Wednesday, October 1, 2008
It was sort of an omen when Buddy Marucci won the USGA Senior Amateur, seeing that he's going to Captain the next Walker Cup, which will be played over the Merion Golf Club course in Philadelphia, giving Buddy a real home court advantage.
For those uninitiated into the world of golf, the Walker Cup is the amateur equilivant of the golf professoinal's Ryder Cup, which pits competative golfers that represent nations and continents against one another, playing up the team and national spirit rather than the individual play.
Unlike the Ryder Cup, which expanded its pool of players to incude those from Europe, the Walker Cup remains a true USA - UK (& Ireland) match, maintaining many of the original traditions associated with the game, and being played for only over historically significant courses.
And the Walker Cup, whose splendid pedegree is traced directly to George Herbert Walker, the grandfather and namesake of President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Like Ryder, the English merchant who put the Ryder Cup into competition, Walker continued the tradition of formalizing the antagonistic national rivalry between players from England and its former colony, the United States.
The first official Walker Cup event was held at Walker's home course, and over the years, at other classic, traditonal golf club courses.
Merion of course, fits the bill to a tee, having been the scene of numerous historic events that have made the golf record books and biographical notes.
The upcoming Walker Cup will most certainly make its mark on the record books as well as the biographies, and Buddy will be one of the more colorful characters who will have an impact on what transpires.
Back when the Walker Cup first started, the best golfers were amateurs, and those who are really good, and have maintained the amateur tradition, will make this a great tournamet.
And the publicity and excitement generated by this year's Ryder Cup will certainly add to the proceedings, and build up enthusiasm as the contest draws near.
- Bill Kelly
Oct. 1, 2008
Far Hills, N.J. - George "Buddy" Marucci, a 53-year-old career amateur who was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1995 U.S. Amateur, has been chosen to be captain of the 2007 USA Walker Cup squad.
Buddy Marucci lost to Tiger Woods, 2 up, in the 1995 U.S. Amateur. (USGA Photo Archives)
The next Walker Cup Match, a 10-man amateur team competition between the USA and a joint team from Great Britain and Ireland , will be played from Sept. 8-9 at Royal County Down in Newcastle, Ireland .
"It's a dream come true," said Marucci. "I have some big shoes to fill in following Bob Lewis (2005 USA captain). It's going to be a challenge, and I'm looking forward to it."
The co-owner of Pennmark Auto Group, a company with four luxury car dealerships in the Philadelphia area, Marucci has qualified for 40 USGA championships, including 23 Amateurs.
As runner-up in the 1995 Amateur, he earned an invitation to play in the 1996 Masters. He continued to be one of the country's top amateur players, and reached the quarterfinals of the 1996 Amateur later that year. As a result, he was selected to consecutive USA Walker Cup teams, in 1995 and 1997. He has a combined record of 3-0 in foursomes (alternate shot) and 1-1-1 in singles.
A 1974 graduate of the University of Maryland, Marucci resides in Wayne, Pa.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Ryder and Walker Cups have been played between the US and UK golfers for decades, but the origin of the US - UK golf rivalry in both the amateur and professional ranks dates back to Walter Travis and Walter Hagen.
While Johnny McDermott was well received, and placed fifth in his first British Open, the highest for any American up to that time, McDermott also started the bitter rivalry in his locker room speech at Shawnee in 1913, making golf a national as well as personal sport.
By the time McDermott made it to Europe, Walter Travis had preceeded him. After winning the British Amateur, Travis refused to go back to defend his title after his center-shafted putter was banned by St. Andrews. And it took someone of the caliber of Walter Hagen, the first true touring professional, to come along and teach the English some manners when it comes to welcoming foreign guests.
With the Ryder Cup back in the news, I thought it appropriate to post two chapters from Birth of the Birdie on Travis and Hagen that cuts to the roots of the US - UK golf rivalry.
Walter J. Travis
Walter J. Travis took up the game of golf late in life – at the age of 35, but he took to the game quickly and became one of the first great champions, winning the 1900 U.S. Amateur Championship and successfully defending his title at the Atlantic City Country Club.
Born in Australia, Travis came to America where he was introduced to the game of golf. He was considered a "deadly" putter and was often referred to as "the Old Man," because of his age, but continually defeated players much younger than he was. A colorful character with a beard and wide brimmed hat, he was often seen chomping on a cigar as he hit the ball. Travis had only been playing golf for three years when he won the 1900 U.S. Amateur Championship.
One of the most significant things about the 1901 Amateur Championship was the introduction of the new Haskell, a rubber center ball known as the "Bounding Billy" because it took off in different directions until it was hit enough times. Travis was the first player to use the Haskell to win a major tournament, and he did it at the Atlantic City Country Club.
In 1904 Travis became the first American to win the British Amateur Championship. As with the Haskell ball in Atlantic City, Travis won the British event with an unconventional instrument 0 the Schenectady putter.
According to Joseph W. Walker, "It was the answer to all of his needs. His short game returned and exceeded his game in the United States. On the greens, in front of them, in traps around the greens, Travis was uncanny. He mystified his opponents. Not expected to figure in the tournament, he won match after match and reached the thirty-six hole final. There he met Edward Blackwell, one of the longest hitters in the British Isles. Even his teammates didn’t give Travis a chance against such a powerful opponent. But Travis, black cigar between his lips, was four-up after the first 18 holes. And Blackwell was unable to cut his lead down, so the match went to the American."
"Travis resented the shabby treatment he received in England," wrote Walker, "and so he refused to defend his title the following year." After Travis’ victory, the center shafted "Schenectady" putter was summarily banned by the rules committee of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, but has since been reinstated.
Walter Travis also designed golf courses, one of which was the Garden City Golf Club, where James J. Fraser worked when he first came to America.
[Chapter 8, of Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club, 1997, By William E. Kelly]
Walter Hagen first heard of the Atlantic City Country Club when he tried to take off from his Country Club golf and tennis instruction duties in order to play in the 1912 U.S. Open in Buffalo, New York. His employer laughed and told the 20 year old assistant he was too young.
Hagen caught the final round as a spectator, just in time to see 20 year old John McDermott, of Atlantic City Country Club defend his Championship title.
The following year Hagen showed up at the Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts after he heard of McDermott’s boisterous boast that the foreigners wouldn’t take the Open trophy home with them, despite the entrance of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two of the greatest golfers of all time.
Hagen entered the locker room and this time got a laugh out of McDermott when he said, "I’m here to help you keep the title from going overseas."
While that task was left for Francis Ouimet to accomplish, Walter Hagen came back to win the 1914 Open and then went on to become the first prolific touring professional and, as Leo Fraser dubbed him – "The Great Emancipator," who changed the game of golf forever.
It’s not exactly clear when Walter Hagen first came to Atlantic City, although it is known that he was a close friend of Seaview pro James "Jolly Jim" Fraser, and frequent visitor to the Fraser home on the first fairway. While other distinguished personages have also been golfing and dinner guests at the Fraser home, few dignitaries were as frequent as Walter Hagen.
While their association stemmed from the game of golf, Hagen and "Jolly Jim" also shared the love of another sport – hunting. They were frequent hunting partners, going off into the woods behind Seaview with shotguns at their sides and pack dogs at their heels.
They also played golf, and as a team they did what few other men were capable of doing – defeating the great Harry Vardon and Ted Ray during their 1920 visit to America.
As a close friend of the Fraser family, Walter Hagen, like Geist, assumed a father-figure role to the young Frasers after the accidental death of Jolly Jim, particularly Leo Fraser, who moved to Hagen’s home state of Michigan to work as a golf pro when he was only sixteen. Hagen’s positive influence was demonstrated at a Michigan Open, held at Saginaw Country Club, where Leo was the club professional. While Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour were paid appearance money, it was Leo who won the tournament.
It was while working in Michigan that Leo began working for Hagen, selling golf equipment out of the back of a truck and "barnstorming" on the road. When there were no tournaments scheduled they put on exhibitions, selling tickets for $1 and $2 a person. While Hagen was the first golf professional to make a million dollars in a career, he also lived extravagantly and spent much of the money as he went along.
Hagen raised the social level of golf professionals and rekindled American interest in the British Open, which he won fir the first time in 1922, signing his winner’s check over to his caddy, and again in 1946 when he convinced Sam Snead to go over and win it.
Golf professionals in the early part of the century were regarded as second class citizens. It took something of a golf pro right’s movement, expounded by Hagen, to win such basic things as permission to change clothes and eat meals in the clubhouse, rather than the caddyshack.
Once when he was refused entrance into the clubhouse, which was for members and guests only, no professional allowed, Hagen threw a lavish dinner party for the pros at a local pub. Another time he parked his limousine at the front door of the clubhouse where he ate caviar and drank champagne until he was invited in.
This was Leo Fraser’s teenage mentor.
When Leo arrived in Scotland in 1960 for the Centennial British Open he wrote to his sister Elizabeth. "Dear Sis, Well darling, your little brother is really in the R & A Clubhouse, where not so many years ago a golf pro would not dare enter. Walter Hagen, our Great Emancipator, changed all that…."
"Leo used to talk about Walter Hagen all the time," Elizabeth recalls. "He used to say how pickled he’d get, and still be able to play great golf."
Nor did Hagen like to practice, which he considered, "A great shot wasted."
When he traveled Walter Hagen spread his philosophy of life: "Never hurry and don’t worry. You’re here for just a short visit, so don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers along the way."
Leo On The Haig – "The Great Emancipator."
To Walter Hagen:
Who gave to so many A Happy Christmas.
The Haig wouldn’t have cared especially for flowers in a wreath. He preferred them growing wild where he could pause and smell them as he rambled through life. Neither would he have cared for a garland of rhetoric. Like money, he figured words were meant to be scattered around casually, not woven into wreaths of tribute.
So, this is not meant to be a flowery tribute to The Haig. It is intended only as a simple and sincere thank-you note from one golf professional, on behalf of all golf professionals, to the memory of the one man who, more than any other single individual in the game, gave us a special sense of dignity and pride.
Walter Hagen was there when it all began in 1916 and through the years, his loyalty and affection for his fellow professionals in the PGA of America never wavered or became diluted. From the beginning to the very end, The Haig considered himself no more, no less, than a staunch member of our Association, committed to its principles and sharing a common destiny with the youngest shop assistant in the game. This is what was so wonderful about The Haig. He was the professional’s professional. – Leo Fraser
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
BIRTH OF THE BIRDIE - ATLANTIC CITY COUNTRY CLUB
Birth of the Birdie
Except for the whistle of a strong bay breeze, all fell quiet as Abner "Ab" Smith lined up his shot down the long twelfth fairway at the Atlantic City Country Club. It was late in the afternoon on a windy, but mild Saturday, a typical winter weekend outing for the group from suburban Philadelphia who frequented the Jersey Shore course when their home fairways were covered with snow.
Smith slowly took up is backswing, then let go with a wallop, putting the ball on the green, inches from the hole allowing for an easy putt and a one-under-par for the hole. It was such a fine shot that someone in the group was moved to say it was a "bird of a shot."
