Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interview with Tom Doak

Interview with Tom Doak

April 1, 2000

Bill Kelly: What sparked your interest in the game of golf, and when did you know that you wanted to be a golf course architect?

Tom Doak: I started playing golf when I was ten – my dad started taking us to his business conventions, which were often at golf resorts. Harbour Town, Pinehurst, and Pebble Beach were some of the first courses I saw, and they were so different than the little public courses near my home, that I became interested in why.

BK: You worked at St. Andrews. What did you learn there?

TD: I had a scholarship the year I graduated from Cornell to spend a year studying the golf courses in the British Isles, and spent the first two months of it in St. Andrews, caddying on the Old Course. I learned a ton there. The Old Course is the most interesting I’ve seen, probably because no one designed it.

You can’t just aim for the middle of the fairway – there’s a lot of short grass, but there are bunkers strewn all through it, so you have to learn the course and decide where it is best for you to aim. On some holes, your ideal spot will be totally different than your partner’s, who hits it 30 yards further.

BK: What is the basic difference between British Isle links courses and the basic American course?

TD: The main difference between British and American courses is attitude. British links are natural in origin, so their scruffiness is accepted as part of the game; if you get a bad bounce, you have to take it in stride. Most golf is played between friends or fellow club-members, in match play. Americans take their medal scores much more seriously – and, as a result, our golfers want their courses to be designed “fair” and maintained perfectly so they never get a bad break.

BK: When you came back you worked for Pete Dye; what did you learn then?

TD: I was lucky enough to hang around Pete Dye [note: not “Peter”; his actual name is Paul, but everyone calls him Pete] for three years after I got back from overseas, working on the construction of courses from Hilton Head to Palm Springs. Pete doesn’t just draw his courses and let someone else build them – he gets out there with the crew and redesigns them in the field. He spends a lot more time thinking about each contour and each bunker than most other architects do; and he can try our new ideas in the dirt, knowing that he can always soften them if he’s worried that they are too difficult. Most architects are afraid to take those sorts of chances, because they don’t know how their drawings will come out. That’s why Pete’s designs are more original, and more interesting.

BK: You seem to have some radical opinions on different aspects of the game. Could you comment briefly on what you think about a few of them?

TD: A lot of architects think I’m a radical, and yet Ben Crenshaw calls me a preservationist. Is it possible to be both?

I think it is, because golf architecture has changed so much over the past fifty years. It’s so competitive in the current boom, and it’s easy to move earth today, and the average client has so much ego tied up in his project, that it’s just very easy to get carried away with your design and bui9ld a course that’s too difficult and too expensive for the average golfer.

The old courses are much simpler – and they used what the land offered. That doesn’t mean they were easy; the great architects build challenge into their designs, because a course has to be challenging to be interesting.

But they did it by building three feet of slope into a green, not by building a three-acre lake in front of it.

BK: What makes a great course great?

TD: Great courses have a great variety of holes, a beautiful setting, and a style of their own.

BK: What about the restoration efforts on historic courses?

TD: I believe that the best courses of the master designers should be preserved; but I found out when traveling around this country that few are left intact. We have participated in the restoration of a few prominent courses, like Garden City and Pasatiempo. But restoration is a tricky thing – it’s still up to the present-day architect to determine what needs to be done, and different designers can produce very different results. I’m afraid the main reason for its current popularity is that it’s easier to sell the membershi8p on “restoration” than it would be to “change” their beloved old course.

BK: What is the role of the greens committee?

TD: The role of the greens committee should be to respond to the membership’s concerns about the course and to educate the membership on the design and maintenance of the course. Too many greens committee have it backwards – they’re so concerned with leaving the course better than they found it, that they try to tell the superintendent (and sometimes the architect) how to do their jobs.

BK: What is the biggest threat to the game of golf today?

TD: I think the biggest threat to the game is the rising cost of play. Of all the new courses being built, probably 90% are intended to be “high-end” courses with green fees between $50 and $100. That’s pretty steep for a beginning golfer, and it’s out of the question for juniors. When I started playing, it cost $1 per round for me to play our hometown municipal course, and $40 to play Pebble Beach. Most golf courses are too busy trying to make every last dollar to worry about who’s going to pay them ten years from now.

BK: Can groundskeepers succeed without using excessive chemicals?

TD: The best golf course superintendents keep their grass healthy. If they know how to do that, they won’t need much in the way of chemical input. The best managers will become ever more valuable as environmental regulations limit their alternatives.

BK: You call your company “Renaissance Golf.” Is there a real golf renaissance going on and what’s it all about, more money, or a return to the roots of the game?

TD: When I named the company ten years ago, I didn’t expect the boom that was coming. The name was more of a play on the “Renaissance man” ideal that we were involved in every aspect of the business, from designing new courses to restoring old ones, from project management to running the bulldozers, and even to golf writing and photography. There has unquestionably been a great boom of interest in golf course architecture in the past few years, and not just because there are so many Tour pros moonlighting as designers. There are a lot of talented people out there building courses in all sorts of different styles.

