Monday, May 24, 2021

Wilfred Reid and Mel Reid


Kellys Golf History: Wilfrid Reid - First Seaview Pro and ACCC 46-48 - My  Life in GolfLPGA golfer Mel Reid of England on coming out -- 'This is who I am'
Wilfred Reid and Mel Reid 

When Mel Reid tees off at the US Women’s Open at the Olympic course in San Francisco, she will be swinging with a spiritual affinity with the designer of the original course Wilfred Reid, a distant relative.  Although the course has been expanded and redesigned numerous times, Wilfred Reid is still recognized as the original course designer.

Mel  Reid got an automatic invitation to the Open based on her winning her first LPGA event, the 2020 Shoprite Classic at the Seaview Country Club near Atlantic City, where Wilfred Reid was the first golf pro in 1914.

As the author of The Birth of the Birdie – 100 Years of Golf at the Atlantic City Country Club, I devote a chapter to Wilfred Reid, so when I heard Mel Reid was from England; I looked her up and discovered she is from near Nottingham, where Wilfred was proud to be from Robin Hood country. I then sent Mel Reid an Instagram, asking her if they were related, and she said they sure were. 

Wilfred said that everyone in his family played golf, and he wanted to become a golf professional, and met up with Harry Vardon, unquestionably one of the greatest golfers of all time, who took young Wilfrey under his wing and taught him the ropes.

Vardon and his usual sidekick Ted Ray were from the British isle of Jersey, off the French coast, and between them won a dozen major tournaments. Whenever they came to America to give demonstrations, they usually took the US Open trophy home with them.

The first twelve U.S. Open golf championships were won by British and Scottish professionals, until 1911, when a young, Spunky Irish-American John McDermitt became the first American and at 19, youngest still to win the US Open in Buffalo, New York. Inspired by McDermott’s victory, an equally young Walter Hagen quit his assistant pro job and took up playing tournament golf, changing the nature of the game completely.

When McDermott, the Atlantic City Country Club pro won the following year in Chicago, back to back, Hagen said it was the sign of a true champion. But neither Vardon nor Ray were in either tournament, so they decided to come over in 1913, and Vardon brought his protégé Wilfred Reid with him.

After giving demonstrations around the country, the Englishmen headed for Brookline, Massachusetts, the site of the 1913 Open. Before hand though they were invited to play a tournament at Shawnee, a course on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania that included most of the Open field. At some point, after the days golf was over, they went to a bar for some drinks, where a fist fight broke out between Ted Ray and Wilfred Reid. Reid later said that he sparked the fight by asking Ray - how he could be a socialist while making so much money playing golf?

After John McDermott won the Shawnee tournament by eight strokes, he gloated in the locker room, promising everyone that neither Vardon nor Ray would take the Open trophy home with them, a threat that was picked up by the media and took golf off the sports pages and put it on the front page of every English language news paper in the world.

The USGA reprimanded Wilfred Reid and Ted Ray for fighting and McDermott for his rude outspoken promise, and they all apologized.

At Brookline Wilfred Reid was tied with Vardon for the lead at the half way mark, but both Reid and McDermott fell off the lead, leaving young amateur champion, caddy and son of the groundskeeper Francis Ouimet to full fill McDermott’s promise.  The tournament ended in a three way tie between Vardon, Ray and Ouimet, and played out the next day in what has been described as “The Greatest Game,” won by Ouimet, who maintained his amateur status throughout his career.

While Vardon and Ray went home without the Open trophy, Wilfred Reid liked America and took up the offer from gas magnet Clarence Geist to be the first golf pro at his new, luxurious, private club, the Seaview, off bay from Atlantic City. When Geist couldn’t get a tee time to play the Atlantic City Country Club, he had his own club built - Seaview. Geist saw Wilfred Reid’s name at the top of the leaderboard in most tournaments, and named him the Seaview pro.

In 1916 Wilfred Reid attended the first meeting of the PGA, where the first order of business was to take up a collection for John McDermott, one of golf’s greatest tragedies.  While returning from the British Open, his steamship was rammed and sunk, and McDermott survived in a life boat, but when he got home, learned his life’s savings were lost in the stock market. He had a nervous breakdown and never recovered to play serious golf again.

After awhile Wilfred Reid went on to the Wilmington Country Club in Delaware, and later Michigan, where he not only worked as a club professional – making golf balls, clubs, giving lessons and playing tournaments, he also designed and laid out a number of golf courses, some in Michigan, but also the original design of the Olympic course in San Francisco in 1917, where the US Women’s Open will be held.

