The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Championships, 1888-1975

The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Championships, 1888-1975

by Herbert Warren Wind

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The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Championships, 1888-1975 by Herbert Warren Wind

The classic history of golf in America from the sport’s poet laureate

Widely regarded as the definitive account of America’s love affair with the world’s greatest game, this magisterial volume is Herbert Warren Wind’s masterpiece.
From John Reid, the expatriate Scotsman who imported a set of clubs and balls from St. Andrews in 1888 and built a three-hole course on a cow pasture in Yonkers, New York, to Alan Shepard’s six-iron shot on the surface of the moon, The Story of American Golf documents the iconic moments in the sport’s first century in the United States. Wind captures legendary players, including C. B. Macdonald, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus, in all their glory, and expertly analyzes the developments in style, equipment, and technique that created the modern game.
Encyclopedic in scope and intimate in detail, The Story of American Golf is both a fitting tribute to the beautiful and fickle game that inspired a national obsession and a testament to Herbert Warren Wind’s incomparable talents as a journalist and historian.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504027571
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 01/26/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 532,528
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Herbert Warren Wind (1916–2005) was a longtime staff writer at the New Yorker and a writer and editor for Sports Illustrated. The dean of American golf writers, he coined the term “Amen Corner” to describe the famous stretch of the Augusta National Golf Course and co-authored books with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts, Wind graduated from Yale University and earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Cambridge. He began playing golf at a young age and competed in the 1950 British Amateur Championship. His elegant, richly detailed prose matched his meticulous golf course attire of a tweed jacket, shirt, tie, and cap—even in the warmest weather. Wind wrote or edited fourteen books during his lifetime, including The Story of American Golf (1948), The Gilded Age of Sport (1961), Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book (1971) and Following Through (1985). The United States Golf Association’s annual book award is named in his honor, and in 2008 he was posthumously inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. According to his friend Ben Crenshaw, “every time you read Herbert Warren Wind, you get a history lesson, a golf lesson, and a life lesson.”

Read an Excerpt

The Story of American Golf

Its Champions and Championships, 1888-1975

By Herbert Warren Wind


Copyright © 1975 Herbert Warren Wind
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2757-1



Today, just about wherever you travel, golf courses with their green fairways, greener greens, and pristine white bunkers have become an intrinsic part of the face of America. The game has also penetrated deep into the American consciousness. Nearly fourteen million people, from every class of society, now play at least a couple of rounds a year. Most Saturdays and Sundays, from January to October, one or another of our national television networks carries that week's professional tournament, a segment of the series of tournaments that fills up almost the entire year and is currently close to the ten-million- dollar mark in total prize money. Attendance at the big, well-established events has reached the point where tickets for the Masters, which takes place in April, are completely sold out months before, and where the United States Open, which takes place in June, must annually set a limitation on attendance, depending on the maximum number of daily spectators that each particular course can comfortably accommodate. Presently there are over seven thousand registered professionals in our country — and about sixty thousand unregistered pros, the fellows you run into at every club who, if you will just ripple through a few swings for them, will be delighted to tell you what you are doing wrong, gratis.

This rampant golf-consciousness is rather remarkable, considering that the game has been played in our country for less than a hundred years. While the first permanent Canadian golf club celebrated its centennial in 1973, the first permanent American club, St. Andrew's, in Ardsley, New York, will not reach that milestone until 1988, which is still quite a few years away. In 1888 the United States was, generally speaking, a sports-minded nation, but not to the extent it was to become later. The big game was baseball, which, in mid- century, had evolved from a number of regional variations into a standardized national pastime. The first professional league, the National League, was established in 1876, and all America followed it with tremendous interest. It would be decades before there would be another professional team sport to challenge baseball's monopoly of the public's devotion. There was professional horse racing, of course — the Travers Stakes at Saratoga was first run in 1864 and the Kentucky Derby in 1875 — but that was not the same thing. Neither was professional boxing, though it should be noted that when one of the big heavyweight fights was looming, people talked of little else for weeks and weeks. The adoption of the Marquis of Queensberry rules, which supplanted bare-knuckles fisticuffs in 1885, had something to do with boxing's increased popularity, as did the arrival of John L. Sullivan of North Abington, Massachusetts, as world heavyweight champion (and last of the bare-knuckles champions) in 1882.