If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s been to remind people that great courses are first and foremost a product of a great site. The most influential courses of this decade – Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes – weren’t built because of a market study; they were built because the land was ideally suited to golf, just like the original links of Scotland were.

BK: How did you hook up with the Atlantic City Country Club?

TD: We were one of several firms interviewed by Hilton after they acquired the course. I think we were on their list because of our reputation for restoration work in the New York area; but I think we got the job because we listened to what they wanted, and we understood that this was more than a simple restoration.

They wanted to make the course more secluded from the homes around it, but open up with the views to the marsh and to Atlantic City. They wanted to eliminate the road crossings in the old layout as much as possible, for privacy and safety concerns. And they wanted to preserve the history of a 100 year-old golf course, but do it while rebuilding the course from the ground up. Every sprinkler head, every bunker, pretty much every blade of grass out there today is new, in total. Atlantic City cost more to rebuild than any of the ten brand-new courses I’ve designed.

The challenge was in treading the line between restoration and new design. This project had elements of both, and the client wanted us to keep a perfect balance.

TD: The new course isn’t supposed to be a “Tom Doak design.” It borrows a lot of its style from past incarnations – from pictures taken in the 1920’s, when there was a lot of open sand between the holes down by the shore. Several great architects had worked there before us, from Willie Park to William Flynn, and we tried to preserve something from each of them – from Park’s small elevated greens to Flynn’s “white faced” bunkering.

BK: What attributes of the course were kept the same, preserved and/or restored?

TD: The general flow of the routing is the same, although many of the greens have been repositioned slightly. Four of the greens were rebuilt with the same contours as before – the third, eighth, and eleventh [which used to be #12]. And, as I described above, the seaside and “classic” character of the course has been preserved and expanded upon.

BK: What major changes were made and why?

TD: There are a host of changes: An irrigation pond had to be added on high ground, to prevent saltwater intrusion; it’s right up by the pro shop, at the foot of the first tee.

The second green was relocated north of the road, shortening that hole considerably, and the fifth hole was lengthened by moving the green back to where the old second green sat.

A large expanse of sand was restored between the third and fifth fairways.

The fourth green was relocated to bring the marsh into play on the right.

The sixth green was moved back about 40 yards, creating a very long three-shot par 5.

The seventh green was moved forward to make a very long par 4 into the wind.

The old eleventh hole was eliminated, and the holes on either side of it were lengthened. The tenth now plays as a dogleg par 5, with the green on the far side of the pond which used to be behind it; and the new eleventh is a very long par-4, with dramatic cross-bunkers about 100 yards short of the green.

The par-3 12th [formerly the 13th] green was elevated and the left side cut away, creating the deepest bunker on the course.

The par-5 13th was lengthened by moving the green back to the left.

The 14th and 15th are now new holes, built around a new section of tidal marsh which we created. This was our most significant change; previously, the 15th and 16th were both medium-short par-4s playing downwind, and neither made very dramatic use of the marsh. The new 14th starts from a tee out on a dramatic point in the marsh, heading to a narrow fairway which dog legs to the right – long hitters can try to cut the corner and drive the green, but it’s a big carry. Then, the par-3 15th plays back into the wind to a green on another point, with marsh around three sides.

The 16th and 17th holes are similar in length to what was there originally, but the greens on both holes are now guarded by large sand-dune features, to further the seaside character of the course.

The 18th has been reduced to a 400 yard par-4 by shifting the fairway to the right and shortening the tee. Before, most golfers were playing a half-blind lay-up second shot; now they’ll need a good drive to get to the corner, and then they’ll face a more challenging approach to the green with its great setting in front of the old clubhouse.

BK: What kinds of grass were used, and why?

TD: Tees, greens and fairways are all bentgrass; the mowed rough is bluegrass, but there are also several large areas of un-mowed fescue rough in the open spaces. A new bentgrass called A-4 has been used for the greens – it’s much finer and more dense than any variety I’ve seen before, and it was selected in hopes of keeping poa anue in check. They’ll have to keep the greens fast, or this grass will get too thick.

BK: What’s the new length, overall, and what’s the par for the course?

TD: You’ll have to check with the pro shop for the exact length; I think it’s slightly shorter than before, actually. But par has been reduced from 72 to 70 so it will play harder for low handicappers.

BK: What’s the new signature hole?

TD: The third hole was Leo Frazer’s favorite, and it might still be, since we preserved it intact. The short par-4 14th is the biggest change – the tee on the point is so dramatic, nobody would believe that it had always been there, overgrown with trees. It’s a gambler’s hole – you could make an eagle if you drive the green, but you could also lose a sleeve of balls trying to make the carry. But I think our biggest success is that we’ve made several holes more dramatic, so that different people will have different favorites. The seventh and eleventh are killer par-4’s: in the southeasterly summer winds, they’ll be two of the hardest holes in New Jersey. At the other end of the spectrum, the fourth, twelfth and seventeenth are all within the average golfer’s reach, but when you miss one of those greens, it’s going to get interesting.

BK: What are the short holes and the ones most likely for someone to ace?

