Trivial Pursuit – Who Won the Majors?
I’m sure many of us feel that we have a firm grasp on the history of golf, and that we older devotees can bring up names from past glories that have seldom crossed the lips of anyone in the game since. Lest we get smug, it’s a good thing to brush up with a little trivial pursuit, no matter the topic, so let’s direct this group of questions to those on the “expert” level.
All right, here’s the first one. Who won the very first Masters in Augusta? Come on now, Missour’ans, you should have a leg up on this one. Your own Springfield native, Horton Smith, captured the first big one, although green jackets weren’t available until later. The year was 1929, and Mr. Smith would win it again soon after. Turning pro at 26, he went on to win 32 titles, the last in ’41. He played on several Ryder teams, and was the only golfer to beat Bobby Jones in the year of his “Grand Slam,” 1930. He is also considered the first professional golfer to make a serious analytical study of putting to gain an edge over the competition.
Didn’t get that one? Ok, here’s another. Who won the first U.S. Open? Well, to our eternal embarrassment, it wasn’t an American. You’d be correct to suspect the British Isles, and indeed, Horace Rawlins, from the Isle of Wight, took the first American major in 1895, in a field of ten players, reduced from fourteen after various withdrawals. Born in 1874, Rawlins immigrated to the U.S. as an assistant pro in Rhode Island. The Open that year was a one day event, and the prize money was $150, plus a $50 gold medal for his club. Rawlins didn’t win much else of significance, and went into course design in his later career.
How are we doing? Ready for the third? Who won the first British Open? Don’t answer “Englishman.” Don’t you dare. It was a Scot! His name was Willie Park, Sr., and he won it in 1860 from a field of mixed professionals and amateurs. Born 1864, he would go on to be an equipment maker, a course architect and golf writer, penning the first book on golf authored by a pro, “The Game of Golf.” At that time, the Open winner received the gold “Challenge Belt,” and Park can be seen here proudly wearing it. His designs included 170 efforts, and include the Weston Golf and Country Club in Toronto, where Arnold Palmer won the Canadian Open, his first professional victory.
You’ve got one more chance, and this one doesn’t require going back quite so far. Who won the first PGA Tournament? It took place at the Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, NY, and it was won in a 36 hole championship match, one up. Here it comes – the winner of the first PGA tournament was not an American, either. James Martin Barnes, from Cornwall, a club-maker’s apprentice came over and turned pro in 1906, wrote several books, and won in ’16 and ’19 (plus the U.S. in ’21 and the British in ’25.) He tallied twenty one wins in all, with his very unusual six-foot four frame and unusual distance. Barnes was among the 12 golfers inaugurated into the first Golf Hall of Fame, and died in 1966 at the age of 80.
Now you’re well-prepared for the next upper-tier conversation that breaks out at your clubhouse. It’s not enough to smugly bring up Sarazen, Snead or Arnie anymore. Hit ‘em with Smith, Rawlins, Park Sr. and Barnes. Better yet, bet a beer on it.