What else was there? Well, among the amateur sports, college football was at the top. It had been since 1869, when it was introduced in rudimentary form by Princeton and Rutgers. There was some sailing, but the America's Cup involved a comparatively small section of the country. There was some tennis, the national championships having been instituted at the Newport Casino in 1881. Basketball wasn't invented until 1891, when Dr. James Naismith had the janitor nail up that historic pair of peach baskets in the gymnasium at Springfield College. Some running and jumping competitions existed, but enthusiasm for track and field sports was laggard until the first modern Olympic Games were organized in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. If golf caught on rapidly in America, it was partially because there was room for another new game and partially because it was such a good game.

Golf started off with a great advantage over many other sports: you did not have to be a young, fast, beautifully coordinated athlete to play it acceptably. As a result, it found ready converts among the two sexes and people of all ages. They soon discovered that once golf gets you in its grip, it never lets you go. On the one hand, there was Andrew Carnegie declaring thoughtfully that golf was "an indispensable adjunct of high civilization," and, on the other, there was the story of the Scotsman who threw his clubs into the ocean after a bad round and nearly drowned trying to rescue them. Both statements added up to about the same thing.

In 1888 there was no Ouimet, Hagen, Sarazen, Jones, Nelson, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, or Trevino, but the game had been played in Scotland for many centuries and had from the beginning produced many attractive and skillful players. Looking back from today's perspective, perhaps the greatest of the early golfers was Young Tom Morris, the son of Old Tom, who had won the second, third, fifth, and eighth British Opens in 1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867. Young Tom also won the British Open four times — in 1868, 1869, 1870, and then, after a one-year hiatus in which no championship was held, again in 1872. He would have undoubtedly gone on to win it many more times, but he died in 1875 of heartbreak soon after the death of his wife and their newborn child. He was only twenty-four at the time.

Young Tom's finest achievement took place in the 1870 Open, which was held at Prestwick, on the west coast of Scotland, as were all the early Opens. Prestwick was then a twelve-hole course, and each entrant played three rounds. Young Tom's total for the thirty-six holes was 149, the equivalent of a 74 and a 75. An idea of how amazing a performance this was can be gained from the fact that no one had previously scored below 160 in the championship. Young Tom's 149, for that matter, was never beaten or even approached through 1891, after which the championship was changed to a 72-hole event. Undoubtedly the most effective way to bring out the quality of Young Tom's golf in the 1870 Open is to chart his progress hole by hole:


1 578 yards,1     3
5 5
foot,9 inches
2 385 yards     5
5 5
3 167 yards,7     3
2 3
4 448 yards,2 feet,     5
5 7
5 inches
5 440 yards,1     6
6 4
foot, 4 inches
6 314 yards,1     3
5 5
foot,9 inches
7 144 yards, 1     3
3 3
foot, 7 inches
8 166 yards, 4     3
4 3
9 395 yards, 1 foot     4
5 5
10 213 yards, 1     3
3 3
foot, 2 inches
11 132 yards     4
4 4
12 417 yards, 2 feet,     5
4 4
1 inch --- --- ---
51 51

It is not going too far to say that Young Tom Morris' three rounds in the 1870 British Open, made with the old gutta-percha ball, were the first glimmer of modern golf, the game we know today. (Imagine a 35 for the first nine way back then!) Young Tom's scoring in an important competition certainly bears comparison with the celebrated 36-hole bursts of later years, such as Bobby Jones' 66–68 — 134 at Sunningdale in 1926, Gene Sarazen's 70–66 — 136 at Fresh Meadow in 1932, Ben Hogan's 71–67 — 138 at Oakland Hills in 1951, Cary Middlecoff's 68–68 — 136 at Inverness in 1957 (which didn't win for him), Mickey Wright's 69–72 — 141 at Baltusrol in 1961, Arnold Palmer's 67–69 — 136 at Troon in 1962, and Jack Nicklaus' 66–68 — 134 at St. Andrews in 1964 (which didn't win for him either).