TD: The fourth and twelfth are both under 150 yards – I think the fourth is a bit shoorter. But both are downwind, so you may need some help from the flagstick if you’re going to make a one. You might have more luck at the 17th – the cup will usually be hidden by the dune on the right, so your caddie might kick one in for you.

BK: Was the course designed for tournament play?

TD: We really didn’t think much about tournament play in the changes we made to the design. Obviously, it has been a popular sight for the U.S. Women’s Open, and the new course would be more challenging than ever for them – but I don’t know if that’s in the cards. The one drawback is the lack of acreage – for galleries, corporate tents, parking, and the circus that accompanies major tournaments nowadays.

BK: What are the prospects of encouraging players to walk the course and maintain the caddy tradition?

TD: Because play will be limited, we didn’t build any cart paths for the new course. Players will be able to take a caddie, or drive on the fairways if they choose a cart. The caddy experience is exactly the blend of personal service and golfing tradition which the new course is supposed to represent.

BK: In your book “Anatomy of a Golf Course” you mention “grow in” time as a factor. How long will the “grow in” time be at ACCC, and when do you anticipate the course being open for play?

TD: The eighteenth fairway was the last to be planted, just after Labor Day of 1999; but the last three or four holes were set back a bit by washouts at the start of the hurricane season. They’ll sill need a bit of growth this spring to mature. I’d be happy to play the course as it stands today, but the standard today is so much higher – everybody wants it to be perfect before they open the door. I suspect that will be sometime in May (2000).

BK: What were some of the special problems presented by the ACCC job and how did you overcome them?

TD: From a design standpoint, the challenge was keeping that balance between restoration and new design. Fortunately, my “signature” as a designer isn’t a particular style of bunkering or greens, but in making the most of the land with whatever style suites it best; so I inherited a lot from the old course, instead of butting heads with it.

From a logistical standpoint, it was just difficult to do that much construction on a tight acreage. The only place to stockpile topsoil or park equipment was on another fairway; it got to be like a big shell game. And the irrigation system is the most complicated I’ve ever seen, so after it was trenched in, we pretty much had to shape all the bunkers and greens over again to restore what we intended.

BK: What is the future of the clubhouse?

TD: As I understand it, the design of the clubhouse will be thoughtfully preserved; like the golf course, it will be refitted completely, but from the outside, it’s supposed to look the same as it does today.

BK: You are pretty young, and golf is pretty old. What do you see is the near future of the game, what role to you want to play, and what’s the future of the ACCC?

TD: As a student of architecture, I’ve seen first-hand how much the game has changed over the past 100 years, by seeing how courses have evolved. Every new generation of golf courses has been longer and harder than the last, to preserve the challenge of the game in response to improvements in equipment, in course conditioning, and in the general level of play.

The problem is, all of our best old courses are on limited acreage, and they were lengthened as much as they could be a generation ago. So we have to de-emphasize length as the benchmark of design, and re-emphasize all the other attributes of classic design – bunkers which force the golfer to choose his line of play carefully, greens with enough character to make the short game as challenging as the long game, and maximizing the natural beauty and vistas of each property.

We also have to recognize that the best players in the world will continue to improve, and if we don’t want the great courses of the past to become obsolete for championship play, sooner or later we will have to change the specifications of the golf ball to counteract all the other advances in golfing equipment.

Thirty or forty years down the road, Atlantic City Country Club will need work again, to upgrade its irrigation system if nothing else. But if my design work and my writings have made an impact, I hope that this course and many others like it will still be appreciated for what they are, a test of golf that is far more than a long-driving contest.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gerald Catena - Golfing Gangster

KELLY'S CLASSICS - Gerald Catena - Golfing Gangster

Back in the days of Enoch "Knucky" Johnson, when gangsters were among the pillars of the community, Abner "Longie" Zwillman was responsible, according to the Kefauver Committee, for about 40% of all illegal liquor in the United States between 1926 and 1933, unloading most of his supplies along the Jersey coast.

One of Zwillman's young lieutenants, Gerald "Jerry" Catena, was also friends with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Like Zwillman, Catena was from Newark, involved in the trucking business and the longshoreman's union and served as an underboss in the Vito Genovese mafia family.

Catena also liked to play golf, one of his most popular pastimes, a passion for which eventually led him to prison.

Said to have attended the April 1929 convention of organized crime leaders in Atlantic City, Catena was there when the "Lucky" Luciano-Meyer Lansky Syndicate was officially inagurated to divert mob money earned during prohibition into gambling operations after its eventual repeal.

Al Capone, who also attended that meeting, suddenly disappeared for a few days, only to surface at the train station while arranging for his arrest in Philadelphia, said to be a strategy to take some of the pressure off the other, lesser known gangsters, like Catena. Capone's missing days in Atlantic City were said to have been spent at the clubhouse of the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield.

Catena may have also attended the conclave of American mobsters in Havana in 1946, the year he formed Runyon Sales to distribute Lion pin ball machines in New Jersey.