With the putt, Smith won the hole in one-under-par, and because the players were playing for a ball-a-hole, they then agreed to double the wager on a hole where a golfer who hits such a "bird of shot" wins with a one-under-par "birdie."
Thus began a tradition at the club, and the coining of a new term. Visitors who learned of the local "birdie" tradition took it back to their home clubs and it eventually spread around the world. It would become universal in its meaning and usage.
The term "birdie" is one word in the English language that can be traced back to the original moment in time and place when it was first used. Even the green where the celebrated first birdie occurred has been preserved for posterity. It’s the same hole where Ab Smith and is cronies made golf history, although they didn’t realize it at the time.
"It’s all well documented," assured Kenny Robinson, the long time caddymaster and pro shop manager.
That the term "birdie" is of American origin or that it was coined at the Atlantic City Country Club is undisputed, though some of the details have shifted in the sands of time.
In Country Life magazine, on September 20, 1913, famed British golf writer Bernard Darwin wrote, "It takes a day or two for the English onlooker [in the U.S.] to understand that….a ‘birdie’ is a hole done in a stroke under par."
In 1936, H.B. Martin, in his Fifty Years of American Golf, quotes Ab Smith himself, while playing a threesome, taking credit for not only hitting the ‘bird of a shot,’ but making the exclamation and suggesting it be paid double the bet, as well as calling it a "birdie."
Smith also claimed the incident occurred in 1899. According to Smith, "…my ball…came to a rest within six inches of the cup. I said, ‘that was a bird of a shot,’…. ‘I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in one under par he receives double compensation.’ The other two agreed and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it a ‘birdie.’"
Charles Price, a longtime member of the Atlantic City Country Club, who wrote about the incident in his book The World of Golf, also notched the year as 1899, and repeated a patently untrue account of Smith’s ball hitting a bird in flight.
Price, "…To…the abomination in the eyes of the British, Americans added a term of their own – ‘birdie,’ or one less than par for a hole. This expression was coined in 1899 at The Country Club of Atlantic City. It seems that one day three golfers – Ab Smith, his brother William, and George Crump, who was later to build Pine Valley about forty-five miles away – were playing together when rump hit his second shot only inches from the cup on a par-four hole after his first had struck a bird in flight."
Simultaneously," wrote Price, "the Smith brothers exclaimed that Crump’s shot was a ‘bird.’ Crump’s short putt left him one under par for the hole, and from that day the three of them referred to such a score as a ‘birdie.’ In short order, the entire membership of the club began using the term, and since, as a resort, the club had a lot of out-of-town visitors, the expression soon spread and caught the fancy of all American golfers. From ‘birdie’ there naturally followed such blasphemous Americanizations as ‘double-bogey’ and ‘eagle.’"
Atlantic City Press sports editor Ed Nichterlien wrote, "The incident that produced the term involved a four-some of William and George Crump, A. W. Tillinghast and Abner ‘Ab’ Smith. Ab hit his second shot on the second hold barely inches from the cup," related Nickerlien, "and one of the brothers remarked that he had hit a ‘bird of a shot.’ Since it enabled Ab to complete the hole in one-under-par, it was decided to call a one-under-par hole a ‘birdie,’ and to compensate the man who scored it by paying him double that hole. The term ‘eagle’ (for two under par) naturally followed, - likewise of Atlantic City coinage."
The April, 1991 issue of Golf Digest contains a story on the origin of golf terms by Jock Howard, an editor at Golf World United Kingdom: "It is entirely fitting that an out door cross-country sport such as golf should be full of imagery….It is only comparatively recently that women have had a monopoly on the term.," wrote Howard, in regards to the British custom of referring to women as ‘birds.’
Howard explained, "If you were in an exceptionally smart or accomplished person living in the Thirteenth century England your friends might refer to you as a bird. To be a bird was to be suave and sophisticated, polished and generally a good egg. Towards the end of the Nineteenth century, bird was American slang used frequently to describe a person or thing of excellence, such as, ‘He is a perfect bird of a man.’"
As for the golf term, Howard relates, "Bird was reputed to have been first used in connection with golf at the Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey in 1903. An American called Ab Smith was playing a par 4 when he hit his second shot stiff to the hole. He turned to his partners and shouted joyfully, ‘That’s a bird of a shot!’"
Since Atlantic City became a major resort town, people came from all over America and the world to vacation, and those who played golf went to the Atlantic City Country Club, where they learned of the local tradition, picked up the term and took it with them back to their home course.
The earliest recorded published reference is believed to have been in McCleans Magazine in 1911, when it was reported, "….Lansborough followed with a bird, straight down the course about 215 yards."
It was first used in print to refer to a one-under par in the Glasgow Herald some years later: "Brown squared with a birdie three at the second."
The term "eagle," for two-under par, also has an Atlantic City Country Club origin, and first saw print in 1922.
Closest to the truth is probably A.W. Tillinghast’s version, published in the April, 1933 issue of Golf Ilustrated, thirty years after the event occurred. Tillinghast recalled that they were playing winter golf, probably on a Saturday, when his group of regulars from the ‘Quaker’ City (of Philadelphia) arrived at the Shore by train. The year was 1903.
"Now instead of playing the conventional two or four ball encounters," Tillinghast wrote, "we had drifted to the habit of all playing together if we were less than a dozen….Thus originated a sort of mob golf, which became known about the country as a ‘Philadelphia Ballsome,’ for stakes were usually a ball or two for each hole."
"It came to pass that we were playing the long twelfth hole (in the order at the time), with a keen following wind. The hole usually played as a three-shotter, but on this occasion someone got away two screamers and got home in two. As the second shot hit the green either Bill Smith or his brother Ab exclaimed: ‘That’s a bird!’."
"Immediately the other remarked that such an effort that resulted in cutting par by a stroke should be rewarded doubly, and there on the spot it was agreed that thereafter this should be done. And so it was, the exclamation of Smith, giving the name, Bird, which gradually was to become a term of the game, used wherever it is played today."
Tillinghast remembers little more than the foursome, and doesn’t know if it was George Crump or his brother Bill who made the remark.
Kenny Robinson explained that the original ‘long twelfth hole’ that Tillinghast refers to eventually became the second hole when the course was redesigned in the early 20s. In 1946, when Leo Fraser became the owner, the legendary green was kept intact as a practice green, as it is today. According to Robinson, "Leo Fraser kept the hole as it was because he recognized it as the historic site where the term birdie first originated."
Today a plaque marks the spot where Ab Smith made the first "bird of a shot," now used as the practice green.
[Originally published in Golfer’s Tee Times (Vol. 1 #1), and as Chapter 9 of the book Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at the Atlantic City Country Club, by William Kelly, 1997]
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The Legend of Johnny McDermott – America’s Forgotten Golf Hero
John J. McDermott - America’s Forgotten Hero
From: Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club (1997) Chapter 10
John J. McDermott
Atlantic City Country Club Pro 1911 – 1914
At 19 years of age, John McDermott remains the youngest player to have won the U.S. Open Championship, and he did it twice, back-to-back 1911 – 1912, and in doing so ended an era of foreign domination of the game.
The legend of Johnny McDermott espouses the spirit of a young America – the spunky, brash teenager who finally beat the Europeans at their own game. And his name will never be eclipsed in the record book because he was the first, the first American, the first American to repeat, the first to break par and the youngest.
Born on August 12, 1891 in West Philadelphia, the son of a mailman, John Joseph McDermott, Jr. was introduced to the game of golf when he was nine years old while visiting his grandfather’s farm, located just across the road from the Old Aronimink Golf Club.
McDermott became a caddy, dutifully passing on his tips to his mother, dropped out of high school and later said, "I cast my lot early with the pros."
Aronimink pro Walter Reynolds took McDermott under his wind, taught him the game, encouraged him to become a skilled clubmaker, and helped him land jobs, is first as an assistant at the Merchantville Golf Club in Camden County, New Jersey.
In 1909 he finished fourth in the Philadelphia Open and fourth again in his first U.S. Open, but McDermott teed off virtually unnoticed at the 1910 U.S. Open, held over the Philadelphia Cricket Club course in Chestnut Hill. At the end, McDermott found himself in a three-way playoff with legendary brothers MacDonald and Alex Smith, from Carnoustie, Scotland. Thirty-eight year old Alex Smith won that match, but McDermott caught the world’s attention by beating Mac Smith by two.
McDermott’s sister Gertrude said, "Dad was surprised to see his son’s name in the headlines because we didn’t even know Johnny was in the tournament. We were proud of him, including my father."
After becoming the first Philadelphian to win the Philadelphia Open in 1910, the eighteen year old, five-foot eight, 135 pound McDermott had established himself locally as well and took a full professional position when Bill Robinson left the Atlantic City Country Club in 1911.
In his book The U.S. Open: Golf’s Ultimate Challenge, Robert Sommers wrote, "McDermott was a quiet, mannerly young man; he didn’t drink or smoke, and he rarely missed Sunday mass." What McDermott did have was a passion for golf.
According to his sister Alice, "He boarded in a house across the road from the Atlantic City Country Club and he followed the same routine every day. He would be on the practice field as soon as it was light, about 5 a.m. and hit shots until 8 a.m. when he opened the pro shop. After his day’s teaching, he would go out and play. Often he told us, he finished in twilight with somebody holding a lantern. On Saturday nights he would go to Atlantic City and take a hotel room just so he could attend 6 o’clock Mass because the church near the club didn’t have mass until 11 o’clock. Right after Mass, John got the first trolley to Northfield and he practiced until 8 o’clock."
After winning the Philadelphia Open and tying the Smith brothers for the national championship, McDermott looked towards the 1911 U.S. Open with confidence. He told others in the Atlantic City locker room that, "the foreigners are through." As he was leaving the clubhouse he turned to his assistant and said, "You’re carrying the clubs of the next Open champion."
And he lived up to his word. At the 1911 U.S. Open in Chicago McDermott missed an opportunity to take the championship outright and faltered into a three-way playoff, all tied at 307 after 72 holes, but he won the playoff by two strokes. By doing so he became the first American-born champion, and at nineteen, the youngest.
"He ended the domination of immigrant British golfers," wrote Sommers, "and was leading a wave of young homebreds…who were to revolutionize the way the game was played….McDermott’s victory had not only shown that American-born golfers could outplay the best of the imports, it also quickened interest in the Open."
The following year a record 131 players entered the 1912 Open at the Country Club of Buffalo, where McDermott won with a final round 71. The previous rounds of 74 – 75 – 74 gave McDermott a 294, and yet another first – the first to score under par over 72 holes.
McDermott won the Open twice before he had reached the age of twenty-one, and was being compared to (four time Open winner) Willie Anderson. "There seemed to be no limit to what he might accomplish," wrote Sommers. "He was doing well financially: clubs were marketed under his name, he endorsed balls, played exhibition matches, gave lessons, and invested his money. The world was a lovely place."
"To our off-side way of thinking," Grantland Rice said, "John was the greatest golfer American has ever produced, amateur or professional, when it came to a combination of nerve, coolness and all around skill from the tee to the green. McDermott had no weakness in any part of his game and, what is more to the point, he as pretty sure to be at this best under the heaviest fire."
