Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009 Crump Cup at Pine Valley

2009 Crump Cup at Pine Valley

It's mid-September, and for the only weekend of the year, Pine Valley, the greatest golf course in the world, is open to the public.

As one of the most prestigious amateur golf trophies, the Crump Cup has a history that goes back some 85 years, and named after the former Atlantic City Country Club member who designed and built Pine Valley.

This amateur invitational was matched only by the Sonny Frazer Cup by the names of those who played for it and earned it, but when Bally bought the Atlantic City Country Club the Sonny Fraser Cup competition was discontinued.

While George Crump envisioned Pine Valley as a golf club that could be enjoyed by everyone, especially families, Crump died before the course was complete, and an Irish architect was brought in to complete the last few holes. The private golf club that subsequently grew at Pine Valley was somewhat divorced from Crump's vision of a family golf club, and excluded women, children and blacks, and probably Jews too.

Women still aren't allowed to become members, and only a few blacks have been members, and the public is not permitted in the clubhouse, and only on the grounds to walk the course during the Crump Cup competition.

The last time they had a major championship that was open to the public was a Walker Cup, decades ago, and that has not happened again, nor will it, most likely, ever.

But Buddy Marucci, of Villanova, Pa., the Captain of this year's victorious US Walker Cup team, was the runner up in the Senior Division, losing 3 & 2 to Pat Tallent of Vienna, Virginia.

Skip Berkmeyer of Saint Louis won the 85th annual Crump Memorial Tournament at Pine Valley, defeating defending champion Micahel Muehr 2 up in the semifinal match and defeating Gene Elliott of West Des Moines, Iowa, 1 up. Elliot had defeated Michael McCoy, also from West Des Moines, in the semifinal in 19 holes.

According to reports from the scene, Berkmeyer won both matches with a birdie on the final hole.

Like the Crump Cup tournament at Pine Valley, the Sonny Fraser tournament at Atlantic City Country Club was a very special amateur invitational, with many of the participants in one tournament also playing in the other, as they were usually a week apart.

Sonny Fraser was the son of James "Jolly Jim" Fraser, the golf professional at the Seaview Country Club, who when his father died, was taken under the wing of Seaview owner Clarence Geist.

A natural at golf, and growing up on the course, Sonny Fraser was the founder of the Atlantic City Race Course and was a powerful politician, the head of the State Assembly and was going to run for governor when he was stricken by disease. Even after he was diagnosed, Fraser started the tournament, inviting all the best amateur golfers he knew, and won the inagural Cup that bears his name.

Dr. Cary Middlecoff won the following year, while Julus Boros, Eddie Furgal and other famous golfers played and won the tournament over the years.

The Sonny Fraser Memorial Cup was a popular and important amateur tournament that should be revived.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stiggy Hodgson at Merion - Walker Cup 2009


Stiggy Hodgson at Merion, September 13, during the 2009 Walker Cup.
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Photo: AP/Mel Evans

How can you not love a sensational new golfer with the name Stiggy Hodgson, even if he does happen to be a Brit.

Stiggy made the team, and took two matches with Irish mate Kearney, but spent more time talking about how he got his name than how he played golf.

Here's how the Irish Independent reported it:

"DESPITE the best efforts of Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney, the United States easily retained the Walker Cup with a 16.5-9.5 victory over Great Britain and Ireland at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania."

"After storming into a 8-4 lead on Saturday, the hosts won three of the four Foursomes early yesterday morning to leave them needing just a further two points from the afternoon's 10 singles matches to lift the amateur title."

"The Americans had little difficulty securing the trophy as Rickie Fowley beat Matt Haines on the 17th hole and Cameron Tringale recorded an emphatic eight and six victory over Luke Goddard. However there was some consolation for Kearney who was one of the shining lights for the visitors over the weekend and won his singles match against Nathan Smith 3&2 last night."

"Kearney and English teenage sensation Stiggy Hodgson developed a strong partnership over the weekend and on Saturday morning, they registered a 3&1 victory in the last of the team matches to give Great Britain and Ireland their first point."

What was that you said?

Can you translate that into American?

The Yanks kicked butt, again, over the best amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland, but a young bloke named Stiggy Hodgson and a Mick from Dublin saved face in Philadelphia.

Merion Golf Club is in Philadelphia by the way, the City of Brotherly Love, and Redemption.

Merion is an historic golf course, over a century old, was once the Merion Cricket Club, and it also gives its name to the Merion Inn, the best and one of the oldest restaurants in Cape May (New Jersey).

It's also where many great tournaments and championships have been held, including the 1930 US Amateur, which completed Bobby Jones Grand Slam sweep, the 1950 US Open won by Ben Hogan after surviving a debilitating car crash (also see Hy Peskin's pix, the most famous photo in golf), and Merion is where Johnny McDermott witnessed his last US Open in 1971 when he met Arnold Palmer.

The Merion course has seen some historic golf, its clubhouse is legendary, and its history transends the Walker Cup, which almost went by unnoticed by the Mainstream media and even local press.