Catena was listed as being among those identified as being at the 1957 Apalachin, New York meeting of mob bosses, which was broken up by local police and removed any doubt about the existence of the Mafia. When Genovise soldier Joe Valachi became the first "made" member of the Mafia to break the oath of omerta and testify before Congress, he mentioned Catena as being one of the Genovese family capos.

Catena was what the mob calls an "earner," as his pin ball machines could be found in every pool hall, bowling alley and mom and pop grocery store in every town in New Jersey. When the office of Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo was wiretapped, DeCarlo was overheard saying that "Catena has more money than anybody, except Meyer Lansky," the mob's senior accountant.

At some point a number of Bally slot machine appeared in the locker room at the Atlantic City Country Club, providing a small but appreciated income for the club.

When club owners Sonny Fraser and Philadelphia-Ocean City builder Jack Kelly opened the Atlantic City Race Track in 1946, the first legal gambling in New Jersey, Florida Senator George Smathers complained that the track was competition to Florida gambling and mentioned the fact that they had illegal slot machines in the Atlantic City Country Club. Instead of getting rid of the slot however, Sonny Fraser sold the club to his brother Leo, who kept the slots until a New Jersey State trooper conference at the club led to them being removed.

When the owner of Lion pinball, Ray Moloney died in 1958, Catena's Runyon Sales took over the company, which also distributed Bally machines in the state, thus giving them a monopoly on pin ball machines in New Jersey. Catena cemented his relationship with the Chicago warehouse based Bally when his daughter married Michael "Mickey" Wichinsky, Bally's Nevada distributor.

When Vito Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1960, there was considerable speculation as to who would replace the mob boss, but instead of a mob war breaking out, Catena was given the responsibility for the family's New Jersey operations, while Thomas Eboli ran the New York side of their family's business.

When it became known that Catena was a major stockholder in Bally, the company bought out his shares in order to satisfy the Nevada gambling authorities, but he continued to run the company that distributed Bally machines in New Jersey.

Some of these pin ball machines were rigged to pay out so many "free-games" that the store owners would reimberse the winner with cash, thus being a slot-machine before legal gambling came to New Jersey.

In 1970, at the age of 68, Catena was sent to jail for being a stand-up guy in refusing to answer questions before a grand jury looking into mob activity in th state. He was sent to Yardville state prison with two other mobsters who refused to talk - Philly mob boss Angelo Bruno, a member of the national Commission, and Nicky Scarfo, who would later replace Bruno in a the midst of a bloody mob war.

During Governor Brendan Byrne's 1977 re-election campaign, he promised to keep oganized crime "out of our State!" Then, setting the ground work for casinos in Atlantic City, Byrne appointed JOe Lordi the first chairman of the Casino Control Commission. Lordi's law firm had previously represented the Catena family - in civil court, not on criminal matters, and one of Lordi's brothers worked as a bartender in one of Catena's restaurants. And while he was Essex County Prosecutor, Lordi approved a gun permit for one of Catena's "soldiers."

Lordi's response was simply, "If you lived in the Ironbound section of Newark, it was a hopping area. The mere fact that you rub shoulders with somebody or eat in his restaurant doesn't make you an associate."

When the New Jersey casino law was written, in order to encourage competition, a casino company could not own more than three casinos or buy more than half of its slot machines from any one company.

But since there were no other slot machine manufacturers other than Bally, the law was changed to allow for Resorts, the first casino, to buy all of its machines from Bally.

Then Bally decided to get into the casino business itself, and purchased and leveled the historic Marlboro-Blenheim Hotel and built Bally Park Place. But first they had to get rid of William O'Donnell, the Bally director who was once partners with Catena and Sam Klein in Runyon Sales/Lion pinballs.

Lordi skirted around all of his issues and maintained his position in the government, despite the transparency of his mob connections, but Jerry Catena and Sam Klein couldn't get around it, mainly because of their golf game.

One of the things these guys like to do was play golf, and despite the New Jersey restrictions placed against associating with certain known criminals, Casino Control Board investigators photographed Klein playing golf with Catena at Clarence Geist's exclusive Boca Raton resort in Florida.

Then Commission chairman Peter Echeverria called their golf games "horrible," in that they had "openly and notoriously" associated in "complete disregard" of the state's restrictions.

They just couldn't help it.

For Catena and Klein, it was one of the most expensive game of golf they ever played, as Klein's casino license was revoked, he was forced to resign, sell his Bally stock and fined $50,000.

Catena's parole was considered violated and he was returned to prison, where he died a few years later.

Eventually, in 1998, Bally-Hilton, led by Wally Barr, purchased the Atlantic City Country Club and expanded their casino ownership to five casinos in Atlantic City.

Bogie the Clubhouse Cat

Bogie Obit

Requiem for a Feline
Bogie the Clubhouse Cat

November 1982 - January 2001

We are sad to report that Bogie, the cat who called the Atlantic City Country Club his home for nearly twenty years, has passed away.

Since he first arrived at the Northfield Links in November, 1982, a kitten that could curl into the cup of your hand, Bogie was an ever-present, if unobtrusive fixture around the venerable old clubhouse.

