Saturday, June 18, 2011

John McDermott's Mashie

McDermott’s Mashie –

A long lost hickory shaft golf club, once used by John McDermott to win two US Opens, has recently surfaced, raising the eyebrows of memorabilia collectors and golf historians alike.

The mid-iron mashie, custom made in 1909 or 1910 by Anderson of Anstruther, Fife, Scotland, has McDermott’s name as well as the Anderson “cleekmark” – an arrow brand, embedded in the iron head.

The club was at one time consigned to Ed Waldron, who owned the Quality Golf Collectables store on Rt. #9 in Clermont, Cape May County. He was acting as an agent for the club’s owner, Jerome “Jerry” Moskowitz, who was interested in selling it.

This unique and peculiar club escaped theft and apparent destruction, the fate of the rest of McDermott’s clubs. The rest haven’t been seen or heard from since April, 1949, when they were stolen from his sister’s automobile, which temporarily ceased McDermott’s periodic play when he wasn’t being treated at the Norristown, Pa. hospital for a nervous breakdown.

The club’s owner is now retired to Florida, had placed the club on the market but did not sell it right away, although there were a couple of interested parties. It’s value, actually dependent on what someone thinks it is worth and is willing to pay for it, has been estimated at between $5,000 and $10,000, more than the average club from that period because of its one-time famous owner as well as its unique history.

According to Moskowitz, “I fist met John McDermott at Beverly Hills Golf Club in June 1946.” Beverly Hills, in Upper Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, is near the Norristown hospital where McDermott was treated. Moskowitz said that when he was there the club was operated by Ted Bickel, Sr. and Bill Boyle was the pro.

“There was a slight man of about 55 years of age,” recalls Moskowitz, “who would sit on the porch with an old ‘stove-pipe’ leather bag with about 9 or 10 wood shafted sticks.”

According to Moskowitz, “If we were a two or threesome, the pro would ask us to take the old man along. His name was John McDermott. We were asked not to upset the gentleman in any way as he was furloughed each summer from the Norristown State Mental Hospital to his sisters in Upper Darby.”

“In his quite way,” Moskowitz continued, “he would relate how he won the U.S. Open in 1911 and 1912. Of course, knowing he had mental problems, we assumed this was a person who had delusions of grandeur.” McDermott was very sick, having suffered a nervous breakdown in 1914. But he didn’t have delusions of grandeur, and was indeed the first “native born” American to win the National championship, and to prove it wasn’t a quirk, he did it back-to-back in 1911 and 1912.

After a series of setback that included surviving a shipwreck and stock market loses, as well as loses on the golf course, on Halloween night 1914 McDermott collapsed in the pro shop of the Atlantic City Country Club, where he was the golf professional.

McDermott continued to play over a makeshift six hole course they laid out over the Norristown hospital grounds, and he was often invited to play at Atlantic City, Valley Forge and other nearby courses where his sisters Alice and Gertrude would take him when he was well enough. Besides playing with Moskowitz, McDermott also played with Tim DeBaufree at Valley Forge, Harry Cooper at Atlantic City, and William “Zimmer” Platt and Walter Hagen at Norristown.

Moskawitz remembers, “I played many rounds with John McDermott that summer. The elder, frail man had a beautiful swing and struck the ball very well with his ancient golf clubs. I carried an old, wood-shafted putter which I used in chipping from the fringe. John admired this Scottish club and often borrowed it to putt in from the fringes. After playing once or twice a week for a few months, I put the club in his bag and told him it was my gift to him. He got excited and insisted I have one of his own clubs in return.”

Moskowitz said McDermott then put the mid-iron in his bag saying, “this is the club I used to win two U.S. Opens. I want you to have it.”

According to the Arrow brand of Anderson of Austruther, the arrow pointed to the toe of the iron, indicates the club was made between 1908 and 1910. It was restored by Robert Junz (co-founder of the GCS, 1995) and authenticated by professionals. Although the club is for sale and individual collectors have expressed interest in it, the club should not be privately owned, but should be placed on public display as a museum piece.

William Kelly

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