At Seaview, Reid was replaced by “Jolly” Jim Fraser, from Scotland, whose son Leo became a golf professional. When Leo returned home from World War II, he purchased the deteriorating Atlantic City Country Club and restored it to its former glory, and in 1946 brought Wilfred Reid in to be his golf pro.

In 1948, while Wilfred Reid was the pro, Leo hosted the third U.S. Women’s Open, won by Babe Zaharias. At that time Wilfred Reid became known for coaching women golf champions, both amateur and professional.

Before eventually retiring to Florida, Wilfred Reid wrote a letter addressed to Leo Fraser in which he put his career in a nutshell:

My Life in Golf – By Wilfrid Reid

It’s hard to believe it now, but I almost became a minister instead of a professional golfer. At least my family had that in mind for me until I was about 14. My family all played golf – my grandfather, my father, my brother – all of them – so it was only natural for me to start. I was about five years old when I began and by the time I was 14 I was a pretty good player.

I was born in Sherwood Forest – an outlaw, you know – and golf was popular in Nottingham like every place else. The Notts, the gentlemen of Nottingham, allowed us to play on the golf course. We were artisans, you know, the working men. Anyway, in 1898 Harry Vardon played an exhibition match there and after seeing him I don’t think I ever considered any other career besides golf.

Instead of studying for the ministry I went to Edinburgh as an apprentice to golf professional. Well, this was a few years before the rubber-core ball came out and people were still using the guttie. I learned to make golf balls using molds, two halves and put them together. I used to make several dozen balls a day.

Harry Vardon was very quiet on the course. The thing I remember most is that there was a great crowd of people gathered there, and when I stepped up on the first tee I was so scared I couldn’t talk. Then Vardon came up and said, “What’s the matter, lad?” I pointed to all the people and he said, “Don’t worry about them, they’re only trees.” I never forgot how kind he was.

It was during these years that we had what we were called international matches, between teams from England and Scotland. I was on the English team seven years – from 1906 through 1913 and my record was 10 victories, one loss and one match halved. There were some great matches, as you might imagine, since England has players like Vardon, Taylor and Ray, while Braid, Herd and Willie Park were on the other side.

It’s funny how some things remain in your mind, while more important ones are sometimes forgotten. I recall looking for Ray at the 1913 Open and found him in the bar of the hotel with Alex Smith. They were having a big argument about socialism. Then I had to open my big mouth. I said, “Ted, how the hell can you argue in favor of socialism when you make as much money as you do?”

Well, Ted really got angry at that, really upset, and he punched me right in the face and knocked me clear over the table. My face was swollen clear out to the ear, and the next day I had a devil of a headache. Vardon was very upset and said he was going to withdraw, but I talked him out of it.

While I was here, I talked to a lot of fellows I had known in Britain and saw how well they were doing and how much golf was growing here, and I began to wonder if it might not be a good thing for me to make the move. As it turned out, I went back home and stayed there a couple of years, then came here permanently in 1915 and took the job at Seaview in Atlantic City.

I don’t know what I would have done in other circumstances, but the war was on and golf in Britain was almost at a standstill.

I wasn’t too happy there and was soon looking for another club. Then Gil Nichols came to me and said he was accepting an offer from Great Neck, on Long Island, and he told me to come down to his present club at Wilmington and play a match with him. He wanted to introduce me to the people at the club because he thought he might be able to get the job. It was a sort of a game of musical chairs because I took Gil’s place at Wilmington, he took Jimmy Fraser’s place at Great Neck, and Jimmy took my place at Seaview.

I stayed at Wilmington seven years and during that time I became an American citizen. I had studied the material from top to bottom so I answered all of them correctly, and when the judge congratulated me he admitted he hadn’t known all the answers himself.

Well, I’ve been here and there since then. I spent several years in Detroit and I used to spend every winter in St. Augustine. I was around when the PGA was founded in 1916, and after I went to Detroit I got Leo Fraser and Warren Orlick into the PGA. Both of them later became president of the association, you know?

I played quite a lot of tournament golf the first few years I was over here and in fact, I’ve never completely stopped, because I played in the PGA Seniors.

It’s been a good life and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, although once in awhile I wonder what my life would have been like if I had gone ahead and studied for the ministry.