Named by Drew Siok, the son of golf pro Don Siok, Bogie could usually be found laying around by the bag-room door, unless there was a tournament.

When there was a tournament Bogie would usually perch himself on the corner of the registration table, ensuring that he would get a playful pet from the passing players. Other times he would sit in an empty golf cart, looking for some attention, and waiting for the action to begin. Among those celebrities who took a particular liking to Bogie while visiting the club were Perry Como, Sam Snead, Julius boros, Fred Couples, Joe Namath, Dr. J., Tom Smothers and Frankie Avalon.

With his bright orange fur, white underbelly and blue eyes that begged to be petted, Bogie often mingled with the golfers on the practice green and accompany them to the first tee before retreating for a nap back in the bag-room.

When Bally-Hilton first purchased the club, longtime employee Kenny Robinson obtained assurances from company executives that Bogie would always have a home. With his passing, Kenny burried Bogie on the course, where a small shrine will recognize his friendly contribution to the kindred spirits of the club.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Charles "Chick" Evans

Primary patron of Willie Anderson's family, Charles "Chick" Evans

Charles "Chick" Evans
And Atlantic City Country Club

Chapter 19 of Birth of the Birdie

Leo Fraser, in the course of his life in golf, knew many great players, but of them all, he concluded, "I caddied for him and I can't imagine anyone being a better golfer than Chick Evans, and I've seen them all."

Harry Vardon also named Evans as the best amateur he played in America.

In 1916 Evans won the U.S. Open, using only seven hickory-shafted clubs, then won the U.S. Amateur Championship, a more significant tournament at the time and one which included a fourteen year old Bobby Jones.

After winning both he came to Atlantic City to play an exhibition with Clarence Hackney.

In an article in the 1946 Sonny Fraser program Evans wrote:

"Visiting the Atlantic City Country Club was a dream of my boyhood and like many another dream it came true. I have seen this course of history several times, once when I was named national champion."

"When in Atlantic City I played golf with and stayed at the home of Mr. Henry McSweeney. I seemed to learn most about Atlantic City Country Club from this fatherly man in whose house I often found lodging when in Atlantic City. Sometimes we walked around the old club house in the long twilight after dinner and sometimes we went down a few miles or so to the sea and there we talked while the water rolled softly to the sandy shore."

"I learned from him that golf is played at Atlantic City Country Club from January to December on regular greens without Winter covering in the most equable temperature in the United States, and with plenty of sunshine, but I must confess I saw little sunshine when I was there."

"Atlantic City Country Club is one of the oldest clubs in the United States, having been established in 1897. When you play on the course where golf was played for so many years, you feel that every yard is enshrined with the memories of golfers. There can be seen the sweeping galleries of the National Amateur Championship which was held there, and the outstanding figures of the game. All of the golf seems before you and your thoughts dwell upon Chandler Egan, who was one of the most peculiarly beloved golfers in America, and travel on to other golfers and other tournaments."

"My love for Atlantic City Country Club is as simple as a matter of colors. I have always loved gray; women like my mother whom I have loved have worn it beautifully, and Atlantic City, as I've seen it, is always one shade of gray or another and sometimes several. It is the light mist from the sea that gives its color and name to this old gray spot in New Jersey and the vigorous life to its inhabitants."

"My first round of golf at this famous club was a disapointment for I had expected too much; but from then on my enjoyment and interest grew enormously. When one is completely enveloped in the golfing atmosphere, has wandered over the course and has talked with many golfers, then the actual Atlantic City Country Club feeling is his."

"I think that every entry in the Sonny Fraser Tournament will see the trophy cup as an expression to his national memory and will envision Sonny as a loving, great man and great golfer, sitting in his quiet way beside this great course."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

First 16 Foreign US Open Champions

1 -1895 – Horace Rawlins - England - Newport CC , RI
2 -1896 – James Foulis - Scotland - Shinnecock Hills
3 -1897 – Joe Loyd England - Chicago Golf Club
4 -1898 – Fred Herd - Scotland - Myopia Hunt Club
5 -1899 – Willie Smith - Scotland - Baltimore CC
6 -1900 – Harry Vardon - Jersey – Chicago CC
7 -1901 – Willie Anderson - Scotland – Myopia Hunt Club
8 -1902 – Laurie Auchterlonie - Scotland – Garden City Golf Club
9 -1903 – Willie Anderson – Scotland – Baltusrol Golf Club
10-1904 – Willie Anderson – Scotland – Glen View Club, Ill.
11-1905 – Willie Anderson – Scotland – Myopia Hunt Club
12-1906 – Alex Smith – Scotland – Onwentsia Club
13-1907 – Alec Ross – Scotland Philadelphia Cricket Club
14-1908 – Fred McLeod – Scotland – Myopia Hunt Club
15-1909 – George Sargent – England – Englewood Golf Club
16-1910 – Alex Smith – Scotland – Philadelphia Cricket Club

1911 – John McDermott – USA – Chicago Golf Club
1912 – John McDermott – USA - Country Club of Buffalo

Francis Ouimet - USA
Walter Hagen - USA
Jerome Travers - USA
Chick Evans - USA
Walter Hagen

Ted Ray in 1920 – Jersey -

Monday, June 15, 2009

Willie Anderson's Local Links

Willie Anderson - 4 Time US Open Winner - Local Links

In the sixteen years between the first U.S. Open golf championship and Johnny McDermott becoming the first native born American to win the national open, the English and Scottish professionals prevailed, Willie Anderson said to be the best of the lot.