His fortunes appeared to take a turn for the better at the 1913 British Open when he finished fifth overall, the first time an American broke into the top British ranks. Then fate would deal McDermott a cruel hand."
In 1913 McDermott held many crowns – he was the two-time defending U.S. Open champion and he had won the Western Open, then a major tournament, but all roads were leading towards the 1913 U.S. Open at the Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts.
There was great anticipation for the showdown between McDermott and the great British pro Harry Vadon, on one of his tours of the states. The last time Vardon came to America he took home the 1900 U.S. Open Championship almost as a matter of routine. Vardon was the odds on favorite, along with Ted Ray, then the British Open champion.
Before Brookline however, Vardon and Ray entered a tournament at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, which attracted nearly the same field as the U.S. Open. McDermott won easily, shooting eight strokes better than runner-up Alex Smith, and thirteen strokes better than Vardon. McDermott was the only one in the field to break 300 with a 292.
In the course of victory McDermott was lifted into the air and made a quick speech, the exact words having been lost in the retelling of the tale. In the New York papers, McDermott was quoted as rudely saying, "We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don’t think they did, and we are sure they won’t win the National Open."
McDermott later claimed he said, "I wish Ray and Vardon great success, but the people of this country needn’t worry or fear as to the cup going to the other side. The professional golfers are able enough to take care of the trophy and protect it as conditions are all in their favor, just as much as they were the visitors’ favor on their home courses across the pond."
McDermott was not aware that he had said anything wrong and when he was told, he tried to apologize. "I am broken-hearted over the affair," McDermott said, "and the way the papers used my speech." No harm was meant and I am certainly sorry that my talk has been taken up by this manner." But the New York press and the British reporters played it up to the point where the U.S. Open would be covered by more than just sports writers and golf would break onto the front page once again.
A.W. Tillinghast later said that both Englishmen accepted the apology, "because they realized Johnny was flush with victory, young and comparatively uneducated." Te older men may have been understanding, but others were not so forgiving. In his defense McDermott said, "I have been horribly misquoted and people not cognizant of the true facts are censuring me right and left. The correspondents as well as some of the golfers at Shawnee took up my words in the wrong light and this caused all the trouble."
With a strong field that included Walter Hagen, Vardon, Ray and Wilfred Reid, later an Atlantic City pro, the 1913 U.S. Open is said to have been the best golf championship ever played. It ended in a three-way play-off between Vardon, Ray and a young American, Francis Ouimet, who until a few weeks before had worked as a caddy over the Brookline course.
While he missed the hat trick of three consecutive U.S. Open championships, McDermott did help coach the young American amateur who kept McDermott’s promise that the foreign visitors wouldn’t win the National Open that year. "Just play your own game," McDermott told Ouimet as he walked up to the first tee, "pay no attention to Vardon and Ray."
On their tour of the states, Vardon and Ray won every match, except for the one loss to McDermott at Shawnee, so when they found themselves up against the twenty-year old Ouimet, who they never heard of before, they assumed it was a match between the two of them, as did most of the world. The Massachusetts State Amateur champion, who lived across the street from the course and was only allowed in to play at the last moment to round out the field, went on to win, up by more than a few strokes as he holed his last putt on the eighteenth green in the rain.
McDermott took a vacation in Florida, where he worked as a teaching pro at some of the more exclusive hotels, sometimes earning as much as $100 a lesson from students with names like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. McDermott seemed to regain his confidence and entered the British Open, but he never teed off. He missed a train and channel ferry and the tournament was already in underway when he arrived.
So McDermott booked passage home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, a German passenger liner billed as the "majestic speed queen of the North Atlantic." McDermott was in a barber’s chair when the Kaiser Wilhelm collided with the Incemore, an English grain vessel.
A steward reportedly led McDermott to a lifeboat, along with the other 800 passengers. McDermott drifted in the ocean fog for some twenty hours before he was rescued. While no one lost their lives as a result of the tragedy, McDermott could never seem to shake the incident. While he seemed unharmed, the experience affected him more than anyone realized. His sister Gertrude later said, "It was like the last straw. Everything had hit him within a year, and it was all bad."
The series of events over that year, from his stock loses, the incident at Shawnee, the loss at the U.S. Open, missing the British Open, then the shipwreck, they all seemed to prey on his mind. He entered the 1914 Open, but by then his spirit was shattered, and he was never in position to win. As James Finegan described the situation, "Johnny entered the 1914 U.S. Open, but the indomitable – some would say abrasive – self confidence that had always marked his demeanor was nowhere in evidence. Never in contention, he finished at 300, 10 strokes behind Walter Hagen, whose victory was his first national championship."
In mid-October, McDermott blacked out in the professional’s shop at Atlantic City Country Club. He was put to bed, and on October 31, Halloween night, his parents were notified of his sickness and he was taken home. In early December he resigned his job.
In a special dispatch datelined Northfield, N.J. December 5, 1914, it was announced, "MCDERMOTT RETIRES FROM SEASHORE JOB. Noted Golfer Leaves Atlantic City Country Club – Sticks Are Sent Home. Friends say McDermott will quit the game for awhile." At the age of twenty-three, Johnny McDermott’s career was over, his promise left unfulfilled. His father convinced him to enter a hospital and he spent the rest of his life in rest homes taking an endless series of treatments.
While McDermott never played another official tournament, he did play golf, as a sort of therapy. For his personal use, as well as a few doctors who had caught the golf bug, a makeshift, six hole course was haphazardly laid out over the grounds of the Norristown Hospital.
When McDermott was committed as "a lunatic," his sister was required to pay $1.75 a week to support him. Ten years later, in 1924, a pro-am tournament was played at Philmont for the "J.J. McDermott Fund," while another group of golfers in New York quickly raised $1,500, with donations from Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Joe Kirkwood and AL Jolson. In later years, Leo Fraser did what he could to ensure McDermott’s well being.
McDermott did get off the hospital grounds on occasion, when his sisters would pick him up and escort him to a tournament or to play a round at a local golf course – Valley Forge was a favorite, where the local golf professional looked after him. And by all reports he continued to play well into his twilight years. In December, 1924 McDermott teamed up with William "Zimmer" Platt at Whitemarsh in a better-ball match against two professionals, Bob Peters and Johnny’s longtime friend, Morrie Talman.
As one report described it, "The game was played under winter conditions and McDermott would have none of winter rules. He scorned to touch his ball through the fairway, yet nothing higher than a five marred his card….After the match McDermott went back to the hospital, his vacation was for only one day."
One afternoon in 1928 Walter Hagen visited McDermott and played a round with him over the hospital grounds. When Hagen asked his opinion about the current quality of players, McDermott replied, "the courses may be more difficult, but the players are better." But he wasn’t ready to leave the hospital. "I don’t think I ever saw a more beautiful view than from here. I think its fine," he said. As his parting words, McDermott told Hagen, "Tell the boys I’m getting along just fine."
McDermott did play again, but he didn’t play often, especially after his clubs were stolen in April, 1949. One report noted, "Stolen from an automobile, the golf clubs used by John J. McDermott when he won the U.S. Open title in 1911-12’, might be worth a dollar loan to a reckless pawn broker, but to a collector of golf treasures, they would be relics beyond price. To John McDermott they were the rods and staffs that comforted him in old age."
There were about 16 clubs in the stolen bag, but only about six figured in his game. He used a cleek and the equivalent of a four, five and nine irons, light and heavy mashies and a niblick.
According to the Valley Forge pro, Elwood Poore, "You must play a round with him to get your fill of amazement. He’s a holdover from the days when good golfers played with more skill than science. Except on the greens he’s almost a cinch to be using the wrong club but he’s also a cinch for the low eighties. I believe every word they say about his mania for practice. He hardly ever mentions the old days except when something happens to light up a dim picture. For example – once we started out round to clear weather and half way through it blew up raw with rain in our faces and he said, "This reminds me of an experience I had at Muirfeld (Scotland) – cold and raw and I could not get any feeling of the club."
"He plays by the rules as he knew them," said Poore, "still drops a ball over his shoulder after an out of bounds shot off the tee. In casual water he plays the lie as he finds it. The caddy never lest on when he selects the wrong club."
Philadelphia C.C. pro Tim DeBaufre played a round with McDermott at Overbrook in 1961. "I was a young assistant pro at the time," DeBaufre recalls, "and the pro told me to go out and play with him. He didn’t talk too much, but I do remember that after he teed off he played with a two wood every where, but he got bad lies, mainly in the rough, and didn’t do very good."
McDermott’s sister took him out to some major tournaments when they were held nearby. At one PGA championship, a young assistant pro ordered McDermott out of the pro shop because he was in the way. He was incredulous when someone said, "Do you know you just kicked a two-time winner of the U.S. Open out of the pro shop?"
McDermott’s sister later said that the only time she ever saw her brother cry was when he was named to the golf Hall of Fame, taking his place among the immortals – Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.
Stan Dudas recalled McDermott visiting the Atlantic City Country Club in 1965. A photo on the taproom wall shows Leo Fraser with John McDermott and Harry Cooper. Dudas recalled playing a round with him.
"We played," Dudas recalled, "but he didn’t say much. He still did things the old way, without a tee. He’d push a little sand or grass together to form a little clump and put his ball down on that. But he was very good, you could tell he was a champion."
McDermott saw his last Open at the Merion Cricket Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania in 1971. Standing unobtrusively in his rumpled suit and tie, he was recognized by Arnold Palmer, the 1960 U.S. Open champion. "How’s your game these days?" Palmer asked the old champion.
"I’m hitting the ball good," McDermott said, "but my putting is not what it should be."
Palmer smiled, put his arms around McDermott’s shoulders and said, "I know exactly what you mean….The only thing we can do is keep practicing."
Shortly thereafter, on Sunday morning, August 1, 1971 Johnny McDermott died quietly in his sleep, eleven days shy of his eightieth birthday. The Philadelphia Inquirer, on August 2, simply reported "Yeadon Man Dies, Won Open."
John J. McDermott was the first American and the best of his day, and could have been the greatest of all time. He remains the youngest player to win the U.S. Open National Championship.
– By William Kelly
The legend of Johnny McDermott cannot be exaggerated. He espoused the spirit of America as the spunky, brash, young teenager who finally beat the Europeans at their own game.
Americans might have won the Revolution, but they couldn’t beat the British and Scotts at golf until McDermott came along. He was the first American, and at nineteen, still the youngest to win the U.S. Open, and he did it twice, back-to-back in 1911 and 1912.
John J. McDermott first appeared on the national scene at the U.S. Open in 1910 when he found himself in a three way playoff with brothers McDonald and Alex Smith, who hailed from Carnoustie, Scotland. Alex won that match, but the eighteen year old McDermott, while losing the game to a thirty eight year old professional, caught the world’s attention by beating Mac Smith by two.
The son of a Philadelphia mailman, McDermott was a good student but dropped out of West Philadelphia high school to work as a caddy at Aronomick Country Club, where he was first introduced to the game. After working at the Merchantville Field Club in Camden County, New Jersey, and making a name for himself in tournament play, also winning the 1910 Philadelphia Open, McDermott took the golf professional position at the prestigious Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield.