Wilfred Reid is now buried in a grave in Florida, not far from where Mel Reid lives when she isn’t on the LPGA tour.

After winning four tournaments in Europe, Mel Reid turned to the LPGA in America, and in her first year on the tour, won her first tournament at Seaview in 2020, during the pandemic when no spectators were allowed.

Just as McDermott, Wilfred and Ted Ray were reprimanded by the USGA for their behavior at Shawnee; Mel Reid was reprimanded by the LPGA for breaking Covid protocols by taking her caddy and friends to dinner at a restaurant, and drinking beer out of the glass trophy mug she won as the Seaview champion.

If Wilfred Reid was looking over her shoulder at Seaview, he certainly will be at the Olympic, and Mel Reid will return to the Seaview to defend her title in October, this time with spectators.

When asked about it, she simply said, “History will never be forgotten,” and while it often is, it doesn’t have to be.

William Kelly  609-346-0229 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Golf's Forgotten Legends

Golf's Forgotten Legends

Just when you thought you heard every golf story to come down the fairway along comes Jeff Gold whose new book Golfs Forgotten Legends and Unforgettable Controversies (Morgan James, NY 2014) details the careers of some of the most colorful characters to fall through the cracks of mainstream golf history.

The stories of Australian Peter Thompson, Billy Casper, Seve Bellesteros Sota, Johnny Miller, Porky Oliver are all chronicled here as well as a few with local ties - Willie Anderson, who died young in Philadelphia, Johnny McDermott - the Atlantic City CC pro who won two US Opens, Tommy Armour, who Seaview owner Clarence Geist hired to be the pro at Boca Raton and Dr. Cary Middlecoff, who won the Sonny Fraser tournament as an amateur and went on to become known for his notorious slow play.

Gold's spirited chapter on McDermott references the chapter on McDermott in my book Birth of the Birdie and he agrees with my assessment of the false portrayals of McDermott in the movie "The Greatest Game" and the Golf Magazine article, which Gold, in an appendix, calls for an apology and correction.

For more on Jeff Gold and McDermott see: Kellys Golf History: John McDermott Finally Gets His Due

This book is great for profiling some of golf's most interesting but unhearld players, as well as detailing some of the most legendary golf controversies and scandals, most of which have to do with the rule of playing the ball where it lies.

Gold, who now lives in the Southwest and plays and teaches golf year round, also adds a chapter, without much sarcasm, on the joys of living and playing golf in Minnesota, which is where he met Tom Lehman, who writes the introduction.

The best part of the book however is meeting, some for the first time, some of golf's more eccentric characters.

Take for instance the greatest golfer of all time.

Who is the best golfer ever?

Bobby Jones? Ben Hogan? Arnold Palmer?

Guess again.

Maybe it’s one of the vintage players of golf’s early years? Like Harry Varden,  James Braid or J.H. Tylor? They were called The Great Triumvirate - each of whom earns a chapter in this book.

But no cigar for being the best ever.

None of these famous golfers can compete with Harry M. Frankenberg - also known as "Count Yogi" - the greatest golfer of all time.
                                Meet Harry M. Frankenberg - "Count Yogi" - the Greatest Golfer

Being a Jewish - Native American Indian was as good as being black when it came to being blackballed by the early PGA - just as black players like Charlie Sifford were kept from playing,  or South Africa's Bobby Locke - who also gets a chapter in this book -who  was banned for being too good.

Frankenberg was prevented from playing in major and sanctioned tournaments because he too was so good, too good, and being a Jewish-German-American Indian didn't help.

A natural athlete as a youth, his talents stood out and his records stand on their own - as Frankenberg holds many of the major playing records including the best round ever and the fastest round (58 minutes).

In his career he also hit 55  holes-in-one, once shot seven consecutive birdies, made two albatross (3 under par) and broke 60 four times - 55, 57, 58 and 59. He also owns the course records at Bel Air CC (63), Grossinger GC (63) and Greenview CC, Chicago (59).

The best round ever was a 55 played at Bunker Hill GC (par 74) in winning the  1934 Chicago Golf Championship. He did it with two back-to-back holes-in-one - on a par 3, 187 yards and a par 4, 347 yards (29-26).

Frankenberg also held the records for driving distance - with drives of 425, 435, 450, 453 yards and one of his students - 64 year old Mike Austin is credited by Guinness with the longest drive in tournament play - 515 yards at the 1974 Winterwood GC in Las Vegas when the ball finished 65 yards past the hole.