Over the last hundred years, golf has changed in many ways. It is difficult to picture Bernard Darwin careening down a fairway at the wheel of a golf cart, or Walter Travis fluffing out the sleeves of an alpaca sweater, or Harry Vardon in the press tent patiently running down his round hole by hole ("On the fifth, driver, brassie, two putts. On the sixth, drive, brassie to four feet, one putt for the birdie ..."), but, essentially, golf has remained the same strange, elusive, maddening, beckoning, wonderful game it has always been.

Considering that it has been a part of the American scene for less than ninety years, golf's expansion has been incredible. In 1888 there were less than a dozen golfers in this country. Today, as we noted, there are over fourteen million. To take care of this multitude, there are more than eleven thousand courses, a major part of a capital investment that now surpasses $3,500,000,000. Each year, by the way, American golfers spend close to half a billion dollars for golf balls, clubs, shoes, gloves, bags, tees, hats, and what have you. The number of American golfers expert enough to play in the national tournaments is rather astounding too. In 1971, a record-breaking year, 2,329 golfers entered the United States Amateur Championship, 4,174 entered the United States Public Links Championship, and 4,279 entered the United States Open Championship — quite a jump from the combined total of 43 who entered the first official Amateur and Open. The course laid out by John Reid, "the father of American golf," consisted of three abbreviated holes in a cow pasture. American golfers today miss their first shots cold and hit their practice shots unerringly on courses where the turf has been scientifically bred for the 3-wood and the putter, the holes designed and redesigned to punish the weekend golfer and the professional in correct proportion. Some of our modern golf courses have been blasted from the wild forest and pushed through swamplands and, occasionally, dredged from the sea. There are courses that stretch to 7,400 yards and courses where each par 3 is built in duplicate to alleviate the Sunday driving. The clubhouses at these layouts are a far cry from the tent that served John Reid and his cronies as their headquarters. A good number of the contemporary clubhouses have cost over half a million dollars, and they offer all the accommodations of a metropolitan hotel, and sometimes the unreal stare of a European castle transported half- timber by half-timber across the Atlantic.

Every year more and more young Americans set their sights on making golf their profession. It is easy to understand. Today a successful tournament golfercan make over $300,000 a year in prize money alone. If a pro who wins a major title is moderately photogenic and articulate, he can scoop up, additionally, several hundred thousand dollars in advertising sorties and related ventures. He can retire to a spreading ranch in Texas, like Byron Nelson, with periodic returns to the outside world to serve as an announcer on national telecasts; he can, like those two other Texans, Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke, Jr., establish the Champions Golf Club outside Houston and develop it into one of the region's finest golf plants; or like still another Texan, Ben Hogan, he can manufacture his own line of golf clubs and golf balls. It is impossible, of course, to keep up with Arnold Palmer's and Jack Nicklaus' myriad global activities, they are so far-flung and diverse.

American attitudes toward golf have changed as America has changed, but the game itself has remained fundamentally the same frappé of pleasure and pain it was for Reid and his Apple Tree Gang, and for the Scots and the English before them. There is a fascination in golf that every player at one time or another has tried to define, but no one as yet has been able to put his finger on. He and the fourteen million other American golfers, all of whom have given up the game at one time or another, will be out on the fairways the next sunny afternoon, cheerfully enslaved again. There is apparently no release. Of course, someday, shortly after everyone knows what the Mona Lisa and Sphinx are thinking about, golf's secret will out and the Man-on-the-Lee will understand perfectly why golf has become the most successful game in the world.

John Reid, the father of American golf, was a transplanted Scot who lived in Yonkers, New York. As a young man, Reid had emigrated from Dunfermline at about the same time as his fellow-townsman, Andrew Carnegie. While Reid had carved no empire for himself in America, he had risen to a top executive position with the J. L. Mott Iron Works in Mott Haven and by 1880 had attained that degree of prosperity which allows a man to devote a good share of his energy to his recreation.