"McDermott was a quite, mannerly, young man," says Robert Sommers ( in The U.S. Open: Golf’s Ultimate Challenge, Athenaeum, N.Y. 1987), "he didn’t drink or smoke, and he rarely missed Sunday mass."
McDermott did have a passion for golf. "Johnny drove himself," wrote Sommes. "He began the day’s practice at dawn, often at five o’clock, when he opened the shop. After closing late in the afternoon he played until dark, then practiced putting by lamp light. McDermott’s mashie became the stuff of legend. He practiced by hitting shots at a large tarpaulin spread out on the ground about 150 yards away, reducing the target gradually to spread out newspapers."
"The more he practiced the better and more confident he became. Early in 1911 he challenged Philadelphia professionals to eighteen hole matches for $1,000 each. After he won three straight, the competition dried up. By then McDermott was definitely ready for bigger things."
After winning the Philadelphia Open (which he did three times), and tying the Smith’s for the Open championship, McDermott arrived at the 1911 U.S. Open in Chicago to find himself up against Alex Ross (from Dornoch, Scotland), George Simpson and Mike Brady. After missing an opportunity to take the championship outright, he faltered into a three way playoff with Simpson and Brady.
"Johnny normally played a Rawlings Black Circle ball," wrote Sommers, "but when a manufacturer offered a $300 bonus if the playoff winner used a brand called the Colonial, he switched, then hit two of them out of bounds from the 1st tee….Neither Brady nor Simpson was a match for McDermott this day though." He beat Brady by two and Simpson by six, becoming the first American born champion, and at nineteen, the youngest as well.
"He had ended the domination of immigrant British golfers," wrote Sommers, "and was leading a wave of young homebreds…who were to revolutionize the way the game was played….McDermott’s victory had not only shown that American born golfers could outplay the best of the imports, it also quickened interest in the Open."
The following year the 1912 Open moved to Buffalo, New York, where McDermott trailed Brady and Alex Smith by two strokes after two rounds. "Brady had a wretched start in the afternoon," wrote Sommers, "and McDermott continued to attack…At the 155-yard sixteenth, McDermott hit a tee shot that covered the flagstick all the way and came down only a few yards from the hole. Using the style of putting that had developed in the United States – heels together, erect stance, pendulum stroke – McDermott rolled the ball dead into the heart of the hole for a birdie 2."
That gave him a three stroke lead with two holes to play, permitting him to go on to take the round with a 71, and win the championship with a 294.
"Never had American golfers seen such sensational scoring…McDermott was clearly the better golfer. He had now won the Open twice before he had reached the age of twenty-one, and he was being compared to Willie Anderson. There seemed to be no limit to what he might accomplish. He was doing well himself financially: Clubs were marketed under his name, he endorsed balls, played exhibition matches, gave lessons, and invested his money. The world was a lovely place."
But 1913 was an unlucky year for McDermott. With Brady and McNamara, McDermott traveled to Holyoke in England for the British Open. The year before he had arrived at Muirfield as the brash American champion and announced that he came to win, an attitude that ruffled the feathers of the stuffy English. He did well in practice, but then failed to qualify and was gone before the game began.
"Some of McDermott’s problems," Sommers wrote, "had been caused by his method of striking the ball. Americans by then had developed their own type of golf swing, a long, loose, flowing motion somewhat like the old St. Andrews swing of the feather ball period., but with more body turn. Because it emphasized a flattish motion, it often caused a hook, which Johnny couldn’t control at Muirfield. The British swing, on the other hand, was shorter, with a restricted follow through that made more use of the arms and wrists. Johnny’s swing was well under control at Hoylake." He finished fifth overall, the best an American had ever done.
"Just as life was looking ever brighter, though, Johnny McDermott’s good times were ending. When he arrived home, he was shaken to learn he had lost heavily in some stock transactions. He kept the news from his family – he was a bachelor and lived with his sisters and their parents, but he brooded so much they knew something was wrong. Other problems deepened his depression."
The 1913 Open was held at the same time as the great British golfer Harry Vardon was on one of his occasional tours of the states, this time accompanied by Ted Ray, the winner of the 1912 British Open. Varden and Ray entered a tournament at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, which attracted nearly the same field as the U.S. Open. McDermott shot eight strokes better than runner-up Alex Smith, and thirteen strokes better than Vardon, one of the greatest British players of all time. Ray was a stroke behind Vardon."
"McDermott was boosted on a chair at the presentation ceremony and the crowd called for a speech…Cocky to the point of arrogance," wrote Sommers, "McDermott was quoted as saying, ‘We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don’t think they did, and we are sure they won’t win the National Open.’"
"The crowd was stunned," Sommers noted. "The Englishmen’s faces flushed, but they said nothing. Trying to smooth things over, their friends only added to the embarrassment. American players seemed more indignant than the foreign born pros; they felt the remarks were particularly ungracious coming from McDermott, since the British had received him so cordially on his two visits."
"American professionals can be sure of a cool reception abroad for years to come," one of them remarked, but McDermott had not been aware that he had said anything wrong. When he was told, he tried to apologize. "The older men were understanding. Realizing that Johnny was young and flushed with victory, they accepted the apology. Others were not so forgiving." The USGA sent McDermott a letter regarding his "extreme discourtesy" and threatened to reject his entry in the U.S. Open, even though he was the two time defending champion.
"Even though his entry was accepted," says Sommers, "he was depressed when he went to Boston for the championship, which was out of character for him, but he was such a great player he missed tying for first place by only four strokes."
While McDermott missed the hat trick of three consecutive U.S. Open championships, he did help Francis Ouimet, the young American amateur who grew up on the Country Club at Brookline course and kept McDermott’s promise that the foreign visitors wouldn’t take the national championship trophy home with them that year.
On their tour of the states Vardon and Ray won every match, except for the loss to McDermott at Shawnee. Near the end of the Open, Vardon and Ray found themselves in a three way tie with Ouimet, the twenty year old Massachusetts state amateur champion, who lived across the street from the country club. He was invited to play to build up the amateur ranks.
The next morning, before the start of the playoff round, as Ouimet walked towards the first tee, Johnny McDermott took his arm and said, "You’re hitting the ball well; now go out and play your own game and pay no attention to Vardon and Ray."
"As Francis teed up his ball and saw the large gallery crowding around him, he felt his first tinge of excitement," wrote Sommers. "It was as if at last he had realized both what he might accomplish and what he was up against. Vardon and Ray weren’t concerned about him; they were confident the championship would be settled between them, and at first they paid him little attention."
"He remembered McDermott’s advice, and as the holes flew by, the crowd grew to enormous proportions. Some estimated 10,000 spectators crowded around the three golfers as marshals armed with megaphones shouted them into order." By the tenth hole, Ouimet took the lead for the first time.
"Vardon was stunned," said Sommers. "He was even more shocked when Ouimet increased his lead…The crowd had barely been held in check through those final moments, and now, as Francis, his knees trembling, holed that final putt, it broke loose and swarmed around him, a few men lifted him onto their shoulders and paraded him around the grounds…"
John J. McDermott and Francis Ouimet were national heroes, and because of their roles in the 1911-12 and 1913 Opens, McDermott and Ouimet are credited with making golf a popular spectator as well as participant sport.
After returning to Atlantic City, McDermott took a vacation to Florida, seemed to regain his confidence, and entered the British Open that year.
But, "He didn’t even tee off," notes Sommers. "He missed the ferry….and the round was already underway when he arrived. "Understanding officials offered to let him play even though he was late. Johnny refused, saying it wouldn’t be fair to the other players. Downcast, he booked passage home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II."
McDermott was in the barber’s chair of the ocean liner when, in a thick fog, the Kaiser Wilhelm collided with the Incemore, ripped it’s hull beneath the waterline, and began to sink. "A steward led him to a lifeboat, and he was picked up a few hours later and returned to England. While he seemed unharmed, the experience affected him more than anyone realized."
"This series of events over the last year," explained Sommers, "his stock collapse, the incident at Shawnee, then the shipwreck, preyed on his mind. He entered the 1914 Open, but by then his spirit was shattered, and he was never in position to win. Later that season he blacked out as he entered the professional’s shop at Atlantic City. Only twenty-three, his career was finished. He was taken to his parent’s home in Philadelphia and spent the rest of his life in and out of rest homes taking an endless series of treatments. He never played in another golf tournament, although he watched a few. He saw his last Open in 1971 at the Merion Golf Club, close to his home in Philadelphia. Not long afterward he died, quietly and in his sleep. He would have been eighty within a month. He could have been the greatest of them all."
Today, John J. McDermott remains the youngest U.S. National Open Champion.
Editors Note: In this article, originally published in Golfer's Tee Times in April, 1995, I utilized a single source, Sommers history of the U.S. Open. Afterwards, I wrote The Birth of the Birdie - A History of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club, which includes a chapter on McDermott that utilized additional sources. I also wrote another profile on McDermott for Afluent Golfer Magazine. I will post both the chapter on McDermott from the book and the article in AGM when I have a chance.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Keeping the Past Alive
He's been at the club for almost 40 years and watched the evolution of a local shrine from its heyday as an elite private golf club to one now open to the public.
When Kenny Robinson arrived in 1969, Atlantic City Country Club was yet in its prime - hosting dignitaries, golf legends, celebrities and champions of industry. The 74 year old has been a fixture at the club longer than anyone, serving as caddie, pro shop manager, starter, ambassador and historian.
"Even though we are now open to the public, it's retained a private club atmosphere," Robinson said. "The clubhouse has changed little over the last 50 years or so. At the front door is the bell that rang for the last rolley returning hotel guests to Atlantic City."
Robinson recalls many tales of colorful characters and people he's known during his time at the club, mentioning such stars as Perry Combo, Joe Namath, Bob Hope, Bert Lancaster and many others who frequented the facility.
"It was the most sought after club to get a game and a most congenial place to visit. The service, help and food have always been excellent. the recipe for our famous crab cakes, still served today, came from Leo's wife Doris Fraser," added Robinson.
"Jolly" Jim Fraser bought the club in the early '40s. In 1944, his son Leo bought it from his brother Sonny. Leo went on to become PGA president from 1969 through 1971.
The Fraser family operated the facility as a private club. Leo's children - Jim, Doug, and Bonnie - carried on the time-honored traditions and gracious hospitality.
"In 1997 the club was sold to Bally-Hilton-Caesar's entertainment, who kept it private for high rollers. They merged with Harrah's/Showboat in 2006. The new owners opened the course to the public, and has worked to preserve the club's history," said Robinson.
There's also a good photo of Kenny on the back patio.
The one errata, is worth elaborating on.
"Jolly Jim" Fraser was an early golf professional. He never owned a golf course.
Born in Scotland, Jolly Jim was one of the first early wave of Scottish pros to find work in America.
Arriving in New York he worked at a number of early golf courses, including Winged Foot, before becoming the first or maybe the second golf professional at Seaview. There may have been one before him, who didn't work out with Clarance Geist, the gas industry barron from Baltimore who built Seaview in 1914 when he couldn't get a tee time at the Atlantic City Country Club.
