IT’S EASY ENOUGH TO blame America for the six-hour round, the painstaking plumb-bob, the blimp-size driver, the island green and “Get in the hole!”–son of “You da man!”–but ask yourself this: What would the game be like without the gimme, the mulligan, the shapely cart girl and a chili dog at the turn?
OK, maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but it’s away to get into the discussion.
There are, of course, hard-line purists out there who eat grated persimmon for breakfast and would take us back to the square-dimple ball, the Wright-Ditson blade putter, the stymie, no sprinkler systems, play it down everywhere (even during terrorist attacks) and require blazers and ties in the clubhouse at all times–may the devil run away with their brassies.
Here’s the thing: America has been good for golf, monumentally good, even though we might have overcooked the game, which is to say over-advanced it, and maybe overcorrected what we’ve overcooked.
Look at it this way: If America hadn’t gotten interested in the game we might still be swinging at it in tweed coats and plus fours, and trying to talk like Alistair Cooke.
But what about today? Do we really need a golf ball that can puncture a hole in the side of a 68.7-ton Abrams tank when an anemic 14-year old girl swings at it and doesn’t even take the 7-wood back to horizontal? This is the same golf ball you can launch in London with a high slice, have it self-correct somewhere over Paris, and eventually land safely in the fairway in Milan.
Which begs the question of whether we really need a 900-yard par 5. I mean, does anyone need a 900-yard par 5 other than the real-estate developer who’ll surround it with townhouses on streets named for famous courses he’s never seen and therefore missoells? Welcome to Interlacking Drive … Bahusrover Avenue … Winged Valley Court … Oakland Pines Boulevard.
America didn’t originate the gated community–I think you have to give that to Buckingham Palace–but we popularized it and contributed the windshield decal.
The golf community also should be grateful for America’s invention of central air-conditioning. Without it, whole sections of the world might never have been heard of, like Florida and South Carolina.
Incidentally, it was fine with me if a man named Stimp wanted to invent a meter. Actually, his name was Edward Stimpson, guy out of Massachusetts. But I could have saved him a lot of trouble. Almost everybody I know realizes that putts are faster going downhill, slower going uphill, and everything in between is guesswork.
Did you know America invented the wooden tee?
Dr. William Lowell from South Orange, N.J., evidently a hypochondriac, was concerned about chapping his skin from forming tees out of little mounds of wet sand or dirt–the preferred method for about 60 years, from, say, Old Tom Morris to the vicinity of 1922.
A tee made out of heavy paper had appeared in the U.S. in 1896, mind you, after a heavy rubber tee had presented itself in Scotland. Neither had much shelf life. One day while dwelling on the dangers of sand and dirt, Dr. Lowell started whittling wooden tees out of a flagstick in his office. He whittled them down to two inches long. This was the beginning of the “Reddy Tee,” which was happily painted red.
Packages of the tees began to be marketed in 1922, and sales took off. Dr. Lowell was thus cured of skin chapping and many other things.
Majors, non-majors and the tour
America gave us the tour, as you know. Used to be, there was nothing out there but majors. U.S. Opens, British Opens, PGAs, Western Opens, North and South Opens, U.S. Amateurs, British Amateurs. Once there were more majors than you could shake a Grand Slam at. But then the tour developed and grew in the 1920s and gave us non-majors. The Texas Open, the Los Angeles Open, the Miami-Biltmore Four Ball. Quaint stuff like that.
The Miami-Biltmore might have been the first corporate event, 50 years ahead of Deane Beman and all that he wrought as commissioner. It was dreamed up to promote the grand old Miami Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, which also became famous for its Al Capone Suite. The Miami-Biltmore was actually the first invitational tournament. The field consisted of only 16 two-man teams. They battled at match play on the hotel’s Donald Ross course until only one team was left standing. A team such as Johnny Farrell and Bobby Cruickshank, who paired up to win the inaugural in ’25. Or a team like Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen, who teamed up to win the next-to-last one ever played, in ’41.
America gave us Ben Hogan, too, I should add. That’s another thing. Then Ben gave us practice. And gray, beige and navy blue. And popularized the cap. The cap that James Cagney and assorted gangsters and cab drivers wore long before Hogan got around to it.
The headliners versus the Amana hats
Who gave golf the first corporate logo? There’s a question that circulated all through Third World countries for years. The answer was found one day lying directly on the doorstep of the United States in the form of an Amana hat.
The golf press once divided competitors on the tour into two basic categories. I know this–I was there. One category consisted of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and two or three other headliners. Everybody else was known, fairly or unfairly, as an Amana hat.
“Who’s that guy who won last week?” someone might ask.
“Another Amana hat,” would come the answer, with a smirk.