But it was covered by Joe Juliano at the Philadelphia Inquirer (founded by Ben Franklyn, who didn't invent the golf tee), and thank God for Joe, because he answered the question on everyone's mind, even those who don't give a rat about golf.

How did Stiggy get his name?

How 'Stiggy' got his name

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joe Juliano wrote:


His name is Eamonn Hodgson, but everyone throughout Europe who has played golf with and against the 19-year-old Englishman knows him as Stiggy.

So how did he get that nickname?

Hodgson, who was part of Great Britain and Ireland's two Walker Cup victories yesterday, explained that when he was 21/2 years old, his father needed to haul off some trash, so he accompanied him to the Dumpster.

"I was sort of messing around trying to help, being knee-high and stuff, and I fell in," Hodgson said. "I was rolling around, and I found a golf club. He thought it was a putter, but it turned out to be a mashie niblick, a 7-iron. That's how I started golf.

"As the story goes, there used to be a cartoon in England - I don't think it's run any more - called Stig of the Dump, so they called me Stiggy from thereafter."

The cartoon was based on the Stig of the Dump children's novel by Clive King published in 1963


Thanks Joe, I'm glad you asked.

And Stiggy Hodgson and his man Niall Kearney are two typical Walker Cuppers, young amateurs on the way to becoming professionals, but holding out in the amateur ranks long enough to play in the Walker Cup, in honor of Queen and Country. And they did a good job of it and should be proud.

But they probably don't know anything about the Merion's history, at least not until they got there, and I hope somebody showed them around the clubhouse and told them a few stories.

Arnold Palmer didn't play in the Walker Cup, but jumped right into the professional ranks after taking the US Amateur title.

Others however, like Tiger Woods, and this young class of Americans college kids, and they pretty much are kids, from both American and Great Britain and Ireland, with only one guy over thirty making the team as an alternate, if needed. Even thought they're all young, they know that the Walker Cup is all about history and traditions, and if they didn't know, I'm sure Buddy Marucci explained it to them.

Of course when they started these friendly matches between nations, which has fostered good will and some tremendous sport over the decades, it was a totally different game. When they began, the skilled and mature amateurs were the best golfers in the world and Great Britain and Ireland taking most of the matches. The first dozen US Opens were won by older British and Scott professionals, but most golfers were amateurs and so many of the best golfers were also amateurs.

Now things are reversed, and not only do the Yanks have a commanding lead, but the best players in the world are now professionals, and the best amateurs are really good teenagers, many of whom will enter the pro ranks when they get out of school.

Only a few, like Buddy Marucci, America's coach, are dedicated amateurs in the style and spirit of Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones, and stay amateurs their whole life.

The youth movement in men's golf is matched by the women, I mean young girls, who have made waves in the game, and will continue to do so.

This new wave of amazing young golfers also opens up the possibility that, after nearly a century, one of the oldest and most respected records in sports could be broken. That would be 19 year old Johnny McDermott's 1911 US Open championship, which made him the youngest, as well as first native born American to win the national championship, which he did back-to-back (the sign of a true champion) in 1911-1912.

In 1971, a few months before McDermott died, his sister drove him to Merion to see the US Open. She left him in the Pro Shop while she took care of some business, and while she was gone, a young assistant pro thought the old man was in the way. He appeared disshelved, in a suit he'd had for decades, and wasn't recognized, and was told to go stand outside as he was in the way.

Someone then told the assistant pro, "Hey kid, you just kicked a two time winner of the US Open out of the pro shop."

Arnold Palmer saw what happened and went over and shook McDermott's hand and talked quietly with him.

Palmer later said he asked him for some advice and McDermott said, "All you can do is practice."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shady Rest Golf at Scotch Plains

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Shady Rest in Scotch Plains was first African-American club of its kind

Many thanks to Vicki Hyman for coming up with this gem of a photo, and story.

Althea Gibson, mentioned in the article, played in the US Women's Open at ACCC.

Before a black doctor from North Jersey invented the golf tee, you would have to pinch a little bit of sand from the sandbox to make your own tee. I wonder if the black doc who invented the golf tee was connected to this club? - Bill Kelly

Posted by Vicki Hyman/The Star-Ledger February 19, 2009 5:44PM

Categories: Black History Month, Must-see stories

Shady Rest was the first African-American club of its kind in the U.S., offering daytime sports and nighttime socials

On fine summer days, the Packards and Studebakers would pull up Jersualem Road in Scotch Plains, and men lugging golf clubs and women in crisp tennis whites would bound into the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club.

They'd play nine holes, or watch their kids practice on the clay tennis court, or go skeet-shooting. Maybe they thought of nothing but the prospect of cocktails on the wraparound porch, Miss Lillian's famous fried chicken and potato salad in the club dining room, or the big band that would play in the ballroom later that evening.
Nothing unusual about well-to-do Americans enjoying a summertime idyll. Except that all the members at Shady Rest were African-American, and this was the 1930s.

Shady Rest was the first African-American golf and country club in the United States. There were other black-owned or operated golf courses at the time, but none combined golf with other amenities typically associated with country club life, such as tennis, horseback riding, locker rooms and a dining room, according to Lawrence Londino, a Montclair State University professor who produced a documentary called "A Place For Us" about Shady Rest, and John Shippen, the resident golf pro who is believed to have been the first American-born golfer to play in the U.S. Open.