Geist recruited Jolly Jim Fraser to be the Seaview golf professional, and he lived in a house on the first fairway of the Bay Course with his vivacious red haired wife Millie, and their two sons Leo and Sonny. There may have been other kids, but Leo and Sonny were players who would have a major impact on the game of golf.
Jolly Jim was also a hunter, and was good friends with other European golf professionals who visited Fraser at Seaview when they came to America. He was also good friends with Walter Hagen, and the two often went hunting in the back woods, what his now the Pine Course. Jolly Jim was also an animal lover, and there were always a lot of dogs running around.
Killed in a traffic accident with a Shore Road trolly while delivering some mail to the post office in Pleasantville or Absecon, Jolly Jim's wife Millie and sons stayed on at Seaview, with Millie marrying a bartender at the club and Geist adopting the Leo and Sonny and raising them as his own sons.
While Geist took a shine to Sonny, Leo went on barnstorming tours with Walter Hagen, selling clubs and playing tournaments across the country before settling in to a golf professional job in Michigan. When Leo finally returned home, he assumed the golf professional job at Seaview, while Sonny was groomed by Geist to take over his gas company and run Seaview and Boca Raton, the equally exclusive golf and country club Geist built in Florida.
Sonny was a terrific golfer, a dedicated amateur when the best players were amateurs.
During World War II, Leo Fraser enlisted in the Army and fought in Europe, while Sonny worked with Philadelphia bricklayer John Kelly, Hap Farley and others to buy the Atlantic City Country Club, which had fallen on hard times, and to build the Atlantic City Race Track and bring live Thoroughbread horse racing, and the first legal gambling to the area.
When Florida Sen. George Smathers heard about the plans, he began to raise trouble, not wanting more race tracks and gambling to compete with the Florida tracks and illegal Florida casinos. Smathers complained that the Atlantic City syndicate that was building the race track had illegal slot machines in the Atlantic City Country Club, but instead of removing the slots, they sold the club to Sonny's brother Leo, the returning war hero.
Although Sonny's syndicate gave his brother Leo good terms on the purchase of the ACCC, Leo still had to borrow a considerable amount, mainly obtained in a personal loan from Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the Baltimore Colts, who lived in Margate. With Leo Fraser as the owner, the slots stayed in the clubhouse for another decade, until they hosted a New Jersey State Police dinner.
Sonny Fraser was elected to the New Jersey state legislature and was the odds on favorite to run and win the governorship when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Even though he was sick Sonny Fraser could play golf, and Leo hosted an amateur golf tournament the Sonny Fraser Invitational, that Sonny won the first year (Dr. Cary Middlecoff won the second).
While Sonny died, his tournament lasted for decades, until the casinos purchased the Atlantic City Country Club. In its day, the Sonny Fraser tournament was as big if not more significant than the similar amateur Crump Cup invitational held at Pine Valley around the same time of year.
Now that the Atlantic City Country Club is open to the public, it might be time to consider restarting the Sonny Fraser Tournament, and invite some of the best amateur players from around the country to return to Atlantic City and compete in the Sonny Fraser, and begin a new era.
As for "Jolly Jim Fraser," he was one of the first Scottish golf professionals to work in America, one of the first golf pros at Seaview, and the father of two of the most important American golfers, Leo the consumerate pro, and Sonny the great amateur.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
WHEN ARNIE MET WINNIE
Golf has never been the same – by William Kelly
Arnold Palmer recently dedicated a park to his late wife Winnie, granting her wish that the land remain undeveloped, and epitomizing a love story that continues to enamor the game of golf. (1)
When and where they met became an historic occasion, and their adventures together on the U.S. PGA golf tour, which attracted millions of new fans to the game, added an everlasting love story to the legacy of the game.
The time and place are set in stone – September 1952 – at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, Fred Waring’s Pocono, Pennsylvania resort (2), but it was social circumstances and the state of the game of golf at the time that would create a situation that would change the nature of the game forever.
Three local players with strong ties to Jersey Shore were there at the time - Howard Everett, a great amateur, and Atlantic City / Mays Landing Country Club professionals Stan Dudas and Ron Ward, each giving a unique perspective to the situation.
Howard Everett worked at Shawnee as a publicist for Fred Waring, a big band leader whose popular radio show featured the orchestra playing live from his resort, Shawnee-on-the Delaware. Waring’s annual golf tournament was the social event of the season, and it was Everett’s job to make it a success, but nobody could have predicted what transpired.
Howard Everett is a throwback to another era when the best players were amateurs, and he knew Palmer from playing against him in match play during the 1948 Pennsylvania Amateur (Everett defeated Palmer, lost to Art Wall).
"I invited Palmer to Shawnee before he won the Amateur," Everett recalled in an interview shortly before he died. Palmer later acknowledged that he had previously declined invitations to Fred Waring’s tournament because he couldn’t afford to go, but after winning the national amateur championship, and having a steady job selling paint, he made Shawnee his first tournament as the new champion.
"And that’s when he met Winnie," said Everett, "and so I was in the thick of the beginning of that romance. But the story goes back much further than that. It all goes back to Atlantic City."
Everett was known for playing out of Manufacturers Hanover club in suburban Philadelphia, but he lived in a house next to the old practice fairway at the Atlantic City Country Club, and was close friends with club owner Leo Fraser.
In 1950 Bucky Worsham was the pro at Atlantic City, and Arnold Palmer was a seaman stationed at the Cape May Coast Guard base, not far away.
Palmer had been close friends with Bucky’s younger brother Buddy Worsham, who came from a family of fine golfers (Brother Lew won the 1947 U.S.Open). Arnie and Buddy Worsham both went to Wake Forest on golf scholarships and were roommates, but when Buddy died suddenly in a car accident, Palmer quit school and enlisted in the Coast Guard.
While stationed at Cape May, Palmer laid out his first course (3) and played at a number of Jersey Shore courses, including the Wildwood Country Club, Somers Point-Ocean City (now Greate Bay) and Atlantic City Country Club, where Bucky Worsham, the older brother of his late best friend, was the pro.
At Atlantic City Palmer played in the annual Sonny Fraser tournament, a popular mid-amateur event (won by Sonny Fraser, Dr. Cary Middlecoff, Julious Boros, et al.) that Everett had won a record six times.
As Howard Everett said, it all goes back to Atlantic City.
ATLANTIC CITY & SHAWNEE
There was always a strong affinity between the Atlantic City Country Club and Shawnee. The Shawnee amateurs played Atlantic City every year. They put up a memorial plaque and planted a tree out by the front door of the club next to the trolley bell. And at the end of the Tap Room, above the bay window that overlooks the course, there is an old, brown panoramic photo of the old Shawnee.
While Atlantic City was built in 1897, Shawnee was built a decade later in 1907, the first course designed by famed golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast, one of the players with the group that coined the term "birdie" at Atlantic City, and one of the most prolific and influential of the early American golf course designers.
Shawnee is a dramatic 27 hold course, with 24 of the holes on an island on the Delaware River. The Buckwood Inn was built a few years after the course was laid out, making it a popular resort, and in 1913 Shawnee was the host of one of the most popular golf tournaments in the country, which attracted most of the U.S. Open field.
Johnny McDermott, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion was the 20 year old Atlantic City Country Club pro, the first native born American and at 19, the youngest and still the youngest to have ever won the U.S. Open national golf championship. The tournament at Shawnee was held a week before the 1913 U.S. Open, which that year was at the Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts.
McDermott and all the top golfers played in the Buckwood tournament, which McDermott won handily, defeating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, arguably the two greatest golfers to ever play the game, by eight strokes. McDermott then gave a speech and promised that the U.S. Open trophy would not leave the country that year. That speech, which reporters wired around the world, put golf on the front page of every newspaper in the country and English speaking world, and set up the "Greatest Game Ever Played," won by local Brookline amateur Francis Ouimet. (4)
That game sparked a letter promoting the idea of creating a professional golf association. This letter was cited by Rodman Wanamaker in his remarks at the 1938 PGA Championship at Shawnee (won by local pro Paul Runyan over Sam Snead), (5) and for whom the PGA Champion Wanamaker Trophy is named after.
In 1943 longtime Shawnee owner C.C. Worthington sold the Buckwood Inn and the golf course to big band leader Fred Waring, who renamed it the Shawnee Inn. (6)
FRED WARING AND STAN DUDAS
That’s where Stan Dudas comes in. Dudas, another witness to when Arnie met Winnie, quit school in the ninth grade and left his Simpson, Pennsylvania coal mining hometown an aimless runaway, until he was picked up hitchhiking by Fred Warring.
Warring talked Dudas into going with him to Shawnee, where Dudas started out working as a bus boy in the dining room but quickly gravitated to the pro shop. There he earned tips for cleaning clubs and learned lessons in golf and life from Harry Obitz, the pro at the time, and his assistant Spec Hannon. Spec had been a caddy for Walter Hagen and Harry and Spec taught Dudas to play golf. After a few years Fred Warring thought he was good and sent young Dudas, then only seventeen, out on the winter pro tour, paying his way.
"I was young, the first time I was on my own," recalled Dudas, who passed away in March.(7)"I was with great guys – Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, the top players on the tour at the time. Demaret was a real colorful character and we got to be buddies right away."
Of course Jimmy Demaret was the last guy you wanted your seventeen year old to pal around with. As the first three-time Masters champion with 31 PGA tour wins, Demaret was also one of the most flamboyant players to ever play the game. Although he broke the scoring record at the 1948 US Open and still lost to fellow Texan Ben Hogan, Demaret was best known as a flashy dresser and the life of the tour party for over twenty years. (8) So it’s a matter of opinion on how much Jimmy Demaret helped or hurt Stan Dudas on the tour.
Returning to Shawnee to work every summer, Stan Dudas was a young, but major player in the golf game at Shawnee when Arnold Palmer arrived to play in this special tournament.
PALMER AT THE YOUNG MASTERS - "FRED WARING’S ANNUAL SHINDIG"
As Howard Everett recalled, "At the time I was working publicity for Fred Warring at Shawnee-on-the Delaware, as they called it, and I had invited Arnie ahead of time, to participate in this tournament that Warring called the Young Masters. I had invited him before he won the U.S. Amateur, and Fred Warring kidded me and said that since he won the championship he probably wouldn’t come to our tournament. I said not only would he come, but he was bringing his boss (Cleveland paint dealer Bill Wehnes) and his boss’ wife, and I told him who they were."
After winning the national amateur Palmer said he intended to stay an amateur, like Ouimet and Everett, and looked forward to playing in the next Walker Cup in England.
In his autobiography, A Golfer's Life (9) Palmer wrote that he hadn’t decided to turn pro, even after winning the U.S. Amateur. "I like selling paint," Palmer said, "I have no intention of turning professional. I am very happy and my new title automatically puts me on the Walker Cup team."