The 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, if won by Tiger Woods, the odds-on-favorite, would put him into yet another elite category - winning four U.S. Open titles, back-to-back titles, and the first since Willie Anderson to win the national championship four times in a decade.

Willie Anderson, ah yes, the lad did well, and got a bad rap, almost as bad as Johnny McDermott himself.

As McDermott is known as the forgotten American hero, Willie Anderson is the forgotten son of a small Scottish community that produced dozens of legendary golfers, none more forgotten than Anderson.

"In his short life Willie Anderson compiled a record second to none," writes Francis R. S. Broumphrey, "but circumstances conspired to make this first great American golfer almost forgotton."

There's a lot of bull about Willie Anderson floating around, but Douglas Seaton seems to have the story down pat, so I'm going to quote a lot from him, adding some of my own tid bits, and focusing on his local New Jersey and Philadelphia area golf professional jobs and Open victories.

Willie Anderson’s biographer Douglas Seaton writes of Famous North Berwick, Scotland golfers, Willie Anderson among them. Many thanks to Douglas Seaton for all he the research and writing he's done, which can be found in his book and at: []

According to Seaton, Willie Anderson "was born 21st October 1879 at 18 Westgate opposite the Abbey Church.… educated at the Public School in North Berwick...was a licensed caddie on the West Links from the age of eleven, and on leaving school he apprenticed as a club maker under Alex Aitken in Gullane."

"Willie Anderson, aged 16 years sailed for America on the S.S. Pomeranian from Glasgow,” writes Seaton, “arriving at Ellis Island in March 1896...A report in the New York Times stated that Willie Anderson had arrived on Sunday 21st March 1896 to take up his position at Misquamicut Golf Club, Watch Hill on Rhode Island and that the famous amateur Horace Hutchinson considered Anderson to be one of the best."

"In 1896 Anderson extended the course at Misquamicut to eighteen holes. Willie Park Jr. laid out the first nine the previous year, and then Anderson moved to Lakewood Golf Club NY...In his first U.S. Open, in September 1897, Anderson finished second, one stroke behind Joe Lloyd."

A golf pro at ten clubs over fourteen years, Willie Anderson spent time working as a golf pro at Baltusol and at Montclair, New Jersey, then three years at Apawamis C.C (1903-06); Onwentsia (1906-09), St Louis C.C. (1909-10).

Seaton: "Willie's father and brother emigrated in 1900 and when Willie left Montclair C.C in 1902 his father took over as resident professional. During this period Jerry Travers was a member at Montclair when he won the US Amateur in 1907 and 1910 and US Open in 1915. Tom Anderson Sr. remained at Montclair until his death in 1913. Willie's younger brother Tom Anderson Jr. also worked at Montclair in the 1909-10 season and as head pro in 1913-15. Willie's mother Jessie remained in Scotland with her four daughters living at 15, South Clerk Street, Edinburgh."

"During the winter months Anderson was pro at St. Augustine in Florida. In December 1899, Anderson traveled west playing in exhibition matches with U.S. Open champion Horace Rawlins. To earn some money Anderson and Rawlins worked as green keepers at Oakland Golf Club, San Francisco. They entered the Southern California Open at Coronado Beach which Anderson won by one stroke from Alex Smith. In the 1900 US census Willie Anderson was listed as a boarder living with a European couple in the town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin."

"At the 1901 US. Open played at Myopia Hunt Club near Boston, Massachusetts, Willie Anderson and Alex Smith posted a 72-hole score of 331, to tie the tournament. In the first 18-hole play-off in Open history which had to wait until the Monday because Sunday was members day at Myopia, Anderson won by one stroke."

It was "At that championship, the American media picked up on Anderson's quote when he growled 'No, we're no goin’ tae eat in the kitchen,'" and setting the tone for other golf professionals, notably Walter Hagen, who refused to live by the outdated social standards that refused golf professionals access to the dining room.

Seaton: "Willie was furious when told the professionals could not enter the clubhouse. The players were eventually allowed to eat in a specially erected tent."

“At Christmas 1901, Anderson traveled to California where he was engaged in giving golf lessons at the Hotel Green in Pasadena."

