticality of trying to host one every year.  So the Ryder Cup was born.

The event would change in player inclusion and format over time.  For the first 22 Ryder Cups, the United States competed against Great Britain (including Ireland).  The United States won 18 of those, Great Britain won three and the 1969 match ended in a draw.  No matches were played in 1939, 1941, 1943 and 1945 because of World War II.  At the suggestion of Jack Nicklaus, the Great Britain team expanded its membership to all of Europe beginning with the 1979 match in an effort to make the matches more competitive.  The suggestion clearly has worked for the European team as they sport a 10-7-1 record since 1979.  The current overall record has the United States with 25 wins, Great Britain/Europe with 13, and two matches that ended in a draw.  The event switched to even years after the 2001 match was cancelled because of the 9/11 tragedy.  The Ryder Cup started anew the following year.

The process for selecting team members has changed over the years.  In the early matches the players were selected by their respective PGA organizations.  Later, team members earned their way onto the team based on performance standards. From 1929 through 1967 each team consisted of 10 players.  Beginning in 1969, each roster increased to 12 players.  From 1989 through 2014, nine team members on both sides earned their membership based on performance standards while the team captains picked three additional players.  For the 2016 Ryder Cup, the European team adhered to the three captain’s picks while the United States team decided to name four captain’s picks to go along with eight players who earned their way onto the team.

The format of the Ryder Cup has also changed over the years. From its inception through 1959, the Ryder Cup took place over two days, four 36-hole foursomes the first day followed by eight 36-hole singles matches the second day.  For the 1961 match, the format changed to four 18-hole foursomes in the morning and afternoon of day one while eight 18-hole singles matches took place in the morning and afternoon on day two.  From 1963 to 1971 the event spread to three days.  The first day witnessed four foursomes in the morning and the afternoon, the second day consisted of four four-balls in the morning and afternoon, and the third day eight singles matches took place in the morning and the afternoon.  The format changed some during the next three matches but remained contested over three days.  Beginning with the first European team in 1979 the format morphed into what it is today.  For the first two days eight foursomes/four-ball matches are played and 12 singles matches are played on day three. A total of 28 matches are played over the three days of competition under the current format.  The winning team must secure 14.5 points.  In the event of a 14-14 tie the defending champion keeps the Cup.  Team members on both sides still receive no pay for Ryder Cup participation.

From the dream of a man enthralled with the game of golf to the passionate event that it is today, the Ryder Cup has indeed evolved into one of the must-see spectacles in the world of sports.  Cheers to the vision of Samuel Ryder!

 

 

Short History of East Lake Golf Club

Courtesy of CEM0030

Courtesy of CEM0030

The Atlanta Athletic Club bought almost 200 acres of land in 1904 around East Lake. The property was to the east and south of the town of Decatur, about five miles east of Atlanta. Tom Bendelow designed the East Lake Golf course. The first nine holes were completed by 1906 and the last nine in 1907. In 1908, Bendelow created the “No. 2” course at East Lake, the present day Charlies Yates Golf course.

World-renowned golf course designer Donald Ross re-designed East Lake in 1913. His design called for the front and back nine holes to end at the clubhouse. Unfortunately, this same clubhouse fell to a fire in 1925. Soon after, Atlanta architect Philip Shutze constructed the present day two-story Tudor style building. Shutze’s East Lake clubhouse is one of several of his projects listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places. Other Atlanta works include the Swan House, The Temple, the Albert E. Thornton House, and the Citizen’s and Southern Bank Building.

While the course and clubhouse remain icons of golf, East Lake may be better known for its association with legendary golfer Bobby Jones. Robert P. Jones, Bobby’s father, was a club member from its inception.   Bobby learned and honed his game on the East Lake course under the tutelage of the club pro, Stewart Maiden. At the age of 11, Jones carded an 80 on his home course at East Lake. Jones went on to an illustrious career as an amateur, including winning the Grand Slam of golf in 1930 (United States Amateur, United States Open, British Amateur, and British Open). Jones served as president of East Lake from 1946-47 and some of his golf memorabilia can be found in the clubhouse.

East Lake hosted the Ryder Cup in 1963. Arnold Palmer played and captained the winning United States team. Unfortunately, this event became one of the last pleasant memories until the early 1990s. The surrounding neighbor in the 1960s fell into disrepair. The Atlanta Athletic Club sold the No. 2 course and moved to its current site in Duluth, GA. A group of 25 East Lake members purchased the original course and clubhouse and created the East Lake Country Club in 1968.

The 1970s witnessed the construction of a public housing project on the site of the No. 2 course. Poverty, drugs, and violence surrounded the golf club through the 1980s.

However, in 1993, a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake Golf Club with the intent of restoring it as a tribute to Bobby Jones and the club’s other great amateur golfers, such as Charlies Yates. Around this time the East Lake Foundation emerged to aid in the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. Golf architect Rees Jones, in 1994, restored Donald Ross’ original design to give East Lake its current appearance. Jones also re-designed the No.2 course, which opened as the Charlie Yates Golf Course in 1998.

Today, all of the profits from the East Lake Golf Club go to the East Lake Foundation. The Foundation aids in the support of the health, education, safety, and productivity of the East Lake neighborhood.

One of the biggest supporters of the East Lake Foundation is the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola, which is the finale of the Professional Golf Association’s playoffs and the pursuit of the FedEx Cup (winner receives $10 million). The Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998 and rotated with Champions Golf Club of Houston until 2004 when East Lake became the permanent home of the Tour Championship.

Besides the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, East Lake has hosted six Southern Amateur tournaments, three Southern Opens, one Western Junior tournament, one U.S. Amateur tournament, and one U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament.

East Lake Golf Club honors the golfing greats of the past, present, and future while giving back to the surrounding community. Certainly, it has earned its rightful place in golf lore with such venues as Augusta National, Pebble Beach, and St. Andrews and most definitely, the love and respect of its home city, Atlanta.