"At the moment I said this, I really meant it. With a six-month apprenticeship required by the PGA Tour, a period during which you could take no official prize money, I simply couldn’t imagine how I could make a living on the tour. So I pointed out that the Walker Cup would be contested in England the next spring and I couldn’t wait to go there. I also note that my next golfing goal was the British Amateur crown."
"They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice, but my tale is proof that it sometimes can strike you again when you least expect it to. In this case, lighting of a very different nature struck me within days of hoisting the Amateur trophy. My words – to say nothing of the direction of my life – abruptly changed."
"Mother hadn’t been back home in Latrobe for more than a few days when she got a phone call from Fred Waring, the celebrated bandleader of the Pennsylvanians, inviting me to play in his annual golf tournament, the Waite Memorial, at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. Fred had invited me to his annual golf shindig before, but I could never afford to go. Now that I was the new National Amateur champion I was more anxious to go, but I’d been away from my job so much of the summer I felt bad asking Bill Wehnes for yet another week off."
"Bill solved the problem by telling me, ‘…we’ll all drive down there.’"
Besides publicists Howard Everett and Stan Dudas, Ron Ward was another young golf pro at Shawnee who would later become the pro at Atlantic City and Wildwood Country Clubs, and is now at Mays Landing Country Club.
Ward recalls, "… I got to Shawnee on June 2nd of 1952, and I left there about the middle of October, 1960, and then I became the pro at Atlantic City, April 1st, 1961," so Ward was new at Shawnee when Palmer arrived.
Ward recalled that, "Howard Everett was kind of a general manager. Fred Waring liked him. I always said that Howard Everett was one of the original Arnold Palmers, because as an amateur he was really good, and he was a good looking guy, and he could really wack the hell out of that ball."
As for how Arnie met Winnie, Ward says, "Here’s what happened. Arnold Palmer was working for a guy named Bill Wehnes, who was in the paint business. And Bill used to come to Shanwnee with his beautiful wife. Palmer worked for Bill as a paint seller. So Bill came to Shawnee, and Fred Waring had this big invitational tournament that always started the day after Labor Day. So Bill Wehnes wanted to bring Arnold to play and he had him entered in the tournament, but then Arnold won the U.S. Amateur at the Detroit Country Club on that Saturday, increasing interest in the tournament at Shawnee the following week."
"So anyway, Arnie wins the national amateur out of the blue," recalls Ward. "He wasn’t expected to win it, he wasn’t favored like Tiger Woods was, but he won the national championship and then comes to play this little tournament at Shawnee."
As Ward recalls the situation, "Fred Warning, who owned the place, had a daughter named Dixie, and Dixie’s buddy was Winnie Walzer. The Walzer family liked to hang around the club but they didn’t play golf. Mr. Walzer sold food, and him and Mr. Waring became friends. So that’s what Winnie was doing there. She used to hang around the pool a lot. I never did see her on the golf course, but she was a cute little girl."
At first Palmer drifted towards the other young players, including Stan Dudas and Ronnie Ward, but as Ward recalls, "There were these cute girls around – Fred’s daughter Dixie was a cuttie pie, and her friend Winnie was as cute as a bell," and it was Winnie Walzer who caught Palmer’s eye and got his attention.
Palmer remembers the moment quite clearly. "The tournament festivities began over Labor Day weekend. We arrived on Monday and checked into the Shawnee Inn, a beautiful rustic lodge abuzz with tournament activities. I immediately went out on the golf course to play a practice round, and as I was coming back into the inn I saw a couple of pretty girls coming down the stairway that led to the main lobby. One of them was Dixie Waring, Fred’s daughter. But it was the quieter, prettier, dark-haired one that really caught my eye. She had smoky good looks, and her demeanor had a clear sheen of class."
As Stan Dudas recalled it, they played some golf and then mingled around the club until at some point Palmer just blurted out, "Who is That girl?," obviously speaking about Winnie Walzer.
"When Arnie met Winnie, it was love at first sight," said Everett, but there still had to be formal introductions.
"Fred had a secretary, Cora Ballard, who was good at things like that," said Ward, "and she probably introduced them formally."
That’s how Palmer remembers it, describing Waring’s longtime secretary, Cora Ballard as "a whisky-voiced redhead," who "paused and introduced me to the two girls she was chaperoning for the week, the tournament’s official ‘hostesses,’ and I shook hands with Winifred Walzer."
"What I guess I failed to notice, smitten as I was with her, was that almost everybody around us save (her father) Shube Walzer (who was back home in Coopersburg, by the way) was shamelessly promoting the match – and all these years later it amuses me how many people claim they had the critical hand in bringing us together."
"If you don’t have anything to do," Palmer said to her, ‘why don’t you come out and watch the golf.’"
"Perhaps I will," she replied with a smile.
"I think I learned she and Dixie Waring were old chums from Shawnee, and I must have been thinking Winnie must be a rich girl from Philadelphia’s Main Line. She was so refined and polished. Little did I know she was really from the village of Coopersburg, just outside Bethlehem, and though her father, Shube, was successful enough in the canned foods business to afford a summer cottage at Shawnee, the Walzers were by no means wealthy in the sense of Philadelphia wealth. She only hobnobbed with girls from the Main Line. Winnie was nineteen, studying interior design at Brown University’s affiliated design school at Pembroke College, aiming to be an interior decorator. Unbeknownst to me she was a veteran of Shawnee’s social swirl and had even dated some of the most eligible bachelor golfers, including my old adversary Harvie Ward."
"I don’t think I saw her at the dinner that was held that evening, but I was pleased when I glanced over the next afternoon and saw her watching from the edge of the eleventh fairway. Years later I learned that was purely an accident – she was really en route to watch her ‘Uncle Fred’ Waring play golf. Fred, who was in the foursome directly behind mine, was deeply fond of Winnie and almost jealously protective of her. Anyway, I sauntered over and asked if she ‘planned to tag along’ and made small talk with her and wondered if she would be interesting in sitting with me at the dinner dance scheduled for later that evening. She said she would, and I went on about my business with a new spring in my step."
"Winnie, I began to learn that night, was unlike any girl I ever met, not just pretty and comfortable in almost any social situation, but also smart, well traveled (she’d just come home from a big European trip), engagingly independent minded, even something of a would-be social rebel. The only girl in a close-knit Moravian family that included two brothers and a host of boy cousins, she had a grandfather who was a minister and uncles who were college professors. She had grown up absorbing the blows from baseball games and kick-the-can with her male cousins, but also kept her father’s books from an early age. She had pluck and ambition, and she didn’t suffer vain or pretentious fools easily. Her mother, Mary, was something of a sweet social butterfly who may have entertained hopes that Winifred would become a proper debutante in due course, but feisty Winnie Walzer wanted none of that…..We became inseparable for the rest of the week,…"
The electricity between Arnie and Winnie didn’t go unnoticed and even played into the odds on the tournament.
"Arnie’s walking around holding Winnie’s hand, and I’m betting against him in the tournament," recalls Ward, "because my boss the golf Harry Obits always said, ‘Don’t mix girls and golf.’ So during the tournament I bet against Arnie. But he could hold Winnie’s hand and still beat everybody, and he won it."
"Nobody had to bring us together or promote the match," notes Palmer. "By Friday night my amateur partner, Tommy Sheehan, and I were leading the tournament, but more important, I was completely taken with Winnie Walzer and a plan was forming in my brain."
Palmer: "But that first evening at the dinner dance she got a taste of the unexpected impact sudden ‘fame’ can have on a young man’s life. I happened to be dancing with an older golf professional’s wife when she suddenly seized my shoulder and whispered damply into my ear, "Take me away from all this. Let’s me and you run away together!’"
"The poor women sounded desperate – and frighteningly serious. She had four children and a swell husband, and she scared the daylights out of me. So I slunk back to the table. After a while, I told Winnie what had happened, and she laughed. That was another thing I loved about Winnie Walzer, her robust and infectious laugh. She had a no-nonsense, down-to-earth way of placing everything in perspective, I was discovering, including alcohol-fueled dance floor confessions from older women. What I didn’t know then was that, despite our wonderful week of intimate conversation about family and golf and life in general, typically held after my rounds in the club bar where underage Winnie could sip her favorite Fitzgerald Old Fashions, come Friday night my beautiful escort was watching me go through the buffet line with more than casual interest…."
"At the dinner, I reached under the table and took her hand and said, ‘What would you think if I asked you to get married.?’"
"The question appeared to startle her, though only for a second or two. ‘Well, I don’t know. This is so sudden. Can I have a day to think about it?’ she replied."
"‘Not too long,’ I said to her. ‘I have places to go.’"
"I told her my grand plan: we would get married in the spring and use the Walker Cup tournament as our honeymoon. She assured me that her mother and aunts would love that romantic plan – as they did. She told me her father would probably grumble a lot but would eventually come around because he wanted his only daughter to be happy. For such a crack judge of character, she either overestimated her father’s capacity to appreciate romance or underestimated his contempt for unconventional suitors for his daughter. As it turned out, the last thing Shube Walzer wanted was his daughter marrying a golf bum, which is pretty much what he thought of all the tournament golfers in those days."
Winnie’s brother Marty Walzer recalls that Saturday in 1954 when he noticed his parents and 19 year old sister talking in their Coopersburg, Pennsylvania home. "I was 13," he said, "old enough to know that just from the way they were talking, it was serious. The previous Tuesday night, Arnold, who had just won the United States Amateur, had met Winnie at a party for a golf tournament at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware, and now she was telling my mother and father that on Friday night Arnold had proposed to her."
"I suppose it was no surprise that word quickly leaked out about the proposal." Palmer himself recalls. "Winnie quickly informed her mother, who was happy as expected, and her mother broke the news to her father – who wasn’t remotely happy to hear about it. Shube had heard such declared intentions from his headstrong daughter before and, I think, felt love would run its course in due time. At the final presentation dinner, Fred Waring startled everybody by announcing that I wasn’t only taking the tournament trophy home from Shawnee-on-the-Delawere, but a fiancée as well."
But it wasn’t that easy. Like all young love, there was a bit of uncertainty after Palmer left Shawnee for Florida, where his father accompanied him to the Miami Open.
In Florida with his father, Deacon Palmer later said Arnie couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. As Everett explained it, "In Florida, after working and living in a hotel room for a few days the Deak said, ‘Arnie, I think you got this sewed up, so why are you so downhearted and out of sorts?’"
"And I got this from the Deacon himself, he said, ‘Dad, I will never feel right until I go back to Shawnee and see whether I want to marry that girl.’"
Palmer remembers it a little bit differently, as he recalls, "…I asked Pap to accompany me to the first event, the Miami Open….I missed the cut and was boiling mad at myself, I returned to the motel only to find a message from my old girlfriend, the Cleveland model; she was in town working and wanted to get together for a few drinks. That seemed like just the remedy I needed, so I went out and returned sometime after midnight only to find Pap waiting up for me – and as mad at me as I’ve ever seen him. Through clenched teeth he asked me where the hell I’d been and I told him truthfully – out for some drinks and a few laughs with an old friend, nothing too serious, all pretty innocent."
"’You’re engaged and you’ve got an obligation to that girl back in Pennsylvania,’ he snarled at me."