Known as the most consistent, mechanical golfer of all time, among his other students Frankenberg could count Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Babe Didrikson, Al Espinosa and President Kennedy, who said Harry was "the most exploited, unexploited individuals I have ever met."

Born near Chicago on April 4 (ca) 1908, a distant relation to Sioux Indian Sitting Bull and Bavarian Count Harry Hilary "Montana" Von Frankenberg, he was nicknamed "The Great Frankenberg" and then "Count Yogi" after he moved to Los Angeles in 1949.

Banned by the PGA, Frankenberg was forced to teach and travel around the country putting on demonstrations and golf exhibitions - much like Harry Vardon and Walter Hagen.

His book "Revolutionary Golf Made Easy" promoted his mechanical motions and quick pace and his wide travels made him a prolific teacher who taught more students than anyone.

"It isn't what'd you shot - its how'd you shoot it," is what Frankenberg told his students of the game.

As Jeff Gold relates in his informative book, "Much of Count Yogi's life is shrouded in mystery, but there's no doubt about his ability to play and teach the game."

Mohammed Ali even called Frankenberg "the greatest of all times."

Frankenberg died without much fanfare on February 15, 1990, but his exploits and the fascinating careers of other forgotten golf legends live on in this book that should be a part of every golfer’s library.

For more on Golf’s Forgotten Heroes:


Monday, November 17, 2014

John McDermott Finally Gets His Due

John McDermott Gets His Due, finally – Bill Kelly

John McDermott is finally getting his due over a hundred years after he became the first American and at 19 he remains the youngest to win the U.S. Open national golf championship.

After winning the 1910 Philadelphia Open, the 1911 U.S. Open, the 1911 Philadelphia Open, the 1912 U.S. Open, 1913 Philadelphia Open, the 1913 Western Open, the 1913 Shawnee invitational, and being the first American to place among the leaders of the British Open, McDermott was the best American golfer and said to be on his way to being the best ever.

Then McDermott fell ill with an undiagnosed nervous breakdown and didn’t play in a tournament after 1914, but he continued to play quietly until his clubs were stolen. In and out of asylums for the rest of his life, McDermott attended the 1971 Open at Merion a few weeks before he died at his sister’s house.

After losing his health and his clubs, McDermott appeared to have lost his legacy as well as he was much maligned by Hollywood and in a carelessly written profile in Golf Magazine that said McDermott was a “famously rude, combative, abrasive, embarrassing, insane bigot, best left forgotten.”

[Golf Mag."The Curious Case of John McDermott" by John Garrity  John McDermott won U.S. Open twice then checked into psychiatric ward -]

When Hollywood put “The Greatest Game” to the screen McDermott is wrongfully, unfairly and rudely portrayed as a typical Mick – a tall gangly red haired buffoon with a mustache.

And that’s how it seemed Johnny McDermott would be remembered, but then Pete Trenham, John Burnes and Jeff Gold stepped up to the tee and took some swings for him.

On the 100th anniversary of his tremendous feats McDermott was belatedly and posthumously inducted into the prestigious Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that was accepted by Jim Faser, whose family owned the Atlantic City Country Club where McDermott was the pro.[Pete Trenham & The History of the PGA Philadelphia / Trenham Golf History Johnny McDermott - YouTube]

McDermott was also more accurately portrayed in a short film by Pete Trenham [Pete Trenham & The History of the PGA Philadelphia] – whose golf history web site [Pete Trenham & The History of the PGA Philadelphia] is a treasure trove of Philadelphia area golf lore, including my own book "Birth of a Birdie" [].

Then, through the efforts of John Burnes, the state of Pennsylvania erected a permanent historic plaque in front of the Kingsessing Library at 1201 South 51st Street in McDermott’s old West Philadelphia neighborhood – “JOHN J. McDERMOTT (1891-1917) In 1911 at the Chicago Golf Club, 19-year old John McDermott became the first American to win the U.S. Open. He successfully defended his title the following year. One of the world’s top golfers between 1910 and 1914, he helped to popularize the game in this country. His career was cut short due to illness and he retired in 1914. This was his childhood neighborhood, where he caddied and learned to play at Aronimink Golf Club, once located here.”