"I guess we didn't at the time, but now we know how important it was," says Annie Westbrook Brantley, 88, of Roselle, who grew up near Shady Rest and who met her husband there in 1938, while Duke Ellington played "One O'Clock Jump."

The clubhouse, which dates to the mid-1700s, began life as a farmhouse. It briefly served as a tavern until 1900, when the Westfield Golf Club turned the surrounding farmland into a golf course, according to Ethel Washington, the history programs coordinator for the Union County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.

When the Westfield club merged with a Cranford club, plans were drawn to build a new 18-hole course at what would become the Echo Lake Country Club. A group of African-American investors called the Progressive Realty Co. bought the property in 1921 and opened Shady Rest.

The Jerseyland neighborhood around the club was predominantly African-American, but the club drew members from across northern and central Jersey, with guests driving in from as far as Manhattan and Brooklyn for a day in the country.

Shady Rest also featured prominently on the Jersey musical circuit, drawing big names like Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and Newark's Sarah Vaughan.

Brantley and her sister, Rosabelle Westbrook Johnson, remember Chick Webb introducing a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald, who delighted the crowd with "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

"We'd get a chance to see all of them," Brantley says. "The place would be packed. We would be dancing. It was a great time. All the boys came up there to meet the girls."

Back then she was too young to attend the dances, but Yvonne Cooley Whaley remembers her brother driving her to the clubhouse and parking outside so they could hear the music from the masters. Some white kids from the surrounding area did the same: Laura Swidersky of Scotch Plains says her uncles and cousin, who studied classical music, would hang around outside the clubhouse, "spending many a Saturday night enjoying the jazz that they rarely were able to imitate."

W.E.B. DuBois spoke there. The clubhouse was a popular spot for fashion shows and luncheons put on by African-American community groups, and it hosted a multitude of weddings.

Joan Cooley Carter's family moved to Westfield from Jersey City in the mid-1930s, and soon Joan was toting a tennis racket around wherever she went. Shady Rest is where Carter, now 77 and living in Carmel, Calif., met her husband, a member of the Cosmpolitan Tennis Club, the most prestigious black tennis club in New York.
Carter, whose older sister is Yvonne Whaley, vividly recalls another competitor from the Cosmopolitan, a tall, wiry and athletic young woman with a "cannonball serve" who "knocked the socks off everybody."

"You could tell she was really going to go somewhere," Cooley remembers. "She walked all over me, then looked at me and said, 'Next.'"

That woman was Althea Gibson, who became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Shady Rest was also the home course to Shippen, another barrier-breaker who is not as well known as Gibson. Shippen may have been the first American-born golf pro, not just African-American pro, because until 1896, when Shippen made his professional debut at the U.S. Open at Long Island's Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, only European-born players had ever competed. Despite a threatened boycott, Shippen played in the tournament, coming in fifth.

"Most people only think of Tiger Woods, but here was somebody who was just as good over 100 years ago," says Thurman Simmons Sr., the chairman of the John Shippen Foundation. "If he had won that tournament at Shinnecock, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

Shippen served as the club's golf pro and groundskeeper from 1931 to his retirement in 1960, only four years after the Professional Golfers Association rescinded its so-called Caucasian-only membership rule.

In Barbara J. Kukla's book, "Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-1950," Shady Rest is described by one musician as the place "where all the rich black folks used to go," but many of those who remember the club were too young at the time to be aware of any class division. "There were a number of people that I knew who never went to Shady Rest and looked upon it as, well, something that they were not going to be able to participate in," Whaley says. "I don't know why they felt that."

Roberta Thaxton, 73, of Orange, says that her parents were not that financially well-off, but they were big believers in culture and apparently felt the $15 to $25 annual membership fee was money well spent.

A mounting tax burden, the Great Depression, and conflicts between two groups of investors led to financial problems, and Scotch Plains Township acquired the Shady Rest property through a tax lien foreclosure in 1938. The country club continued as a focal point of African-American social life through the 1940s and 1950s. In 1964, the town took over operations, renamed it Scotch Hills Country Club, and opened it to all.

The second floor of the building has been badly neglected, and the exterior has been so altered -- it's now clad in vinyl siding, the gracious wraparound porch long gone -- that it doesn't qualify for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. It's also on Preservation New Jersey's list of endangered historic properties because at one point, the town had decided to tear down the building and replace it with a recreation center for seniors.

Richard Bousquet, who runs the Historical Society of Scotch Plains and Fanwood, says that the building may be extensively renovated to house the senior center, with some space reserved for an exhibit about Shady Rest's history and Shippen's legacy, although the project is on hold for now.

"I miss it really," says Whaley, who now lives in Edison. "That was really a time in my childhood that I thoroughly enjoyed. There's nothing like that out there now. You have to understand, I'm 80 years old, so my days of running around and looking and going to find Duke Ellington and Count Basie are practically over. My sister and my brothers and I keep talking about Shady Rest, and my kids say, 'We don't have anything like that.'"

Vicki Hyman may be reached at