" ‘Do you love her?’ he snapped,….Then you better go get her and get married and get on with your business and quit screwing around like a college boy. Do you understand me?’ I did indeed."
"I was there working when Arnie came back to Shawnee," said Everett, "and took a lot of pictures of everyone. Stan Dudas was there, and Ronnie Ward, both later became Atlantic City pros. We played a round with Fred Warring and Palmer, and of course Winnie was there and walked the whole 18 holes with us."
But things had changed in the meantime. For one, while Palmer won the money to buy Winnie an engagement ring by playing his boss and a few friends over three rounds at Pine Valley, he suddenly decided to turn pro.
While they were playing golf back at Shawnee, Stand Dudas suggested Palmer go to Bermuda and play in a tournament with him as an amateur, but Palmer said to Dudas, "No Stan, I’m going to turn pro." It was a startling announcement.
Palmer later explained that in order to earn enough money for an engagement ring for Winnie, he shot a remarkable 67, 69 and 68 in three rounds at Pine Valley, collecting enough money in bets from his boss and friends to buy a decent ring. But playing those three rounds at Pine Valley also gave him the confidence and the belief that he could make it on the pro tour, and the realization that he had to turn pro in order to support a family.
"It was while we were there in that ultimate golf terrarium (Pine Valley)," wrote Palmer, "that I had time to think about what Winnie and I were really up against. My salesman salary scarcely covered my own expenses, much less those of a married couple in need of a first house and possibly children in the near future…and as much as I liked the proposed scenario of a big church wedding in the spring and steaming off to England for the Walker Cup, in my heart I saw only one way for us to make it as man and wife. I would need to turn pro."
As Ron Ward points out, "Back in those days it was better to stay amateur because there wasn’t that much money in turning pro, so amateurs stayed amateurs, they didn’t turn pro."
But for a guy like Palmer, like Walter Hagan ahead of him, he could envision the ability to take his game to another level, and then take the game of golf to another level with him.
But how to break the news to Winnie? "…We met in the afternoon at the New Yorker Hotel," explains Palmer, " and – talk about a potentially bad omen – checked in just as some poor chap committed suicide by leaping from an upstairs window. A little later in the bar, still shaken, Winnie probably thought our plans were crashing too, when I informed her of my change in strategy – namely, that I’d decided to turn pro and that we should probably get married as soon as possible, certainly before the start of the new Tour season out west. England and the Walker Cup were out; the uncertain life of a Tour rookie’s bride was in."
"Her face fell, but she didn’t seem as upset as I thought she might be at this idea, though she needlessly pointed out that her father wasn’t going to like this news any better than the last."
''My mother was all for it,'' Marty Walzer said, ''but Dad had reservations. He came around eventually, but after Winnie and Arnold had their two daughters, Peggy and Amy, I remember Dad telling Arnold, 'You wait and see, you'll feel the same way I did.' ''
But at the time he was dead set against his only daughter getting married to a golf bum.
"My mother and Pap took an instant shine to Winnie when they met her the following week in Latrobe. Back in Coopersburg, the female family think tank already had big wedding plans well under way, but there was still no movement on the Shube Walzer front. Shube was tough customer, a successful businessman who loathed Roosevelt and the socially liberal policies of just about any other Democrat. Pap, on the other hand, was a strong Democrat and devoted Roosevelt man who thought the late president hung the moon. In some ways, the families hailed no just from different ends of Pennsylvania, but different ends of the planet."
So instead of getting married in a big church wedding with a reception with all their friends and family back at the country club, they eloped to Falls Church, Virginia, not far from the home of Arnold’s sister Cheech, where they were married.
As Palmer put it, "We spent our honeymoon night at a trucker’s motel off the Breezewood exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It wasn’t terribly romantic, and in retrospect, it makes me realize what a true gem I had found in Winifred Walzer. Here was this classy, educated, beautiful girl who risked her father’s eternal wrath and gave up her girlhood wedding dreams and goodness knows what else to follow a guy who’d never made a plugged nickel as a professional golfer."
And so they set out, hitched to a trailer, at the same time television started to broadcast tournaments. They slowly picked up Arnie’s Army, took golf to prime time and brought millions of new amateur players into the game, taking golf to another level of popularity.
And things have never been quite the same.
William Kelly is the author of Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club, and is currently writing The Flight of the Eagle on the growth of golf in America. He can be reached at Billykelly1@aol.com
1) Winnie's nature preserve. http://www.arnoldpalmer.com/allarnie/wpNature.aspx
2) Shawnee Innhttp://www.shawneeinn.com/default.aspx
3) Palmer’s First Course http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/palmers-first-course-in-cape-may.html
4) The Greatest Game, not the Greatest Movie http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/greatest-game-ever-played.html
5) Shawnee TodaySee: http://www.golfdigest.com/golfworld/2007/08/gw20070810stachura
6) Fred Waring bio http://www.parabrisas.com/d_waringf.php
7) Stan Dudas RIP http://kellysgolfhistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/stan-dudas-rip.html
8) Jimmy Demarethttp://www.golfdigest.com/golfworld/special/masters/20000331billfields].
9) A Golfer’s Life (with James Dodson, Ballantine Books, NY, 1999)
Monday, March 24, 2008
A phone conversation with Ron Ward (October, 2007)
BK: Hello Ron, its Bill Kelly.
RW: Hey Kell, what’s cookin’ buddy? Sorry I missed your earlier call, I was playing golf.
BK: You’re a lucky guy.
RW: I know I am. I’m trying to get to be a good player.
BK: I’m working on a story about how Arnie met Winnie and….
RW: I was there.
BK: I know you were there, that’s why I’m calling. I had previously talked with Howard Everett and he mentioned you were there, along with Stan Dudas.
RW: Tonight I was walking down the eighteenth hole at Wildwood in the dark. I played till' dark like a six fifteen with a cart and then they didn't want any more carts out and I didn't want to hold them up. So I walked. At Mays landing I can play with a cart after dark because I've got a key to te cart shed. Well, anyway, I was walking down the eighteenth hole just now in the dark and I was think, I went to Brookline when Curtis Strange won two Opens in a row. So I was walking down the eighteenth green at Brookline, and do you know who Herbert Warren Wind is?
BK: Great golf writer.
RW: He went to school with a guy I worked with – he always called him "Herbie." So I finally met him and I said "Do you remember…John?"
So I’m walking down the 18th hole at Brookline and there’s Herbert Warren Wind and I’m walking down with him, and he says, see that house over there? That’s the house that Francis Ouimet lived in when he won the Open. That was a wonderful sight and I was just thinking about that tonight, so what is it you want to know?
BK: 1913 Open. Well here’s the connection to what you just told me. The 1913 U.S. Open was the greatest game ever played, not just because Ouimet, a 20 year old amateur won it, but because Johnny McDermott had won the two previous U.S. Opens. McDermott beat Vardon and Ray at Shawnee a week before the Open at Brookline and promised them they wouldn’t take the US championship trophy home with them. That threat put golf on the front pages of newspapers and made the 1913 Open a news story.
RW: I knew McDermott, because he hung out at Atlantic City when I was the pro there.
BK: He was the youngest ever to win the US Open, and still is at 19.
RW: And first American.
BK: There’s a book The Greatest Game.
RW: They made a movie of that too.
BK: Yea, and in the movie they have McDermott six foot two red head, when he wasn’t that tall or outlandish.
RW: He was near 70s when I knew him, a few years before he died because Leo Fraser took pretty good care of him.
BK: Yes, there’s a picture of them together in my book. Anyway, that tournament that caused all the commotion over the 1913 Open was at Shawnee, or what they called it before it became Shawnee. There was always some connections between Atlantic City and Shawnee going back to McDermott’s win there. The Shawnee amateur golfers planted a tree and put up a plaque by the front door near the trolley bell, and above the bay windows in the Taproom there’s an old, brown and white panoramic photo of Shawnee that’s there for a reason.
RW: Oh, no kidding, I never realized that.
BK: In any case, there’s a number of connections between Atlantic City and Shawnee, including you.
RW: Well, yea, I worked at Shawnee for nine years, and then I was starting to have lots of kids and I started looking into some pro jobs, one in Albany, New York, and another in Elizabeth Manor in Virginia Beach. Then Stan Dudas called me one night and said, "Come on, we’re going to Atlantic City Country Club and I’m going to get you a pro job. I’m friends with Leo Fraser." Because one year they had the local PGA at the Atlantic City Country Country Club, and we had a big flood up in the Poconos, so Stan happened to be down here so he stayed here for a week and that’s how he and Leo got to be good friends. So Stan hand-picked me for the job. And Leo was a vascilator, you know what vasilator means? Fluctuate, so he never did tell me he hired me. It was funny, when I left to go to Wildwood, which was a step up, they had a big party for me and I told that story that I was never told I got hired. I was there in Atlantic City for four years, and the proper thing was to move forward to a head pro job.
BK: What years where you at Shawnee?
RW: I got there June 2nd of 1952, and I left there, we closed about the middle of October, 1960, and then I became the pro at Atlantic City, April 1st, 1961. And I stayed until March, 1965.
BK: When was Palmer there?
RW: Here’s what happened. Arnold Palmer was working for a guy named Bill Wehnes, who was in the paint business. And Bill used to come to Shanwnee, he had a beautiful wife. Palmer worked for Bill as a paint seller. So Bill came to Shawnee, and Fred Waring had this big invitational tournament that always started the day after Labor Day. So Bill Wehnes wanted to bring Arnold to play and he had him entered.
And then Arnold won the U.S. Amateur at the Detrioit Country Club on that Saturday. So now on Tuesday he’s there at Shawnee for the tournament. And Fred Warning, who owned the place, had a daughter named Dixie, and Dixie’s buddy was Winnie Waltzer. The Walter family liked to hang around the club but they didn’t play golf. Mr. Waltzer sold food, and him and Mr. Waring became friends. So that’s what Winnie was doing there. She used to hand around the pool a lot. I never did see her on the golf course, but she was a cute little girl.
So anyway, Arnie wins the national amateur out of the blue. He wasn’t expected to win it, he wasn’t favored like Tiger Woods was. So anyway, now he comes and plays, he meets Winnie and he marries her four months later. He used to hang around Shawnee in his spare time. He liked the place, and it was great.
And I have to tell you this story. He had a book out, and in the book Arnie talks about how he used to fly with his buddy when he was about 17. My buddy, he said, was always flying so low he would run the wheel on the ground as he was flying. So one day I was out playing golf at Shawnee – which is an island on the Delaware River in the Pocono mountains. So it’s a flat golf course out on the river. I remember the first time I saw it is so beautiful. So anyway we were out playing and while we were playing in comes this airplane so low we almost had to duck. So at Shawnee the hotel front door was kind of right by where you pulled up with the carts after the round by the first tee and as we were standing there, up comes Arnie in a car saying, "Did you see me?"
And we could almost touch him. So I thought it was wonderful that he wrote about that in the story. But he was always a good guy. That was the fun of Arnold Palmer.
BK: Was he ever at Shawnee before that tournament?