Pete Trenham helped dedicate the plaque on Thursday, October 9, 2014 [Pete Trenham & The History of the PGA Philadelphia]

And now McDermott is prominently featured in a new book – Jeff Gold’s “Golf’s Forgotten Legends and Unforgettable Controversies,” (Morgan James, N.Y. 2014)  [ / Jeff Gold Golf, Golf Book Phoenix AZ, Golf Books for Sale Phoenix AZ - Golf's Forgotten Legends: & Unforgettable Controversies: Jeff Gold: 9781630473013: Books]

This excellent book can be purchased at Jeff Gold Golf, Golf Book Phoenix AZ, Golf Books for Sale Phoenix AZ

And incldues a chapter on the greatest golfer of all time - not who you think. .
Gold details the numerous historical and factual errors in “The Greatest Game,” and takes special issue with John Garitty’s portrait of McDermott in Golf Magazine (May 2, 2012), going so far as to cancel his subscription, calling for a boycott and demanding a retraction, correction and public apology.

“In my eye,” writes Gold, “Johnny McDermott holds the title of Greatest Teenage Golfer in American History. I can’t envision another American teenager coming within miles of challenging Johnny’s U.S. Open record, a tie for second and a win, not to mention his two teenage wins in the Philadelphia Open against a field of top professionals. Even Tiger Woods as a teenager never challenged McDermott’s accomplishments.”

Rather than a boring lout, Gold says that McDermott should be honestly remembered for inspiring the now intense international Walker and Ryder Cup matches and should be an inspiration to all young, teenage golfers. 

                                                   John McDermott with U.S. Open Trophy 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Flight of the Eagle - Seaview and the Growth of Golf in America

The Flight of the Eagle – Seaview Country Club and the Growth of Golf in America

By William E. Kelly, Jr.

                                                             Summer 1914

Sitting in the shade of an apple tree near the first tee at the Atlantic City Country Club, Clarence Geist exhaled from his cigar and complained about having to wait to play a round of golf.

Mister Geist, or “C.H.” as he was known, was a multi-millionaire industrialist, owner of a number of gas companies in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlantic City, when gas lamps lighted the cities, and he was an avid golfer. He loved to play golf and played as much as he could, often running his companies from the golf course.

Standing next to him, his golfing partner Maurice Risley began to respond, “Mister Gist,” he said, “if I had as much money as you do I’d build my own golf course.”

And that he did. Geist instructed Risley, a real estate agent, to find him a suitable piece of property that would be good for a links course – one that ran along the bay waters and allowed for the variable winds to come into play, just like the legendary Scottish links courses. And in the end, the winds of change fanned by Clarence Geist altered the landscape of America and changed the nature, style and business of the game of golf.  

Risley was a real estate agent whose family were among the first settlers of the area, a family that includes many illustrious politicians, professionals and colorful personages, Maurice Risley one of the more interesting, if only for enticing Geist to build his own golf course.

While Risley selected and surveyed the bayside land on Route #9, just off the White Horse Pike, Geist went and hired Hugh Wilson to lay out his golf course. Wilson also laid out the Merion Golf Club course in Philadelphia, an amateur golfer who traveled to the British Isles to study the links courses there and he later helped finish George Crump’s legendary Pine Valley, which included Geist as an original member. So while Wilson only assisted in the design of three courses – Merion, Seaview and Pine Valley, they are considered three of the best golf courses in the world.

While Wilson began to lay out the course, which was later completed by the equally renowned Donald Ross, their distinctive signatures can still be clearly seen along the fairways and among the traps and bunkers. In 1927 Geist hired Howard C. Toomey and William S. Flynn to design the scenic Pines Course in the woods to the west behind the clubhouse that was expanded in 1957 by Flynn mentor William Gordon. More recently the courses were restored to their original designs to reflect the visions of Wilson, Ross, Toomey and Flynn, four of the greatest golf course architects in America.

To go with his distinctly designed links golf course, Geist hired the best golf professional available – Englishman Wilfred Reid, who had finished among the leaders of the 1913 U.S. Open championship and wanted to stay in America, the land of opportunity.

Geist, being a self-made millionaire when there were far fewer of them, is said to have earned a personal income of two million dollars a year, and he lived first class – wore the best clothes, owned the best cars, lived in the biggest houses, and exhibited a lifestyle that would become generally popular once the nation’s economy grew and money started to spread around.

So the clubhouse would also have to be the best, serve the best food and wines, provide the best service and everything would be done in a simple but elegant style.