For those who really want a detailed descrition, Seaton gives it to us: "Anderson was described as sturdy, with muscular shoulders, brawny forearms and exceptionally large hands. His accuracy was legendary particularly with his favorite club the mashie, equivalent to the present day five iron. He drove the ball more off his left than his right foot, hitting it 233 yards. The strongest part of his game was his brassie, particularly from a bad lie and he changed to the overlapping grip in 1900. His grip was even more of an interlock than that of the Laidlay-Vardon-Taylor school for the index finger of his left hand extended 'way through between the third and little fingers of the right, instead of allowing only the knuckle to show in that aperture. His was not the upright swing of a Vardon, but the flatter, fuller sweep of the typical Scot. Anderson regularly played with eight clubs: driver, brassie, cleek, midiron, one he called a pitching iron, heavy-centered mashie, large mashie-niblick, and putting cleek. He named the driver as his favorite; then mashie, midiron, and brassie."

Willie Anderson also engaged in the practice of hitting the ball blindfolded, sometimes as many as 200 balls at a time, a practice picked up by his friend and mentor, Chick Evans, a great local amateur.

"Described as a dour man "who attended strictly to business and displayed little sense of humour on the course, writes Seaton, Anderson "...was a mixer off the course and popular with his fellow professionals...Willie's unhurried move through the ball disguised effortless power and he was also a rhythmical putter but his main attribute was his unflappable demeanour. Golfers during Anderson's time essentially wore clothes formal enough to attend church in but not Willie Anderson. His typical attire was a tartan wool cap pulled low (to camouflage his large ears), baggy plaid trousers, a plain shirt, a cloth neckerchief (instead of a silk tie), and an old tweed jacket."

There is a classic golf photo of some early professional golf champions sitting under a tree, surrounded by caddies and young kids. Willie Anderson is the fellow in the middle, his odd unstuffy dress setting a new sporting style for players.

In 1902 Anderson was resident pro at Hotel Raymond in Pasadena, California, and on 17th September 1902, captured his first Western Open, then a major, shooting a record 299 for 72 holes with one round a 69. Anderson became the first player to hold the titles to the US two major tournaments, and no golfer had previously broken 300 for 72-holes in America."

"In October, the U.S. Open was played at the Garden City Golf Club," notes Seaton, "where Willie finished fifth, the new Haskell rubber-cored ball was now in use."

"The 1903 US Open was played at Baltusrol in New Jersey where Anderson was the first pro in 1898. … In the 1903 play-off for the US Open, which was marred by pouring rain, Anderson beat Brown by two strokes, 82-84. Willie Anderson became the first two-time winner of the Western Open on 1st July 1904 with a four-stroke victory over Alex Smith….One week later at the U.S. Open played over Chicago's Glen View Course, Willie didn't need a play-off this time as he prevailed by five strokes. Setting a U.S. Open record of 303 and his closing round 72 was also an 18-hole tournament record."

"Anderson designed clubs for Worthington Manufacturing and endorsed the 'near indestructible' Champion ball, Their woods bearing his signature were the first example of an autograph branded club made in America. In June 1905, Willie Anderson and Alex Smith returned to Scotland especially to take part in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Smith finished sixteenth but Anderson's performance was disappointing, taking 86 and 88 for the first two rounds and failed to qualify."

When one golfer was asked how Willie Anderson played out of bunkers, "he was never in them," the response came, a fact we now know to be wrong, as Seaton notes.

"Willie struggled with the new bunkers at St Andrews, he was in eight of them in the first round. The bunkers were laid out by one of his father's apprentice green keepers from North Berwick, Hugh Hamilton. He took over from Tom Morris as head green keeper and was responsible for creating many of the bunkers at St Andrews and lengthened the course in reaction to the Haskell ball. The newspapers reported that Willie Anderson was dressed in a grey jersey and blue trousers and the headlines suggested he must be the first golfer dressed like that to drive off the first tee at St Andrews."

"Anderson and Smith returned to the States in September for the U.S.Open at the Myopia Hunt Club near Boston. At first, it looked as if Anderson was out of the running for a third straight title. Scores of 81 and 80 left him five strokes behind Alex Smith and Stewart Gardner. But…by the 70th hole, he had a four-stroke lead and held it together to prevail by two over Smith. Anderson received $200, a gold medal and custody of the cup was given to his club....The Eastern Professional Golfers Association was established in 1905 following a meeting held in Astor House, New York when over seventy pro's attended including George Thomson, and Willie Anderson was elected to the Executive Committee."

"In March 1906, Willie escorted his wife back to the USA where he had signed a contract at Onwentsia C.C. IL which was reported to be for more money than any other golf pro in the USA."

While some have complained that there is very little information available on Willie Anderson, Seaton has certainly found a lot, and it appears that we can still learn more.

"In 2006, Mike Marshall the historian at Apawamis C.C discovered that Willie Anderson's wife Agnes was born in 1883, the daughter of an Irish immigrant John Beakey and his wife Mary. Agnes was a native of Rye, Westchester, New York and they met while Willie was pro at Apawamis C.C."

"On 18th June 1908, at Normandie Park Golf Club in St. Louis , Anderson became the first three-time winner of the Western Open… and on 15th September 1909, Willie won the Western Open at Skokie Golf Club in Illinois, for the fourth time...Tom Mercer, a fellow pro and close friend of Anderson said that although Willie was not a glad-hander, he went that route with his friends, buying them drink and probably his convivial habits had much to do with undermining his health..."