Amana was this appliance company in Newton, Iowa, a division of Maytag. In the late ’60s the company began staging an annual exhibition at the Finkbine Golf Course at which the pros who attended were given Amana hats to wear. Eventually Amana started paying $50 a week to pros willing to embarrass themselves by wearing the Amana hat on the tour.
Julius Boros was the first to go for the cheese, to display the Amana logo on his forehead by way of a cap. Among those who gleefully followed were Miller Barber, Lon Hinkle, Larry Nelson, Lou Graham, Dave Stockton and several others known simply in press rooms as “the Amana hats.”
Now, as you might have observed, all these years later, greed being what it is today, certain players are in danger of being covered with so many corporate logos they look like a NASCAR Dodge that’s pulled into the pits for a tire change.
Research tells us that way back in 1891 a man named William Currie Jr. in Edinburgh, Scotland, received a British patent for a metal wood. He had designed a driver with a brass clubhead. Apparently; the trouble with it was, it worked better as a doorstop.
Thus, I think it’s fair to credit an American, Gary Adams, with coming up with the first workable metal wood. This happened in the late 1970s. Gary’s first product for TaylorMade was a 12-degree driver of cast stainless steel with a head about the size of a 7-wood.
The club made its debut at the ’79 PGA Merchandise Show, and the folks from TaylorMade spoke eloquently of such benefits as its “low center of gravity” and its “perimeter weighting” and its “diminished negatives when hitting outside the sweet spot.”
One wonders what might have happened to this strange invention if Ron Streck hadn’t used it to win the rain-shortened Houston Open by three strokes over Hale Irwin and Jerry Pate in 1981, and if Jim Simons hadn’t used it to win the 1982 Crosby by two strokes over Craig Stadler.
Or, in fact, if the TaylorMade metal wood hadn’t broken through to win a major in 1988. That’s when it gave aid and comfort to Curtis Strange in the U.S. Open at The Country Club.
Before there was a steel clubhead there was a steel shaft, of course. Rules-makers in the good old USA approved the steel shaft in 1924, and although several touring pros fiddled with the new-fangled clubs–Macdonald Smith being prominent among the fiddlers–they didn’t catch fire until Billy Burke, using steel, won the U. S. Open at Inverness in 1931.
Suddenly; steel was in, hickory was out. This was roughly about the same time that Gene Sarazen made the first sand wedge. A sand wedge. What an idea.
Think of it. Bobby Jones won 13 majors without a sand wedge. This goes right in there with the fact that Ben Hogan won all 10 of his majors (nine officially) without being able to clean his ball on the greens. Those were the rules for two or three hundred years. Don’t touch the ball till you take it out of the cup.
By the way, the last guy to win a major using hickory was Johnny Fischer when he captured the 1936 U.S. Amateur at Garden City Golf Club. That’s if you’re scoring.
‘I’m between an 11-iron and a 12 …’
You can thank America for the fact that you’re not toting 22, 25, 30 clubs in the bag. It was the USGA that put the 14-club rule into effect in 1938 after a two-year discussion. The R&A adopted the rule a year later.
At the time there were certain players whose bags had more than 30 clubs. Harry Cooper’s bag was said to contain more clubs than any other “name” competitor in the ’20s and ’30s. Cooper was said to have 26 clubs in the bag when he won the 1934 Western Open.
On the other hand, when the rule was put in, there were those USGA hand-wringers who believed that 14 clubs might be too many. They thought it would create slow play. They worried that a golfer would pause to have an overlong chat with his caddie on the subject of which “numbered club” to use in a troublesome situation.
Before clubs were numbered, in case you didn’t know, they went by such names as the mashie, the niblick, the mashie-niblick, the mid-mashie niblick, the mid-mashie-niblick-scooper-lifter-scraper. Kidding, kidding.
We don’t claim the polo shirt–we’ve always come up short on royalty, polo being known as “the sport of princes”–but we did turn the polo shirt into a golf shirt.
Jimmy Demaret probably deserves most of the credit for taking golfers out of dress shirts and neckties. Demaret began wearing a variety of custom-made “sport shirts” in the 1930s. A flamboyant dresser who favored gaudy and pastel ensembles along with goofy hats and berets, the crowd-pleasing Demaret might well have been the first man seen on a golf course wearing a pair of snazzy behless slacks, which in those days looked as streamlined as the Burlington Zephyr.
Speaking of zephyrs, America deserves full credit for the invention of the Tour Wife, which seems to come in two flavors these days: blond and naturally blond. To wind this up, let me say that there’ll always be things to criticize about our many contributions to the game. The $400 green fee comes immediately to mind. So does the handicap thief. But we’ll do the criticizing ourselves, thank you