Geist christened his club the Seaview Country Club, even though the sea was quite our of view, and the Seaview was considered one of a dozen golf clubs offshoots of the Atlantic City Country Club – some others were Pine Valley, Oakmont and most of the golf clubs in South Jersey and the Jersey Shore, which gave it the reputation of being the “mother club” when golf began to spread wing across America. While the Country Club of Atlantic City was owned by the boardwalk hotel owners and open to all of their guests, Geist’s country club would be private, open only to Geist’s friends and business associates and those who fit his personal qualifications. If you were invited, membership dues weren’t that expensive, but if Mister Geist heard you complain about anything – the food, the wine, the service – he would walk up to your table and say “You’re resignation has been accepted.”

Golf at the Seaview made its debut with great fanfare in January 1915, and over the course of the next century, a lot of great, championship golf would be played there, but the ripples of change that began there would expand far beyond Seaview and change the nature and style of the game and the landscape of America.

Geist would go on to even bigger and better things – opening the historic Boca Raton Country Club in Florida (where he hired Tommy Armour to be the club golf professional), and he made many other similar deals before his controversial death, but Seaview would continue on as a living, growing entity and see many great championships, social events and interesting characters.

Wilfrey Reid, Geist’s first golf pro, didn’t last long. From Nottingham, England, home of Robin Hood, Reid was a good tournament player and stayed at the top of the leaderboard with the best, but at a pre-1913 US Open tournament at Shawnee he got into a fist fight with British Champion Ted Ray.

The argument began in the Shawnee locker room, where Johnny McDermott, the young 20 year old Atlantic City pro and two-time U.S. Open defending champion had already created considerable controversary after winning the tournament by eight strokes and promising the foreign visitors they wouldn’t take the U.S. Open trophy home with them. McDermott’s remarks put golf on the front pages of most newspapers worldwide and created great international interest in the 1913 U.S. Open, said to be “the greatest game.”

Meanwhile Wilfred Reid, who was second after the first round at Shawnee, had words about politics with Ted Ray. Reid later said he asked Ray how he could be a socialist while making so much money playing golf. That was enough to spark Ray to take a swing at Reid, and like McDermott, the gentlemen had to publicly apologize.

While Harry Vardon and Ted Ray would tour the United States a number of times, Wilfried Reid’s 1913 visit was his first, and he liked America, and took up Geists’s offer to be the first golf professional of the Seaview Country Club, which was also making news because of its refined extravagance.

For some reason Geist wasn’t happy with Wilfred Reid, and while discussing this matter over drinks with some other rich power brokers, they decided to switch golf pros, so Wilfred Reid and his contract was traded like a sports star to the Wilmington Golf Club in Delaware, while the golf pro there went to Garden City in North New Jersey, and the pro there - James “Jolly Jim” Fraser, would become the second golf pro at Seaview.

Fraser was probably the cornerstone to that “triple-switch,” as the sports writers of the day called it, since he was from Scotland where the Fraser Clan name is proudly carved onto rocks at the Highland battlefields depicted in the movie Braveheart.  Fraser, the son of an Aberdeen constable, came to America by winning a “Silver Quill” essay contest, and he joined the many other expatriate Scotsmen who found work in America as golf professionals.

Fraser’s first job was at Van Cortlandt Park, the first public golf course in the country, which is where he was working when he met Millie Leeb on a train. They got married and when they got to Seaview they settled into a comfortable house just off the first green of the Bay Course. Those who knew it was there would stop by Fraser’s cellar door for a touch of scotch whiskey he kept in a barrel there for thirsty friends.
Millie practiced putting on the first green the morning James “Sonny” Fraser was born. Sonny Fraser was the epitome of the great amateur golfers of his day, and his brother Leo would become an esteemed professional, a protégé of Walter Hagen, and together with Mr. Geist, they would alter the nature and style of the game of golf as it is played in America.

Geist didn’t want a great tournament player, he wanted a golf professional who could teach his wife and inspire his daughters to play the game, and while Wilfred Reid would later become known for his ability to coach champion women golfers, it was left to Jolly Jim Fraser to teach the game of golf to Geist’s family and the new members of the elite, exclusive and renown Seaview Country Club.