"In 1910, Anderson returned from his winter post in Florida which he had for the previous six years, to take up the position of head pro at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, venue for the U.S. Open in June."

It was at this U.S. Open that a young, Philadelphia caddy, the teenage son of a postal clerk, tied for the lead and faltered at the end to the Scottish professionals. His father was surprised to read about his son the next day in the news papers. McDermott would come back to win the next two U.S. Opens back-to-back, and become the first native born American, and at 19, is still the youngest to have won the Open. And like Willie Anderson, McDermott would be touted as possibly the best to ever play the game, but whose career would be cut dramatically and tragically short.

As Seaton says, "It was reported in some quarters that Anderson's game had deteriorated but he was still playing to a high standard. In April 1910 he was second in the Florida Open, played several challenge matches with Gilbert Nicholls, described in the press as being of an excellent standard. In July he was a finalist in the Eastern Professional Golfers Association tournament. He did not show to defend his Western Open title at the end of August which may have been a reflection on his health."

There's a photo of Willie Anderson and Gil Nicholls together on the day before Anderson died. Nicholls was one of the old pros who played well in the early tournaments, and I believe, held the first professional's job at Seaview, only to be replaced by Scottish pro James "Jolly Jim" Fraser, when Nicholls had a run in with Seaview club owner Clarence Geist.

Seaton: "Exhibitions were still where Anderson made most of his money and in October he travelled to the Pittsburgh area for three 36-hole matches with other leading pros and amateurs. On 24th October the day after he and Gil Nicholls lost on the last hole to amateurs Eben Byers and William Fownes, Anderson returned to his home at Wissahickon Ave, Chestnut Hill near Philadelphia where he died the following day aged 31 years."

"On 28th October 1910, Willie Anderson was buried in Ivy Hill cemetery in Philadelphia. His father and mother attended the funeral. Three years later, Willie was followed to the grave by his father Tom aged 59 years after 13 years as pro at Montclair G.C. in New Jersey. Beside them is a statue of a golfer erected by the Eastern Professional Golfers Association whose president at that time was Jack Hobens the former North Berwick caddie."

"Following Anderson's death, the amateur golfer Charles Evans Jnr. twice U.S. Amateur Champion collaborated with businessman C B. Lloyd of the Goodrich Company to raise funds for Willie Anderson's widow. They organized a special exhibition of moving pictures of noted golfers at the Chicago Indoor Golf School with all proceeds going towards the fund."

It would be interesting to find out what happened to this early “moving pictures of noted golfers."

And you can’t read a story about Willie Anderson that doesn’t tell you that he died young from drinking too much, but that story just doesn’t hold water. For one, there are only a few references to him drinking at all, and one report seems to get all the play. In addition, he couldn’t have kept up his high standards of play if he was an alcoholic and drank himself to death, as previously reported in widely published accounts.

As Seaton puts it: "It was reported in some quarters that Anderson died of arteriosclerosis, a fatal hardening of the arteries. The Philadelphia Public Ledger said he suffered a brain tumor. Other sources suggest Anderson may have died from something less socially acceptable - acute alcoholism. Most modern descriptions of Anderson - ' dour' personality and 'boozy' lifestyle seem to emanate solely from one man quoted in one place - a profile of Anderson in the December 1929 issue of The American Golfer. In 2005, golf writer Bill Fields searched the Philadelphia City Archives and discovered the official cause of death for 31-year-old Anderson wasn't hardening of the arteries, as has long been reported but epilepsy."

There's a chapter on Chick Evans in The Birth of the Birdie. Coming right up.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Duffer's Tribute to Walt Whitman 190th B-Day

Lawrence requested and I tried to deliver. Loosely following the style of Walt Whitman, born May 31, 1819, recited 190 years later at the Ballesteros Open, at Doubletree:

I stand on gnarled roots and twigs, fallen leaves forecasting my fate should I linger too long.

I feel the oppression of the leafy bough, skies blotted by its branches, life and death embodied in a single heavenly arch

I breathe the heavy mist, cool and filling in my breast, tempting me to linger, to stay upon the trunk of its host

Searching, seeking forward sun and lush fields, pennants promising victory upon the shores of distant land

I struggle torn between the calming glen and the glory of the plain, to succumb to the shade or to lay up on the sunny hill

One last deep breath of cool air, one glance above through the looming bough, one fierce swipe with my sickle as I send one final thought through the leaves toward heaven:

Why, Lord, did I not take a mulligan?

- San Diego Steve

Tom Coyne's Long Walk

Tom Coyne, a local from Philly, is now a hero of mine, having just published a book on his great adventure, walking around Ireland, playing golf, drinking pints and whatever else happened along the way - the Ultimate in Gonzo Golf.

He did this on his own mind-you, and wrote a series of articles and a blog of his adventures (, most now also available at Golf.Com (aka Golf Magazine), with excerpts of his book "A Course Called Ireland : A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee," (Gotham Books, 2008).

An excerpt:,28136,1881810,00.html

Map of trip:,-9.479828&spn=0.213881,0.6427&z=11