At first John Reid was content to pass his weekends away from the plant hunting and shooting. In a nation of good shots he stood out as a very good shot, and yet field sports left Reid curiously dissatisfied. As a boy in Scotland he had observed the first big boom of the cult of games, and though he had not then had the time to take up golf, rackets, or cricket, Reid was a games-player at heart. In Yonkers he first tried his hand at tennis, converting a part of his front lawn into a court where his friends could gather on weekends and on which he could unleash some of that tremendous vitality exclusive to self-made men. A few years after this, Reid and his friends decided there was everything to be gained in importing the equipment for golf, a game that was winning an amazing number of converts in England and was, as Reid reminded himself, certain to be a remarkable sport since it was a Scottish sport. Robert Lockhart, another lad from Dunfermline who had made good in the new country, was returning to Britain in 1887 on a business trip, and Reid asked him to purchase a good set of golf clubs and some golf balls for him.

Lockhart did not spare himself in executing his commission properly. To make sure he got the best, he went to St. Andrews, the old gray town by the North Sea revered as the cradle of the game. There, in the shop of Old Tom Morris, the most celebrated professional of the day, Lockhart purchased two dozen gutta-percha balls and a set of clubs: three woods — driver, brassie, and spoon; three irons — cleek, sand-iron, and putter. He arranged for the box to be shipped to his home in New York and went on his way, quite unmindful that his morning had been in the least historic or that the box from St. Andrews, in the minds of millions of Americans in later years, would be esteemed the surest antitoxin ever devised by man to combat the evils set loose from an earlier box, Pandora's.

When the clubs and balls arrived in New York, Lockhart tried them out on an open stretch near Seventy-second Street and the Hudson and, finding nothing amiss, turned them over to his friend Reid.

Washington's Birthday, 1888, was a wondrously mild day. Reid had originally planned to wait until late March or April before trying the clubs himself, but that twenty-second of February was the kind of a day that makes a man want to hurry the spring, and John Reid could wait no longer. He got in touch with his old sports crowd, and buoyed with the sense of adventure, they crossed to the field that Reid used as his cow pasture. Three short holes each about a hundred yards long were laid out over the hilly ground, and "cups" were scooped out of the earth with the head of a cleek. There weren't enough clubs for everyone to play, so John B. Upham was selected to oppose Reid in this, the first game of golf to be played by the men who later formed the St. Andrew's Golf Club, the first permanent golf club in the United States. No scores were kept that morning, fortunately, and the two players and the spectators were in full agreement that golf was great fun, a game with a very bright future. Scotland could well be proud of itself.


Excerpted from The Story of American Golf by Herbert Warren Wind. Copyright © 1975 Herbert Warren Wind. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Apple Tree Gang,
Before and After St. Andrew's,
C. B. Macdonald Awakens the West,
The U.S.G.A. and the First Championships,
Turn of the Century,
Walter J. Travis-The Great Old Man,
Jerome D. Travers-The Great Young Man,
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,
The Shots Heard Round the World,
After Ouimet,
Chick Evans-To Him Who Waits,
The War Years,
Sam's Boys and John's Boys,
Sir Walter,
Jones Breaks Through,
The One and Only,
The Master Builders,
The Women,
They Also Played-Superbly,
The Grand Slam,
The Bright Lights of the Dark Age,
Gene Sarazen's Year,
Lawson Little-The Man Who Could Play Matches,
The Tragedy of Harry Cooper,
The Big Money and the Big Hitters,
Lost: A Walker Cup,
All Good Things,
Duration Golf, or The Story of Byron Nelson,
The Post-War Pace,
The Babe,
The Revival of International Golf,
Mid-Century Architecture,
The Champion Who Came Back-A Greater Champion,
Arnold Palmer, the Man Who Made Charisma a Household Word,
The Golden Hours of the Golden Bear,
Gary Player and the Other New Champions,
The Scene Changes,
High Drama in the Seventies, at Home and Abroad,
U.S. and International Golf Records,
About the Author,

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