As a Scottish professional at one of the newest and most prestigious golf courses in America, Jolly Jim Fraser’s home on the first fairway at Seaview was the destination of many Scottish and British professionals who came to America, - the Smith Brothers, the Armours and especially Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Vardon and Ray were actually from the British Channel Isle of Jersey, for which the state of New Jersey is named. Besides being well known as the best golfers of their day, they are considered among the best of all time, and on their visit to America in 1921 Fraser convinced them to play a promotional tournament at a new course in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, now Brookside [].

Fraser’s good friend and hunting partner Walter Hagen played with him and Fraser’s 10 year old son Leo caddied for his father as Fraser and Hagen defeated Vardon and Ray in one of their only loses in America. They may have a dozen British and US Open championships between them, but on that occasion, the Americans carried the day.

While Mister Geist detested dogs, Fraser adopted them, especially hunting dogs, and with Hagen, would take the dogs for walks into the pine forest behind the club, sometimes hunting deer and small game.
Hagen was a young 20 year old Buffalo, New York assistant pro when he witnessed an equally young Johnny McDermott win his second U.S. Open championship in 1912, which inspired Hagen to gave up his assistant pro shop job and became one of the first touring golf professionals, and when on tour he always put into Seaview to visit his good friend Jolly Jim Fraser.

Then tragedy struck on February 15, 1923 when Jolly Jim was killed when his car collided with a Route 9 Trolley. While a series of golf professionals would take his job, the Fraser clan had lost their father, so Geist stepped up and took them in and provided for their well being, especially Sonny Fraser, who Geist treated like a son.  

James “Sonny”  Fraser was a golf prodigy who as a child in 1922, played a round under 100 with President Warren G. Harding, and won a bet Geist had with the president, who was elected, if you believe Boardwalk Empire, with the help of Nucky Johnson.

When Johnson hosted the 1929 conference of organized crime bosses from around the country, Al Capone disappeared while the crime bosses determined his fate for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that had put unnecessary pressure on them all. While there were reports that Capone was holed up in the locker room at the Atlantic City Country Club, Geist was afraid of being kidnapped and being held for ransom by the gangsters, and was paranoid enough to have his caddy carry a Thompson submachine gun in his golf bag.
After Sonny Fraser graduated from high school Geist hired him as an executive of one of his companies, requiring Sonny only to play golf with him all day.

Leo Fraser was more rambunctious though, and didn’t want to be coddled by Mister Geist, so he dropped out of school and took a job as an assistant pro in Michigan before taking up Walter Hagen’s offer to go on a cross country tour, barnstorming golf clubs, selling equipment, putting on shows and playing tournaments like a traveling circus.

Hagen would become the first golf millionaire and was such a tournament draw he could make his own terms, and wouldn’t play if the golf clubs didn’t let all of the golf professionals in the clubhouse, from which they were previously banned by strict club protocol. Because golf pros were staff employees they were on the same social level as the cooks and maids and not considered proper gentleman, at least as the term gentleman meant in their day. Every golf professional today owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Hagen for opening the clubhouse doors to them. And Leo Fraser, who would become a golf club owner himself, got his primary education riding around the country with Hagen, one of the first great touring pros. Whenever he wanted,  Leo returned home to assume the role of golf professional at Seaview, literally his home course.
Then Geist died suddenly, leaving Sonny Fraser out of his will.

But Sonny’s new job was secretary to H. “Hap” Farley, the political boss of Atlantic City who took over when Nucky Johnson went to prison. With Nucky’s blessing Hap Farley took over the political machine in Atlantic City and his right hand man Sonny Fraser, was elected to the state legislature with plans to bring legal gambling to New Jersey in the form of horse racing.

Although there was considerable legal wrangling over Geist’s estate, the Seaview continued to function normally because the club had been taken over by Elwood Kirkman, Hap Farley’s Georgetown law school room mate.

Elwood Kirkman also owned Boardwalk National Bank, the Chelsea Title company, a number of boardwalk theaters, some motels on the pike and the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City (NJ), so the Seaview was just one of a dozen operations overseen by Kirkman, and it was under Kirkman’s leadership that Seaview hosted a major celebrity tournament in 1940 and the 1942 PGA tournament, won by Sam Snead in one of golf’s most memorial championships.

In the early forties Sonny Fraser formed a syndicate that purchased the Atlantic City Country Club from the boardwalk hotel owners, and to back the effort to open the Atlantic City Race Track he recruited a number of friends and celebrities like Olympic Champion Jack Kelly, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Fraser got the law passed that brought horse racing to New Jersey and was part of the group that built the Atlantic City Race Track, which also included John B. Kelly, the Philadelphia contractor, Olympic champion and father of Grace Kelly, the actress and princess of Monaco, who celebrated her sixteenth birthday with her friends in the Oval Room of the Seaview Clubhouse. 