RW: No he had never gone to Shawnee before.
BK: Howard Everett was working there too.
RW: Howard ended up becoming a kind of a general manager. Fred Waring liked him. I always said that Howard Everett was one of the original Arnold Palmers, because as an amateur he was really good, and he was a good looking guy, and he could really wack the hell out of that ball. But amateurs stayed amateurs in those days, they didn’t turn pro.
Harvey Ward and Ken Ventura worked for the guy who caddied for Francis Oiuemet (in the 1913 Open), Eddie Lowrey, he became a Cadillac dealer out in California. So Ken and Harvey were working for him, and the USGA put the heat on them because they weren’t working, just taking money from him, so they turned pro. But it was better, back in those days, to stay amateur. But after Arnie won the U.S. Amateur, Stand Dudas was going to take him to Bermuda and play in a tournament with him as an amateur, but he said to Stan, "No, I’m going to turn pro."
Because it was just starting to get money in the game, Palmer was the beginning of the big money.
He used to be out on the Green Terrace, an outdoor eating place by the 18th green, and I remember one day, Arnie was out there doing a commercial. It probably showed for about 30 seconds and it took about two hours to do it. But that was one of those things that made it so the great pros stopped being so great. Hogan was great, and then after him Palmer came along, and Nicolas, but the masses were always busy making money.
The grand slam was what everyone always wanted to win – and I used to go watch the Masters, the Open and the PGA, I never went to the British Open, but I always liked to watch the first round because it seemed like in the first round everybody could take the gas.
I saw Johnny Miller, he was at his peak, in the first round he shot a 75 at the Masters, and I used to go eves drop on the press conference and he used to say, "I was always between clubs, and that’s why I shot 75."
Hogan was at his peak. One time he was playing at Whitemarsh and he hit a three-wood 150 yards, and a guy asked him how come he used a three-wood and he said, "That’s what the shot required." That was the epitome of moving the ball with the club. He was never a great putter. That was his demise.
BK: What’s the story about you camping out on his lawn or something?
WR: I went there a few times. It is really funny. What happened to me Kel, after I got to Wildwood, I saw when you make money in this business you should try to be a good player. I was a fake golf pro. If somebody would ask me a tricky question I’d pretend I knew the answer, but I never worked on my game because I was busy chasing girls and being a big shot. And then when I got to Wildwood, I said let’s try to work on your game. And Hogan was the best, so I wanted to pick his brain.
So one day I called the Dallas-Fort Worth newspaper and the sports guy who answered said, "You know, I just took some pictures to Hogan’s house last week," and he gave me the address, in the suburb of Fort Worth. So I went down to his house, I remember the first time I went there it was a Sunday, I was coming back from trying to qualify for the tour one year, and we went down to Brownsville, Texas to play. And I was coming back from Brownsville, Texas on a Sunday morning and I stopped at Hogan’s house, I knocked on the door, and Hogan was the King, the King of Golf. When I knocked on the door, there was a peep hole in the door like they have in motel rooms, you know? So I’m laughing my ass off at that – he’s the King of Golf and he’s got to have a peep hole to hide from people.
Because Hogan didn’t like people that much. He had a little rancher house, but he didn’t have a spare bedroom, he didn’t want company. So his wife opened the door, and she looked like death warmed over, all that tension and all. And I’m laughing, and asked, "Could I speak to Mister Hogan?"
"Do you have an appointment?" she said.
I said, "No."
"Then you can’t speak to Mister Hogan."
So the next day I went to this factory in Fort Worth and there was a lady there, his secretary, a great gal, but she said, "He won’t talk to you unless you have an appointment. But he’ll come out to have lunch right outside there," and she showed me where he came out and where his car was, and she said, "You be standing there and you can talk to him."
So he came out and pulled out of his parking lot at the factory and I’m standing there. And he stopped. And I said, "Mister Hogan, could I play golf with you this afternoon?"
And he said, "No, I’m not going to play today."
So then I thought quick, and I’m going to tell you the question I asked him, and see what he said.
"Mister Hogan, do you think the players of today are as great as the player’s of your day?" – What was his answer?
"They’re pretty good."
When he was young, see, he used pop off all the time, so he learned to keep his mouth shut. So when I asked him that question, he knew his players were very creative. Now these guys, everybody thinks they’re the all time greatest because they hit the ball eight thousand miles. But they weren’t any more creative than his guys, his guys were more creative. So he said, "They’re pretty good." That was a great statement.
The next time I went to his house, I was coming across the country, they used to have this thing where you could fly, like from Philly to California, you could get off in Dallas and get back on again without any problem. After 9/11 that all changed.
So I go to his house and there’s a guy out in the yard working, the yard man, so I said, "I’d like to talk to Ben Hogan," and he said, "He’ll come out in the garage there, wait until he comes out."
So he comes out in the garage, kind of an overhanging thing next to his door, and it was dark in there. And he comes out and I said, "Mister Hogan," and he kind of jumped up in the air, not expecting to see anybody. And I had his hear again, and we were standing in his driveway, with a little slope and a field across the street. So I said, "If you were standing in this driveway and had to hit a shot to that tree over there, would you use your basic swing or would you be taking a trick off the basic swing to handle that lie?"
And just as he was getting ready to answer I said something else.
He said, "Whose answering this question, you or me?"
I said, "You are, I’ll see you later."
When he was coming up he didn’t want to share his information. I knew a guy who was 85, Ivan Gantz, playing a senior tournament, he said Hogan caddied for him in the Fort Worth Open and then five years later Hogan was playing in the Fort Worth Open. Hogan said to him when he was caddying for him, "If I was doing the putting for you, you would win this tournament by ten shots."
This guy Ivan Gantz was so wonderful. He lived in Baltimore and he said every year he had to come home and cut greens and give lessons to make ends meet. That’s how the money game was in those days. And that’s why Hogan didn’t want to talk.
BK: Back to Shawnee and how Arnie met Winnie.
RW: Fred Waring owned the place. It was a wonderful tournament he had. He had Ed Sullivan playing in it when he was at his peak, and a guy named Don Cherry, a great singer, and he always came. And Frank Leahy, the great Notre Dame football coach. Notre Dame got all the Catholic kids in those days and beat everybody. After Knute Rockie came Frank Leahy, and after Leahey retired, a man named Walker from South Bend brought Leahey to play. At Shawnee the first tee is right at the hotel, and Leahey was due on the tee in ten minutes. And my boss, the starter said go find Leahey, and I got his room and went and knocked on the door and Mrs. Leahey answered and I told her "Mister Leahey is due on the tee." And he came to the door and said, "Yesss?"
And I told him, "Mister Leahey you are due on the tee in ten minutes," and he said, "Tell him I’ll be down in a couple hours." That’s how those guys were, they could boss away."
RW: There was these cute girls around – Fred’s daughter Dixie was a cuttie pie, but she was always kind of a bad personality because Fred was such a prick his kids weren’t allowed to be abusive. And her friend Winnie was as cute as a bell and Arnie meets her and Arnie was a lady’s man, so that was it. He’s walking around holding her hand, and I’m betting against it because my boss the golf Harry Obits always said, "Don’t mix girls and golf." So during the tournament I bet against Arnie and he could hold Winnie’s hand and still beat everybody."
BK: Did he win that tournament?
WR: He won it. It was a partners tournament. I think his partner was from Arnominik, , a stocky, but good player. He probably won the club championship at Aronomick, a great course where Jay Segal took the game up. So Arnie and his partner won the tournament, the only time he ever played it. Then about three months later he turned pro.
Winnie’s parents didn’t want her to marry him because he was just a golf pro, and in those days that was not very financially productive. In the early days they used to travel in a trailer.
BK: Everett said that he went down to Florida and then returned to Shawnee a few weeks later.
WR: I never played with Palmer. Howard Everett did and Fred Waring. I went to the US Open, and Palmer was there, and lost to Billy Casper, and I was watching him, and he was taking a chip shot from near the ropes and he looked up and saw me and said, "What the hell are you doing here?"
And I said, "I’m here to watch you win the U.S. Open.
"Pretty good idea," he said.
At the Masters they have driving range, putting green, through the club house and to the first tee.
I’d be out there watching them hit balls and putting and I’m standing there talking to Winnie one day, as I knew Winnie before Arnie did, and I knew her well later when she got to be Mrs. Palmer, so I’m talking to Winnie when Arnie said, "Who is that?"
"That’s Ronnie from Shawnee."
BK: Do you know who introduced them?
RW: Stan says he introduced them, but you don’t know. There was a girl named Cora Boward, a secretary, who was great for things like that. Cora probably introduced them.
It was sad when she died. When he put that last book out I bought it, and wanted him and Winnie to autograph copies for Stan for Christmas, and I have a David Leadbetter teacher down in Florida who is just a great guy and smart teacher, and I wanted to give him a copy, and I wanted a copy for the Wildwood Country Club, because he played at Wildwood when he was in the Coast Guard. They named a room after him there. So I called Latrobe and they said his office is in Orlando, and when I called down there the girl said she would get them to sign them, but she just got cancer and she didn’t last too long. So I never got the autographs.
RW: So what’s the story Kel?
BK: Well, Palmer just dedicated a park to Winnie, and I’m using that as an introduction to a story about how Arnie met Winnie at Shawnee, and the significance of Shawnee and how you and Howard Everett and Stan Dudas were all there, and you’re all local guys. So I thought there is a good story there.
RW: Yea, it was 1954, the year he won the National Amateur. He won the Amateur and it was a fluke that he was entered in this tournament at Shawnee a two days later. And he came to play and met Winnie, and then he used to come and hang around in his spare time. He liked hanging around. My boss Harry Obitz was a gregarious guy, and Arnie liked Harry. He liked to drink, what the hell did they drink, Italian Stingers, I think that was it. Who knows what it was, I don’t drink at all. But Shawnee was great, Fred Waring used to have people up there, Bobby Jones was there.
I was there from 1952 to 1960, and we had a giant flood in 1954, and if you’ve ever been to Shawnee I could show you where the water line was.
BK: Maybe we’ll take a ride up there someday.
RW: Yea, that would be great. In the nine years I was there they had one major flood that was like unbelievable. Since then, in the last four years, they’ve had about three of them, and it’s amazing how the guy can keep it going. They have a local tournament the Shawnee Open, and I played in it a couple of years ago, and it was kinda fun talking to the man who owns it because he’s trying to keep it afloat.
BK: Let’s go up and meet him someday because the course is now 100 years old and was built by Tillingast in 1907, a few years before they built the hotel.
RW: Golf World had a great story on it a couple of years ago.
BK: Are you on line?
RW: No, other than at the golf shop.
BK: Well check out Twooverpar.com
RW: OK Kel, I love to see guys who are hot to trot about something. I’m the same way about golf. I played Cape May National this morning, then I finished about 1:30 and took a nap, and about 4:30 I went over to Wildwood and played ‘til dark. Tomorrow I’m playing at Northhills Country Club at 10 o’clock and I’m going to play at Bala Country Club at 1 o’clock.
BK: You’re a lucky guy.
RW: Yea, I know. Give me a call. See ya’.