The 1940 tournament at Seaview brought together celebrities like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and top flight golfers including Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret and Gene Sarazen. Around the same time Sonny Fraser persuaded Bob Hope, his good friend and frequent golfing partner, to open the Apex Golf Club in Pleasantville, one of the few golf courses owned by and open to blacks, who were not welcome at most of the private clubs that lined Route 9.

The 1942 PGA championship at Seaview, won in dramatic style by Sam Snead over Jimmy Turnesa (2-1), was conducted in match play, and was Snead’s first major. Turnesa was then stationed at Fort Dix, and shortly thereafter, Snead joined the Navy, both men serving their country during the war.

While Sonny Fraser was not accepted into the military because of failing health, he became a popular politician and New Jersey State legislator who helped raise money for war bonds and founded the Atlantic City chapter of the American Cancer Society. In the legislature, Sonny Fraser rose to the elite position of Speaker of the House, and got every bill and law passed that he introduced, including the passage of the bill to bring horse racing to New Jersey, the first legal gambling in Atlantic City. 

Tragedy struck again in 1950 when Sonny Fraser finally died of a debilitating disease, ending the short but significant career of one of golf’s great amateurs. Before he died however, Sonny held an invitational tournament that attracted all of the best amateur golfers from around the country, and then he won the inaugural event, which would become an annual affair that would only be rivaled by the Crump Cup at Pine Valley.

While Sonny Fraser would be the great amateur golfer, Leo Fraser took over and restored the Atlantic City Country Club, became a senior executive of the PGA of America and is credited with saving the PGA Tour at its most dangerous hour, when the tournament pros were about to break away from the PGA to form their own tour. Leo Fraser also promoted friendly foreign Ryder Cup completion, stimulated the growth of women’s golf by bringing the US Women’s Open to Atlantic City numerous times and he helped organize the LPGA, which brought the Shoprite Classic to the Jersey Shore. Leo Fraser was also the host, in 1980, of the first PGA Seniors tournament (now the multi-million dollar Champions Tour).

After Geitz died and the Frasers left their house on Seaview’s first fairway to move to the Atlantic City Country Club, the Seaview was left in the hands of Elwood Kirkman. As the former Georgetown law school room mate of political boss Hap Farley, Kirkman was powerfully connected and could be unscrupulous in business. Kirkman had many businesses, including restaurants and motels and hotels, but his bank and title company were his primary enterprises.

When the State of New Jersey decided to build Stockton State College, Kirkman sold them some of the land, mainly pinelands, the ownership of which was questionable, and deeds provided by Kirkman’s title company proved to be falsified. Although this scandal didn’t become news until the 1980s, when it did Kirkman was forced to relinquish control of Seaview, but he was never charged, convicted or did jail time for his misdeeds. 

Marriot purchased the Seaview in 1984 it was opened it to the public, but after decades under Geist and Kirkman, it maintained its first class status, so much so that when the Rolling Stones came to Atlantic City for their Steel Wheels Tour in 1989 they preferred to stay at the Seaview rather than any of the Atlantic City casino hotels.

In 1998 Marriot sold the Seaview to LaSalle Hotels and golf course architect Bob Cupp, Jr. was brought in to restore the Bay Course to its original state as one of the finest links courses in America, and the LPGA Classic returned to Seaview, continuing its championship traditions.

Given the history of the shady land deals, some thought it ironic that Seaview would be purchased by Richard Stockton State College, though it seems quite fitting that Stockton would now own the club with plans to upgrade the facility and use it to help educate a new generation of students in the business, service and maintenance of such a first class golf resort. 

And now, a century after C.H. Geist told Maurice Risley to find him land for a golf course, it’s quite clear that Geist and those associated with the Seaview’s early history – Hugh Wilson, Wilfred Reid, Jolly Jim Fraser, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and Sonny and Leo Fraser would, each in their own way, change the nature and style of the game, take it to another level, and with the growth of golf in every community, alter the landscape of America.

This is a summary of the Flight of the Eagle - Seaview and the Growth of Golf in America, a work in progress.

William Kelly, author of “The Birth of the Birdie,” can be reached at